Straight Talk from General Counsels on How to Win Their Business

Far too much of corporate law practice marketing is predicated on what the firm wants potential clients to know, rather than what general counsels are actually looking for and how they conduct their searches. I came across a gem of a video on the Corporate Counsel section of Law.com that provides a glimpse of what general counsels actually care about when identifying and vetting outside firms.

  • Strong word-of-mouth is a great equalizer; gets you on the short list.

“Be good at what you do. We tend to interview the people we’ve heard about a lot, and we’ve heard about them a lot because they’ve had success in the past. And it doesn’t mean that we’re the kind of company that defers to the absolutely “blue chip” [or] “name brand” in a certain area because that’s an attorney the board will be comfortable with…If you are good at what you’re doing, whether you’re small, new emerging, well-known, we tend to be able to find you.”

Eric Whitaker, General Counsel, Tesla Motors

 

  • It doesn’t matter how good you are if you’re also an ass.

“Can I get along with this person, will they get along with my [internal] clients? Getting along with me is important, but it’s much more important to get along with the clients, because the clients are going to see you in the long term, every day basis. If the people who have to work with you on a daily basis in that transaction can’t stand you, that’s not going to reflect well on me nor is it going to get you repeat business.”

Robert Shives, Senior Director & Associate General Counsel, Fujitsu

 

  • Forget quirky videos and personal narratives; make website attorney bios more search-friendly.

“I absolutely check out bios, because we are frequently vetting new counsel. I look at representative clients, I look at representative matters. One of the things that makes me crazy is when the sites aren’t easy to maneuver. So how you’ve coded your website to be able to sort. Try and do it yourself, as if you’re an outside counsel trying to get to a person with this expertise in this location.”

Renee Lawson, Associate General Counsel, Zynga

 

  • Think rifle, not shotgun.

“One of the things that’s sort of interesting is that a lot of firms describe [themselves] as the everything to everyone. I’m usually looking for something very specific, so if you are an IP/anti-trust/transactional/product liability/labor and employment/estates and trust lawyer – which I have seen – you’re probably not the attorney I’m going to hire. So think about how you’re portraying yourself to the outside world.”

Renee Lawson, Associate General Counsel, Zynga

 

“It’s a credibility issue as well. When one sees that long list of “you’re an expert in every field,” you just pass. You take a pass on that person.”

Megan Pierson, Senior University Counsel, Stanford University

 

  • You’re competing against in-sourcing.

“I hire a lawyer and expect that they’re going to give me 2,000 hours a year for a $200,000 salary — I’m paying them $100 an hour. In reality, if you’re working with me at a high growth company you’re working 3,000 hours a year, so it’s even less [per hour]. My blended rate from law firms for the most part — big law firms — is still $400-$500 an hour.

“It’s simply a situation where, for the most part, law firms have priced themselves out of a whole bunch of work I used to have them do. It’s that simple. When I started in ’99 I would send contracts to law firms, I’d send license agreements to law firms, I’d send some employment issues to law firms. I just don’t do it anymore.”

“If work is going to repeat at all, I’ll bring the expertise  in-house. My in-house teams have simply gotten much bigger, and my outside counsel use has gone down, and it’s a direct result of the economics of it.”

Eric Whitaker, General Counsel, Tesla Motors

  • Billing reviews can be moments of truth.

“I don’t bring everything up with my outside counsel, but I do bring certain things up because we are early in a relationship and I want to set expectations. If I ask you to look at something on a bill, I expect you to look at it, and I expect you to get back to me promptly. And frankly if it even has the slightest appearance of being inflated, wrong, I expect you to say, “I’ve taken care of it,” and I expect you to do it right away.

“If I have to battle for a write-off with you, after I’ve given you the courtesy to bring it to your attention and reviewed your bills that you should have reviewed, you’re not on my list anymore.”

Renee Lawson, Associate General Counsel, Zynga

 

Social Media for Law Firms: Ignite Internal Collaboration with Yammer

On last Friday’s #LegalChat on Twitter, the topic of using social media for internal collaboration came up. Several of us mentioned Yammer as a platform worth considering for large and multi-location firms.

Although the companies are not affiliated, a simple way to describe Yammer is a private version of Twitter.

“Enterprise social networking empowers employees to be more productive and successful by enabling them to collaborate easily, make smarter, faster decisions, and self-organize into teams to take on any business challenge. This new way of working drives business alignment and agility, reduces cycle times, increases employee engagement and improves relationships with customers and partners.”

