Customer Experience and the legal mindset: why law practices struggle - Giles Watson
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Customer Experience and the legal mindset: why law practices struggle

Are there characteristics of the legal mindset that make it difficult for lawyers to truly deliver an excellent customer experience?

Law practices aren’t nearly as good at client service and customer experience as they think they are.  OK, sorry: obviously YOU and your practice have got it all sussed, but everyone else still seems to be struggling, don’t they?

Your practice I imagine has a consistent net promoter score of around +27, and you have a clear idea of how and why your client experience is superior. Well, obviously you don’t actually measure a net promoter score or even seek client feedback, but you just KNOW, don’t you. And there’s that nice letter you got last year, isn’t there. So there.

Still feeling confident? Check out the research from CXINLAW from last year.

The headline causes of customer disappointment and dissatisfaction are well chronicled in terms of things like:

  • failure to manage expectations re costs/timelines/results/communication and
  • failure to return phone calls and emails promptly (and no, I’m sorry, within 24 hours isn’t promptly!)
  • and the list goes on, and on, and on. . . .

 

But why do lawyers and law practices seem to struggle with the customer experience challenge? Increasingly, law practices ‘get it’ in terms of rationally understanding how important the customer experience is, they recognise the different client value triggers and where they have to improve, and some even invest in building the right systems and developing the required skills .  .  .  .  .  . and yet  .  .  .  .  .

I believe that there are certain lawyer traits (emotional or psychological) that – whilst certainly not universal –  consistently crop up and which can make if difficult for lawyers to truly focus on delivering an excellent customer experience.

 

Professional self-esteem

For many lawyers, their self-esteem is based around their status as a professional. Expertise, knowledge, technical skills, experience, cleverness. Yes, ethics too. These are the things that bring peer and practice recognition, professional respect and personal satisfaction. This is what lawyers, as professionals, focus on.

But these aren’t the only things that deliver client value or enhance the client experience. In a client’s eyes, the good or better lawyer is the one that focusses on their personal, commercial, practical and emotional needs. There is no conflict of course between building technical expertise and focusing on a client’s needs, but for some an excessive focus on the first causes them to lose sight of, or lose interest in the latter.

 

Technical comfort zone

The comfort zone is where people feel at ease, in control and with low stress. For many lawyers, their comfort zone is the actual legal work in terms of researching, drafting guidance etc.  Client-facing or other value-building activities take lawyers out of their comfort zone, and they instinctively or sub-consciously draw back by cutting short client conversations, delaying that phone call, or engaging in dubious self-justification as to why they should spend more time on the legal work rather than activities that otherwise deliver client value.

 

Stress and anxiety

That lawyers experience disproportionately more wellbeing challenges than most people is now well established. Even minor (non-clinical) levels of stress and anxiety can lead to a significant negative impact  on the client experience in terms of attitude, motivation, mood and behaviour.

 

Engagement and happiness

Even beyond specific issues like stress, anxiety and depression, more general low levels of workplace morale and engagement will lead to less discretionary effort in supposedly non-core value creating activities. Happy staff means happy customers, and its an uphill battle to get the latter without the former.

 

Introversion

In her book, Quiet, Susan Cain suggested that 60% of lawyers (and 90% of intellectual property lawyers) are introverts, and she also goes on to document the many strengths that introverts have in relation to customer-facing activities and building deep rapport. Introverts may, however, find it more personally challenging to initially engage with and build rapport with customers. They may similarly lack confidence in their rapport-building skills and therefore draw back from such activity, or be too quick to focus on the technical aspects of any matter. This can lead (especially for extroverted customers) a rapport deficit and a lost opportunity to build trust and value.

The issue is one of motivation, confidence and discipline – not skill.

 

Feedback, pessimism, perfectionism – and complacency

And finally, one of the biggest hindrances to the law practice customer experience effort is the reluctance of law firms to formally and consistently seek client feedback. Even though most of this feedback will be broadly positive, the pessimistic, perfectionist legal mindset may instinctively avoid the slightest risk of negative feedback and may therefore be averse to regularly seeking client feedback, especially from lost clients or where they instinctively or subconsciously detect some dissatisfaction. The result is that many law practices place undue emphasis on the unprompted positive feedback they receive, and then dismiss any negative feedback as irrational or unfair – giving them an unrealistically positive assessment of their reputation.

 

Challenging or addressing the above traits is not necessarily easy – but it can be done. Just as delivering an excellent customer experience requires a focus on the emotions and psychological needs of clients/customers, it also needs a similar focus on the needs of the service providers.

 

Happy lawyering!

 

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