Looking at your firm through the prospective client’s eyes

 In Comment, Gill's Blog, Practice Management

Disclaimer: LawSkills provides training for the legal industry and does not provide legal advice to members of the public. For help or guidance please seek the services of a qualified practitioner.

If you are looking for a new accountant or thinking of changing your Bank what sort of considerations cross your mind? Who might you consult? What questions would you ask? What processes would you employ, consciously or unconsciously, in your strive to find the perfect supplier of the services you desire? Are personal decisions made like this? Will it always be a matter of price or are there some sensible strategies to employ in finding the right deliverer of the service?

These questions are worthwhile asking and musing on for a moment since the way you approach them may well provide useful intelligence when it comes to critically examining how your law firm would stand up to this type of scrutiny when it comes to a prospective new client trying to find a suitable provider of legal services. This is all the more important at present as existing clients might also consider switching horses if some significant high street names decide to enter the legal services market.

Quality, quantity, cost and time

The old saw that ‘time is money’ has always been true in buying professional services but it is increasingly true in other consumer areas, for example my garage recently charged me by the hour for the time of the mechanic. However, we also know that we all love certainty and that it is so much easier to budget if we have a fixed price for the job.

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As a supplier of a service we have to budget and this includes the overhead cost of staff salaries. A person providing the service, be it a sole practitioner or a member of a team, has to justify their existence by making profitable use of their time whatever line of work they are in. Anyone offering the consumer services needs to know how many (and how much time can be spent on them) of the services offered must be sold each day in order to make a profit sufficient on which to live.

As we request a fixed cost from our accountant and a no charge for private banking from our chosen bank so too our customers are seeking to find firms which will offer them the kinds of certainties we look for from our suppliers.

The service will always be constrained by the trade off between the quality of service offered, in a particular volume at a particular price and with the desired speed. The quicker we ask for delivery the more we must often pay for the privilege; after all this is way some people chose to pay for private treatment instead of use the NHS; this is the business model of Vision Express – it’s all in the name! Does your firm offer fast track rates compared to normal service?

What would you include in your offering if you were to offer ‘high’ quality service as opposed to ‘ordinary service’? So many solicitors I speak to would say that all their clients receive high quality service all the time but for some consumers ‘high quality’ will be speed or low price. We all know that all clients are not the same and that we try and judge what it is that a particular type of client will find helpful. This becomes increasingly important in a highly commoditised world where competition will come from those used to providing consumers with easy to understand pricing systems, ready availability, alternative rewards from other supplies made by the business and local convenience.

A forward looking firm needs to consider its own approach to quality, quantity, cost and time in response. It is not the case that every client wants what we think of ‘high quality service’ and it is not the case that all clients would agree what that phrase means. Have you ever tested your meaning with your clients or prospective clients or those you lost?

A few choice indicators

If I were considering changing a professional supplier I would be interested in these things:

  • Skills I want – Is there someone who is able to provide the service I want who I believe has the necessary skills for the job? Can I verify their skill level independently? It is no longer simply the qualification ‘solicitor’ people look for in their adviser but also an accreditation or benchmark such as for the firm membership of the Conveyancing Quality Scheme; or for the individual membership of the Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners.
  • Convenience or accessibility – If I want to communicate electronically can I do so by text or e-mail? If I am keen to have a face-to-face meeting, how easy is it to call into the office if I want to deliver something or meet with someone? Is there adequate parking or suitable easy parking within a reasonable walking distance for me? If getting into the office is problematic e.g. through age or infirmity how willing would my contact be to visit me at home?
  • Price – What is the going rate in the marketplace for the sort of service I shall need? How does the pricing structure of your firm fit within the market for services of this sort? Is it in line? If it is seriously over or under ‘the norm’ I might be put-off or nervous without a clear explanation of why.
  • Rewards – What is in it for me if I use this supplier as opposed to someone else? Will they provide me with regular updates in the service area which affects me or will they bombard me with all sorts of irrelevant stuff? Will they provide me with a loyalty bonus or will they ignore me when I refer others to their service or continue to use their services year on year?
  • Reliability – Will I have confidence that if they promise to do something, like send me a letter, return my call, submit a form on time, they will actually do it? Will I feel that even if my main contact is not available the firm will follow through for example if my contact retires from the firm will they keep my records help me find a suitable replacement and still understand my needs?
  • Responsiveness – Will the organisation employ people who listen as well as speak? Who will not just repeat some mantra or sales training jargon but who will really listen to my concerns and address them making the response entirely personal to me?

These are some of the things that I am interested in as a buyer of professional services. How would your firm objectively stand up to these requirements? Would I chose your firm as a result when compared with low cost cowboys, uninsured practitioners, high street vendors of long pedigree who are respected and well financed, and top end city types who ooze charm and sophistication and make me feel special? Let me help you see your business through different eyes.

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