If you’re open to a SaaS solution for enhancing organizational effectiveness and improving client service, Yammer offers some powerful capabilities:

  1. Connect subject matter experts and facilitate real-time online conversations across the firm.
  2. Create a dedicated team workspace for a matter, a practice area or a cross-functional group.
  3. Use it with, or as an alternative to, a content management system to share, store, and manage documents, presentations, images and videos.
  4. Create a secure external network to communicate/collaborate with clients and vendors — fewer phone calls.
  5. Stay connected through mobile devices — just like Twitter.
I expect data security paranoids will dump on this idea, but as social media-based solutions for law practice management go, Yammer is pretty slick and worth considering.
I’d love to hear from any law firms currently using or considering Yammer.


Law Practice Management: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us

Q: How is the “information overload” problem like America’s obesity epidemic?

A: We know what needs to be done to address it, but we’re daunted by the seeming enormity of the task, and too few of us make the effort.

While not as disturbingly graphic as a Dr. Oz episode on belly fat, the following infographic from Mindjet illustrates the negative impacts and costs of information overload, and 11 simple coping strategies we can all implement to help us deal with the volume and complexity of information in healthy and productive ways.

 

 

Escalation Nation: Twitter Response as Crisis Communications vs. Customer Service

Over the years the scrappy, enterprising advocates at The Consumerist helped consumers escalate their customer service issues by  publishing the direct e-mails and phone numbers of corporate executives, board members and PR folks. Now thanks to Twitter, the extrajurisdictional  (i.e. outside normal customer service channels) royal road to dispute resolution is at everyone’s fingertips 24/7.

Now that anyone can @ message company reps at will, and companies employ ever more sophisticated tools to monitor social media conversations and intercept rants in real time, companies face real questions about how to record, triage and respond without creating new and different problems for their employees.

A tweet by Jeremiah Owyang last year reminded me that a very public pillorying by an über-blogger isn’t necessarily a win for consumers in general, and could lead companies down an expensive, counterproductive dead end if they overcompensate for what might happen if they cross a social media celebrity. In commenting on the debate around the very public dustup between mommyblogger Heather Armstrong (@dooce) and Maytag/Whirlpool  (summarized succinctly by Forbes), Owyang observed, “When Dooce called Maytag’s support line, they didn’t factor in her PR impact –support and marketing MUST be aligned.”

Several only mildly facetious questions come to mind:

  1. Is it now the responsibility of front line customer service reps at large consumer goods companies to escalate every call from someone claiming to have a million Twitter followers? Is that a “red flag,” automatic escalation, or do they have to verify it first? Or is that  up to the first line supervisor? Second line?
  2. What’s the cutoff for special treatment/escalations? 1 million followers? Ranges (e.g. 250,000-499,999 followers gets a free replacement, 500,000+ gets a freebie plus donation to the charity of their choice)?
  3. If customer service reps are now expected to have the skills of online community managers, are they being trained enough? Paid enough?
  4. Should IT departments incorporate a social media ranking look-up as a desktop app for customer-facing personnel?
  5. Is not responding to/escalating all Twitter complaints now considered poor customer service?

Whether twitterati and prominent bloggers actually deserve special treatment is a question for moral philosophers, but social media celebs certainly expect and increasingly receive it because of actual — or merely potential — PR flaps like that one. And social media partisans fan those fears.

But for all their buzz, do these episodes have a statistically significant impact on sales and/or customer satisfaction? Greater than widespread/systemic problems (e.g.  the complaint of an individual with a personal grievance and a large bullhorn vs. large numbers of customers experiencing a pattern of similar problems)?

The Forbes article made two important observations:

  1. Armstrong suffered her own backlash/crisis communications episode as a result, and
  2. Whirlpool’s stock price didn’t take an immediate hit, even in this headline-driven, jumpy market.

I agree with Owyang that customer service and marketing must be aligned, but not to ensure white-glove treatment for celebrity bloggers. Rather, first align them to ensure all customers get the responsiveness they expect, then let positive word-of-mouth do the hard work for you when the inevitable social media diva moment happens.

Client Service for Law Firms: The Intake Process as Marketing

Initial consultations are a crapshoot. The simplest prospective matters can take hours to discuss, and even if there is a case to pursue, the prospective client might not select you. But that unpredictability is also precisely why you should treat every initial consultation as both an immediate and a long-term opportunity. The case evaluation and intake processes are part of marketing and client service for law firms.

I don’t extrapolate general rules from a single data point, but a lawyer friend recently described a situation where, as a business development training exercise for himself, he invested a considerable amount of time into a free consultation that he expected would lead nowhere. It was an employment case for a university employee who had contacted him, and indeed, the matter did not move forward. But not long after the original consultation, that same prospective client referred a colleague to the lawyer, also on an employment matter, and it led to him being hired for the case.

