Word is that in this economy law firm clients are willing to walk across the street just to get better value. Go figure. Value sells. Many law firms have begun competing on price—adopting alternative fee structures. I can’t help but wonder if law firms aren’t falling into the value box defined by their competitors instead of their clients? Is there more to value than price?
Alternative billing structures alone do not create loyal clients
Instead of focusing on alternative billing structures—though arguably they can help under certain conditions—what if law firms focused their energies on creating loyal clients, the kind that love you? The kind that want to have legal questions just so they can be near you, and that would readily refer your services to others?
What would that look like? A law firm that delivers on the generic category benefits—those benefits that essentially define legal services—better than the competition. That is the key to differentiation. And yes, cost is one consideration, but it is not exclusive. So, what exactly are category benefits and how do they play out in the law firm scenario?
Generic Category Benefits
Generic category benefits are those values, e.g., benefits, that customers, or clients, expect to receive, at a minimum, when doing business with you. To understand the power of generic category benefits, let’s use a coffee shop illustration. Here are the things that people expect from a coffee shop—generic category benefits.
- A convenient location.
- Open early AM.
- Cups, plates, stirrers.
- Sugar, creamer.
- A place to sit.
- A server or cashier.
- Pastries or breakfast.
Starbucks stands out as a leader in consistently providing the generic category benefits of a coffee shop exceptionally well and that’s why we love Starbucks. We can trust Starbucks to deliver, and we love that! The manner in which they deliver on just the generic category benefits differentiates them and sets the bar high for all competitors.
- Convenient locations in EVERY CITY and even some towns.
- Consistent and reliable hours across the world!
- Inviting surroundings: warm or cool, clean and welcoming.
- Attractive cups distinguished with poems and art.
- Soft seating, work tables, take out efficiency.
- Friendly Baristas; most with a refreshing personality that delivers that “glad you are here” attitude.
- Consistently outstanding coffee; lots of tasty varieties and more. Tea, specialty drinks, juices.
- Fresh pastry, healthy choices; we like that.
- Wifi, free music downloads, local newspapers, etc. to enjoy while we’re sipping Starbucks brand coffee.
- 100 other items you really don’t need but make it interesting to browse while you’re waiting for your coffee and might pick up conveniently for a gift or a splurge.
- A local flair, art, charities, special events.
- A commitment to the environment.
- And etc….
I don’t know about you, but when I have a Starbucks I feel like I’m a member of a special club –a club that treats me right. Starbucks exceeds on delivering my primal coffee needs and allows me to savor the moment in their comfy surroundings. If I happen to have a errant experience I know who to speak to. If I tell my barista they got it wrong, they will make it right. If I need to escalate it to someone in management, or send out a Tweet, they will make it right and that gives me comfort. I trust Starbucks. There are many choices in coffee shops, but Starbucks sets the bar.
There are many choices in law firms. Which one sets the bar? Is it yours?
Generic category benefits of a law firm: Things people expect to receive from a law firm.
- Legal expertise.
- Ethical and confidential counsel.
- Efficient and proper staff support for handling cases, matters and accounts.
- Conference area.
- Telephone, email, and other technology.
- Timely court filing services.
What clients receive.
Seems like the list of generic category benefits is not so high a bar. Yet, anecdotal evidence gathered from client satisfaction interviews suggests that many law firms fail. Here are the top 10 client service issues reported, year after year:
- #10 Not understanding my industry/business.
- #9 The surprise bill.
- #8 Inaccessibility.
- #7 Over-lawyering.
- #6 Missed deadlines.
- #5 Not discussing strategy and recommendations.
- #4 Not being informed about who they can call when the responsible attorney is away.
- #3 Not keeping client informed if case or matter status.
- #2 Invoices for time or work not previously discussed with the client.
- #1 Not returning phone calls!
Of these top 10 complaints how many are generic category benefits? Nearly all of them! So, why don’t more law firms exceed them—set the bar higher—in order to to differentiate?
Get the basics right.
Surely there are many law firms that do perform well on the generic category benefits. But if you want to truly differentiate your services, stop thinking about adding practice groups and start thinking about how you can exceed on delivering generic benefits. Then, set the bar higher. When lawyers, staff, and others in your law firm turn their focus to consistently delivering generic category benefits you will have loyal clients who love you, won’t think of leaving you for another firm, and best of all….will refer you to others. Simple, right? Not! If it were simple everyone would do it.
So, take a moment, an hour, a month, a year, to sit down and plan: How can we be the Starbucks of legal services? The formula is as unique as your firm, AND your clients. There’s not one single answer for everyone. Talk to your clients about what they like about your law firm and then reach to improve on that. Canvass your own staff to gather ideas as to how each department could do at least one thing better, or what new aspect can be added to the value mix. I can assure you that Starbucks didn’t get where they are today by relying only on top management for fresh ideas. The whole organization contributes and the feedback they get from their customers is heard and acted upon.
Understand what it takes to go from good to great. Jayne Navarre Associates can assist you in such processes; to guide your internal conversations and to implement a successful plan—both strategy and tactics. Although we do not specialize in client interviews, we have associates who do and can support you. If you believe alternative billing structures will help you, we have resources for navigating that too. We will return your call…