There is merit in law firms adopting ‘customer intimacy’ as their core competitive strategy in the current legal sector landscape – tight budgets and ever-increasing competition. Interestingly, it’s a concept that was coined over 20 years ago by Harvard Business Review.
Customer intimacy requires developing deep, long-term client relationships to better understand and address their business requirements in a way that delivers ‘value’– value not as ‘perceived’ by the law firm, but as ‘defined’ by its clients. This demands purposefully listening, understanding and learning about clients’ problems.
There are a number of barriers that prevent law firms from delivering value. Technology can enable firms to execute on a customer intimacy strategy, but a marked shift in approach to IT adoption is required. Historically, the driver for technology adoption has revolved around process and business efficiency – to reduce administrative costs and increase profits. However, this only delivers value to the law firm, not its clients.
Top of clients’ ‘value’ list is responsiveness. I recollect a GC saying his company dropped a law firm because the organisation was unresponsive to the corporate’s business needs. This is despite the fact that the lawyer working on their matters was exceptional. Your firm’s technology system must support the organisation in understanding your client’s requirements.
Lack of transparency often fractures trust between clients and law firms. Technology systems exist today that allow you to create customisable dashboards/portals whereby your client has visibility of how matter execution maps against the agreed action plan, resource utilisation, expenses incurred, collections and such.
Poor resource management too can drive a wedge between you and your clients. At the onset of an engagement, it’s important that a partner in your firm is able to access historical information on similar matters to cost, budget and provision the new task. The HR system within your business management system should help you to determine the best qualified team for the job, or identify a gap in expertise that your firm can work on closing.
To achieve customer intimacy, you need technology that can help you ‘operationalise’ it. Harmonised, flexible systems can help you exceed client expectations and fulfil your growth objectives. Now more than ever, building trusted relationships and maintaining a solid reputation depends on delivery of outstanding and increasingly distinctive experiences —not just for a single project or at executive levels, but consistently across every client-law firm interaction.