Sales coach and author Andy Paul recently wrote:

“For the small or medium-sized business (SMB), every inbound sales lead has the potential to become not only a customer, but also to transform itself into a satisfied customer that represents a dependable stream of repeat revenue year after year.

“The primary obstacle that stands between an SMB and converting an inbound sales lead into a repeat customer is the task of lead follow-up. On the surface, lead follow-up would appear to be quite straightforward, but this simple concept is fraught with difficulties for most companies. Industry research on sales estimates that 40-50% of all inbound sales leads are never followed up. And when the leads are followed up, common mistakes are made that unwittingly doom the SMB to lose the opportunity to convert that lead into a customer.”

Paul posits four mandatories for successful inbound marketing:

  1. Follow up with 100 percent of inbound leads – Every inbound sales lead is like a scratch-off lottery ticket. You don’t know what you have until you scratch the wax off the face of it and see what you have won. How many people buy a lottery ticket and then wait until the next day to see if they’re a winner? None. Inbound sales leads should be treated the same way.
  2. Be speedy – Companies that try to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving queries are nearly 7 times as likely to have meaningful conversations with key decision makers as firms that try to contact prospects even an hour later.
  3. Provide complete answers quickly – It is not enough to be the first to respond to the customer. You must also be the first to answer their questions. The first seller to respond to an inbound sales lead with the complete answer in zero time will build trust, credibility, and dramatically increase their chances of winning the customer.
  4. Measure, improve and measure again – You must continually work to improve your sales lead follow-up process. As the old saying goes, “you can’t improve what you don’t measure.

Do you follow up on every inbound inquiry, or do you apply a filter before you begin the consultation process.

 

 

Reconceiving Client Surveys, Part 4: Shorter, More Frequent and In Person

As discussed in the first post of this series, conducting client satisfaction surveys is as much marketing as it is client service. The frequency of surveys, their method of delivery, the breadth and depth of topics covered, and even the way the questions are structured all tell clients a story about your firm.

Frequency – In a professional services environment predicated on deep personal connections with clients, fielding a client satisfaction survey only once a year  seems perfunctory. Even if you have informal channels and tools for gathering  client feedback throughout the year, an official outreach on a quarterly or semi-annual basis telegraphs active interest and engagement — that you don’t take them for granted.

Method of Delivery – If someone can make a persuasive argument as to why mailing/e-mailing law firm client satisfaction survey forms constitutes better client service, please do so in the comment section below. A printed form should be hand-delivered to the intended recipient, accompanied by 1) a statement of appreciation for the client’s business and 2) a spoken, personal invitation to complete the survey candidly. In the case of an e-mail survey, make sure the message doesn’t end up in your client’s inbox without a personal heads-up — by phone or in person — to expect it. Steps 1 & 2 above obtain in this scenario as well.

Breadth and Depth of Topics Covered – Typical surveys take a “kitchen sink” approach, with questions ranging from the make-or-break (“How likely are you to recommend our firm to a friend or colleague?”) to the mundane (“Returns phone calls as promptly as I wish”). This approach inevitably results in questionnaires that are too long, which causes respondents to race through later questions. This is a particularly serious shortcoming when you have open-ended questions at the end of a long survey, because respondents are much less likely to provide thoughtful, detailed comments.

Instead of one long annual survey, consider fielding several smaller ones focused on a single client service category (e.g. core capabilities, responsiveness and collaboration, cost management/value, technology utilization, privacy/data security).  In addition to operationalizing client service conversations, you’ll obtain higher quality feedback.

Question Structure – Open-ended questions yield more useful feedback. If, however, you choose a closed-ended format, take special care in how you structure and word the questions and pre-populated response options (if you’re not using some sort of number or letter rating scale). The worst thing you can do is frame responses in such a way that it appears you’re trying to put words in the respondent’s mouth. Like this actual Big Law firm example [firm’s name is redacted]:

Rating Scale:

A – Exceptional Performance, rarely equaled by other law firms.  XYZ LLC  is the firm I hire for my legal needs.

B – Above Average.  Exceeds my expectations frequently.  I usually call XYZ LLC first.

C – Average.  Satisfactorily meets my standards.  XYZ LLC isn’t my first choice.

D – Below Average.  Failed to meet my standards in a material way.  I am seeking other counsel.

F – Unacceptable.  Without a significant and sustained effort by XYZ LLC to improve, I will discontinue using the firm.

