Taking a fresh look at customer relations
Don't neglect existing clients in the rush to obtain new ones, advises Frank Rogers
When I started out as a young lawyer, my role, like that of my peers, was to advise on the law. We didn’t need to concern ourselves with balance sheets or marketing plans. Terms such as ‘networking’ or ‘business development’ were unheard of. Our business clients were long-established contacts, and we took it for granted that traditional client loyalty would provide us with a never-ending supply of work.
That’s where the industry got it wrong. Because while most lawyers were keeping a respectful distance from those clients, some bright young upstarts saw the opportunity to move in and actually get to know them. They were talking to them rather than at them. Listening to their plans, hopes, fears, then presenting them with a plan that would both progress and safeguard their business.
This change in style took many by surprise, and brought about the realisation that client/lawyer relationships should not be taken for granted; it was a painful wake-up call for some, while for others – myself included – there was a feeling that the adjustment in attitude was long overdue.
All too often solicitors and clients would only come into contact when something went wrong, with the law firm charging a hefty fee to put it right. In the meantime, a raft of legal opportunities were ignored: contracts that could have been drawn up; arrangements that could have been made to protect against crises that often befell clients who saw their solicitors only as a fourth emergency service.
So, even as a young lawyer, I would visit clients whether we were working on active cases for them or not. I would drop in for a coffee, spend time chatting to them to explore their business aspirations and concerns. Basically, I was working on business development without even realising it.
Fast forward 30 years and the client is at the heart of every self-respecting law firm. The many changes that have taken place within the legal sector in recent years demand it. But there are still firms which, despite market pressures, are failing to realise that their most precious commodity is being ignored.
When people ask me what my role as head of business development entails, I talk, of course, about business growth. However, I always impress upon them that the most important aspect is client retention.
So often, the huge focus on obtaining exciting new business means that those who have given business to a firm for years – or even just months – are neglected. This is a huge oversight.
Instead, we should be staying close to our current clients, treating them with respect, taking time to understand their sector, and anticipating how we can help them before any challenges become insurmountable. Then we need to deliver it in a way that works for them.
The legal sector is facing unprecedented pressure, and we need loyal clients more than ever before. Those living in the past must learn to see them in a new light or risk falling by the wayside as firms who truly value their clients reap the rewards such relationships inevitably bring.
Frank Rogers is head of business development at Kirwans