Leading Right Now – Part 3 Clients

October 1, 2020

As the pandemic continues to impact business conditions, never has it been more important to focus on key client retention strategies. In part 3 of the Leading Right Now Insights, we look at what has changed when thinking about clients and offer some strategies that firms can employ to help improve retention rates.

  • Gather accurate data and analyse by client and industry – knowing exactly where a firm stands in relation to still profitable sectors and clients will be vital foundation data and critical to on-going decision-making and risk analysis. Similarly, accurate data will be needed by firms looking to gain market share, increase client retention rates, or to grow by taking advantage of strategic opportunities.
  • Analysing all industries and sectors is crucial for the future financial well-being of a firm; being overly reliant on industries that have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic carries significant risk.
  • Client listening – being a firm that is an active client listener means you are not only able to gather actionable insights that can fuel improved service delivery, but that you are also better positioned to capture valuable commercial intelligence that can then inform strategic decisions and actionable improvements. Asking for feedback from strategically important clients helps client service teams perform more highly and helps ward off competitors looking to poach key clients.
  • Review and re-think how you’ve connected with clients during the pandemic – with the more traditional forms of business development now on hold – for instance, events, conferences and in-person meetings – and with clients suffering from webinar-fatigue and inbox overload from generalised email alerts, it may be time to consider if all partners have been fully equipped with a different set of skills that are now needed to connect with clients in different and deeper ways. Undertaking business development activities in the “new normal” will present significant challenges for many firms.
  • If you decide that a re-think of all client-facing activities is called for, then there are a number of services and approaches that could be highly valuable to GCs and in-house teams, including:
    • analysing and re-focussing content to address issues by industry, especially those sectors that have been hard hit, as well as those that have benefitted and may be seeing opportunities emerging. Industry focussed teams can be drivers of innovation as they identify and solve emerging client and sector issues
    • setting up an emergency helpline to address pandemic related issues
    • getting ahead of the game and helping key clients anticipate issues that will emerge should recessions deepen around the world, and of course,
    • GCs are also struggling with WFH and technology issues – sharing ideas on how a firm has improved their digitalisation of existing systems and business processes could be highly-regarded by in-house teams.
  • Clients value teamwork and collaboration – clients want to know that their outside counsel teams are well-co-ordinated, well-informed, and working together co-operatively ie as a team. And yet, true teamwork can still be a challenge for many firms as compensation systems often drive individual behaviours ie the system is not aligned with the desired outcome. If your firm puts more effort into measuring the short-term performance of individuals, and applies less focus to the measurement of teams, then collaboration and innovation (which require co-operation) are likely to suffer. Team measurement may seem like too big a leap for many firms but this moment in time surely offers the occasion to at least have a conversation around what such a shift could look like in the post-pandemic world.
  • The topic of compensation is never an easy discussion. However, research by people such as Prof. Heidi Gardner demonstrates that true collaboration is a very effective way to grow practices and revenues.  Aligning a firm’s compensation system and embedding collaborative systems and mechanisms is an approach more likely to succeed than fuzzy “we must” and “we should” expressions of hope.
  • Higher performing client service teams – strategic management of key client relationships, with the intent of growing more valuable and profitable client accounts, requires the right combination of people, systems, tools and skills to succeed. There is no absolute rule book on how to do this as the very nature of strategic client management is bespoke – one size does not fit all. However, any initiative that is not based upon a true intent to achieve client service excellence, is doomed from the start. And to be clear, client service excellence extends into a broad set of criteria, far beyond the traditional areas of legal expertise, timeliness and responsiveness.
  • Connected strategy to transform key client relationships – transitioning a client relationship from the occasional transaction to a long-term, high-value relationship takes real work, and usually requires achieving operational efficiencies while delivering superior client experience – and particularly now, all at the lowest cost possible. Clients expect to see not only improvements in service delivery, they also expect service delivery to be bespoke, addressing their different individual and specific needs.
  • Part of the role of a relationship partner is to foster collaboration and promote idea sharing across teams, and ultimately with clients, to learn from each group and to strengthen key client relationships. Relationship partners will also need to be able to anticipate client needs, preferably before they arise, be skilled at curating the right offering, and coaching their client service team members to exhibit the right behaviours if a series of interactions is to evolve into a continuous relationship.
  • New needs, new skills, new approach – firms may also need to think about adding different skills sets to their client services teams and relationship partners may need to lead teams that also include all areas of practice management, including scoping, pricing and project management skills, just in time learning and development, and optimising leverage, staffing and diversity models with and for clients.

Looking for ways to improve client experience, especially for a firm’s key clients at each and every interaction, will help firms reap the rewards of operational efficiencies – and clients will be pushing even harder now for those innovations and efficiencies to benefit them. Client retention is critical to every firm’s future so investing in strategic initiatives that improve client relationships must become high priority.

We would be delighted to hear your thoughts and continue the dialogue with you. We hope you’ve found this Insight to be constructive and thought-provoking. We share comments and ideas of a general nature, with the aim of helping firms contend with current challenges. As such, the content above is unlikely to be complete and comprehensive enough for a firm to re-imagine the future. Rather, it may be a beginning or a conversation starter, as each firm is different and the challenges each face are unique. If you would like to continue the conversation, then please connect with us for a confidential conversation at click here.

Post Author

Jennifer Milford