As they say on TV lawyer shows, “Objection. Leading the witness.” Also, doesn’t “D” sound worse than “F”? And would clients experiencing “D”- or “F”-level service even bother filling out a survey form?

 

Reconceiving Client Surveys, Part 3: Three Ways to Make Your IT Capabilities a Strength

The role of information technology in law practice management and legal services delivery is one of the most discussed and debated topics in the profession. So why aren’t law firms using their client satisfaction surveys to obtain client feedback and promote engagement on IT?

The most likely root cause is that typical client surveys are devised by lawyers for lawyers. The respective IT departments — law firm and client — are not part of the process.

How to Turn Your Technology Capabilities into a Survey Asset

  • Make it clear that the firm believes information technology is essential to service delivery  —  Whether or not they are power users, regularly communicate with your clients about how your firm is applying new technology to improve service delivery. Use the survey to track awareness and measure the value of those capabilities.
  • Directly involve your IT team — Encourage direct contact and interaction between your IT team and your clients’ in the survey process.
  • Be prepared — Track what competitors and clients are doing with cloud-based information technologies and collaborative platforms. Even if the firm will not be moving immediately into those environments, IT planners should at least be prepared to respond quickly and persuasively if technology surfaces as an issue/opportunity in your survey.

Reconceiving Client Surveys, Part 2: Open-Ended Questions Yield More Useful Feedback

Your client satisfaction survey is comprised of closed-ended questions with a limited number of response options. Respondents are asked to rate various performance factors on a 1-5 numerical scale. Your most important client rated you a “4” in overall satisfaction. In fact, all of the responses were 3s or 4s. They’re not unhappy, but they’re not thrilled. Not ready to leave, but not necessarily willing to give you additional matters or provide recommendation and referrals.

What actionable information has that survey given you? As discussed in the previous post, the law firm client satisfaction survey should be a research and marketing exercise, not a popularity poll. In a relationship-driven profession, the most effective survey instrument for collecting meaningful, actionable information is a survey form or script that relies primarily on open-ended questions.

Metagora makes the case succinctly:

  • Open-ended questions allow respondents to include more information, including feelings, attitudes and understanding of the subject. This allows researchers to better access the respondents’ true feelings on an issue. Closed-ended questions, because of the simplicity and limit of the answers, may not offer the respondents choices that actually reflect their real feelings. Closed-ended questions also do not allow the respondents to explain that they do not understand the question or do not have an opinion on the issue.
  • Open-ended questions cut down on two types of response error: respondents are not likely to forget the answers they have to choose from if they are given the chance to respond freely; and open-ended questions simply do not allow respondentsto disregard reading the questions and just “fill in” the survey with all the same answers (such as filling in the “no” box on every question).
  • Research has shown that open-ended questions are better for eliciting sensitive information than closed-ended questions.

Granted, the narratives generated by open-ended surveys require more work (read: time and expense) to compile and clearly present, but the depth and breadth of insight you gain will more than compensate. Most importantly, your clients will notice — and think of you more positively.

Reconceiving Client Surveys, Part 1: Remind Them Why They Like You

Why do so many client satisfaction survey introductions begin with some variation of “In order to better serve you and improve our overall relationship….”? At best it’s an expression of low self esteem, and at worst it’s an invitation to find fault. Despite their empirical trappings, surveys are as much marketing as they are client service. Wouldn’t the surveys be more valuable to both you and your clients if you used them as the beginning of a discussion about what’s going right in your relationships, and how to leverage those strengths into other areas?

How You and Your Clients Can Get the Most Out of Your Satisfaction Survey

  • Structure your survey as an inverted pyramid — The level of thoughtfulness and detail in responses falls off rapidly in surveys, so pose questions in descending order of importance. For example, don’t start off by asking the respondent to rate you on whether their phone calls are answered as promptly as they’d like. (That comes from an actual Big Law survey form.)
  • Don’t dither. Start with THE question — In a profession where firms live or die by the quantity and quality of referrals they receive, there is only one survey question that matters in determining client satisfaction: “How likely are you to recommend our firm to a friend or colleague?”
  • Use the main body of the survey to elicit context and tease out details behind your “net promoter” score —  Regardless of whether they are fans, neutrals or detractors, there are reasons why the respondents are still clients. Ask them to identify what they value most about working with you. Detractors will have an opportunity to vent later on in the survey. Causing them to consider and identify positive attributes in addition to criticisms will give you more to work with when you start developing your remediation plans.
  • End the survey with a promise — Assure respondents that you will develop and share with them an action plan based on their feedback — then do it.
Part 2: Open-Ended Questions Yield More Useful Feedback