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TWO GREAT COST-EFFECTIVE MARKETING TOOLS

By Patricia Yevics
Director, Law Office Management
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.


Cost-Effective Tool #1 - Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing

In preparation for a presentation on marketing I am giving in August, another person on the program, a practicing solo practitioner, suggested the book Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing, by Henry Beckwith published in 1997.  She said that she almost never reads most marketing books but it was recommended to her and she had been assured that it was fun and fast reading.  She loved it and now recommends it to all attorneys. 

Thinking, I would read the book and never need it again, I checked it out of the public library.  After just a few chapters, I decided this was one of those books, you could refer to again and so I purchased it (on-line of course) from www.amazon.com.  It can also be purchased from Barnes and Noble stores and on-line at www.bn.com.

This is not a "how to book" but rather "how to think" book.  Although there are some limited concrete suggestions, the purpose of book is to get service businesses to think about what their clients and potential clients want and how to give them what they want.  He stresses again and again that what people are looking for is not features or even superior work product but rather relationships and law is a relationship business.

The book is a series of very short chapters  (from 1-2 pages) which are then summarized in boldface italics that often illicit a slapping of the forehead and the statement :"Of course."

There is nothing specifically groundbreaking in the information that is written but rather easy to read ideas and examples that should be used to change the way you think about your services, your client relationships and your firm. 

It is a book worth owning and reading again and again.  The book is also available on audio which is great for those long waits in traffic.

Cost Effective Idea #2:  Ask Your Clients What They Think

In his book, Selling the Invisible, Henry Beckwith, has entire section on Surveying and Research.  Since the book does not provide real details about implementing various marketing ideas, I am.

Anywhere from 50% to 80% of your new clients will come from referral from current and former clients and most of your work will come from additional matters from existing clients.  If this is true then you should be absolutely certain how you are perceived by your current clients.  Many national law firm marketing gurus believe, as do I, that it is absolutely critical to determine what your clients think of the service they have received from you. This includes clients for whom you are currently providing service and those whose cases or matters have been closed.

Some insights that can be determined from a client survey are:

  • the level of satisfaction the client has with the work that has been performed

  • the client's perception of you and all of the employees he/she worked with

  • Whether the client would refer you other clients

  • Whether the client would use your services again

  • what suggestions would the client give to improve the level of service

  • what criteria the client used in selecting you

  • their needs for future legal services

  • whether the client is aware of all the types of legal services you provide

WAYS SURVEYS CAN IMPROVE YOUR PRACTICE     

It shows that you are interested in what your clients think.  
Too often clients complain that we are not interested in their opinions or that we do not take the time to find out what they think.  A survey will show that you are indeed interested in their suggestions for improvement.  One of the advantages we give for using solo or small firms is because of  more personalized and individual attention.  Soliciting clients' opinions proves that you are serious about this.

You can determine the level of client satisfaction with the service.
Most of the matters we handle for clients are fairly routine and we assume that simply because we performed the service that the client was delighted with the service.  Often that may be true but unfortunately it is those times when the client was not satisfied that causes a problem later.  Most clients who are satisfied with your service will not pass that information on to others while those clients who are dissatisfied will tell as many as ten other people even if they do not tell you.

Most people do not ask for an evaluation of their performance because they are afraid to hear negative comments.  Unfortunately your ignoring the bad news will not keep unhappy clients from telling other people who will then tell other people. 

Consider the story of the disgruntled client who stood on a busy intersection during rush hour traffic with a sign that had his attorney's name and all of the client's complaints about the lawyer.  Even if the complaints were not true, the damage had been done. 

You can uncover client interest in specific kinds of new or additional services. 
Unless you only practice one area of law there may additional services that you clients may need which they may be unaware that you provide.   Very often a client will go to another attorney for a different service because they were not aware that their current attorney performed those services.  Do not assume that your clients are aware of all the services you provide. 

Even if you only practice one area of law, it is still important to ask clients about additional legal needs.  This could give you an opportunity to recommend another practitioner who will return the favor when a client needs the services you provide.

Motivating your staff to improve client service. 
In the book,  Selling the Invisible, Beckwith makes the point that marketing is not a department but your business and that everyone in your firm is a marketing person.  It is very important that your staff, no matter how small, have the same commitment to quality service that you do.  If this is not true then you have the wrong people on your staff.  Since your staff will have as much, if not more, contact with your clients as you do it is important that you share the information, both positive and negative, received from the surveys with them in order to improve the service.  The surveys also tell you whether or not your staff has the same level of commitment to quality service.

The surveys will also give you the opportunity to discuss areas for improvement with your staff .

METHODS FOR CONDUCTING SURVEYS
There are many ways to conduct client surveys.  The methods can be elaborate or simple.  They can be performed by a third party or by your office.  For solo and small firm practitioners, it is best to keep it simple.  The method selected will be determined on the scope of the information that the practitioner is requesting and the time and resources available.

1.    Written questionnaires   The written questionnaire is the easiest, least time consuming and most cost-effective type of survey.    Depending on the number of clients or the type of information being solicited, the practitioner may choose to send it only to certain clients about a particular type of matter, or to all clients to assess the overall performance of the firms or just a random sample.  The anonymity of the client completing the questionnaire can be optional.

If the type of matter has a definite conclusion then you should consider doing it at the end of the matter.  If you are performing recurring work, they can be sent at any time during the engagement. 

2.   Telephone Surveys  These are obviously more time consuming and must be handled by some one who has excellent phone skills and understands the importance of getting accurate information.  These should only be done for a few clients because of the time involved.   Each individual survey should take no longer than fifteen minutes and should be limited in scope.

3.   Personal Interviews  This is the most time-consuming method and should be used for only small numbers of clients to obtain in-depth information.  The practitioner should conduct the survey at the client's place of business at a convenient time for the client.  It is also necessary to make certain that the client understands that he/she will not be billed for the time.  Although you may use written and telephone questionnaires to inform the client of all the services provide, the personal interview is to only be used to obtain the client's perceptions and opinions about the firm.  The client is to do all of the talking.  It is the practitioner's role simply to listen, something that is not always easy to do.  Since this is for information gathering only, you should not defend or respond to any comments made by the client.

Why if there are so many good reasons to conduct client surveys do so few firms, both small and large, use them.  Fear and arrogance.  We are afraid of hearing criticism and we are arrogant enough to believe that we already know exactly what our clients think or even worse, that we do not care what our clients think.

If you do choose to solicit you clients' opinions you must take their perceptions very seriously and make every effort to act on any suggestions they may give.  Otherwise, it will simply be a waste of valuable time.

If you would like a sample copy of a simple client surveys, there is one available on the website at http://www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/articles.htm.  If you would like additional ideas, please contact Pat Yevics pyevics@msba.org or 800-492-1964, ext 3039 and give your name and mailing address.


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