This is the age of the customer. In the digital age, buyers can access a wealth of information in real-time. They have more choices, can make better-informed decisions based upon data and peer reviews, and “get to yes” faster and more conveniently than ever before. Digitally-mature companies are focused on customers; they know brand loyalty is earned by providing easy access, transparency, a pleasurable experience, products and/or services that meet and exceed customer expectations, helpful service tools, outstanding customer service, and a personal touch.
A Quick Look At Customer-Centric Companies And What That Means
AmazonAMZN and AppleAAPL are among a cadre of digitally prescient companies that helped to forge the new buy-sell dynamic. They architected their businesses from the customer perspective— harnessing the power of technology, recognizing that data is the new oil, elevating the customer experience, and creating customer-centric cultures and agile workforces.
To accomplish this, these visionary companies reimagined, then reverse-engineered, favorable customer outcomes and experience. Traditional models, workflow processes, hiring criteria, and workplace paradigms were reimagined with the customer in mind. Customer experience was paramount. Jeff Bezos described customers as “invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts.”
Customer-centric companies built technology platforms with the customer in mind. Steve Jobs said that “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology—not the other way around.” These digital pioneers assiduously mined, analyzed, and applied data; invested in infrastructure; up-skilled their workforces; aggressively pursued strategic partnerships; and encouraged innovation, collaboration, and ideation that enhance customer access, experience, and outcomes. For them, everything about their culture was—and remains— geared to the customer.
The digital transformation journeys continue for these and other industry disruptors. They have scaled, refined, and reinforced market advantage by a relentless focus on the customer and a culture of constant improvement and customer feedback. Digitally advanced companies—those that most effectively achieve and sustain customer satisfaction, positive net promoter scores, and brand loyalty— have widened the performance gap separating them from less digitally-mature peers. Digital leaders are constantly re-designing a transformation roadmap that rejuvenates customer journeys, orchestrates a cross-functional team, and enables scale. Their digital journeys may not be identical but customer-focus is.
Why Is Law Lagging Business In Customer-Centricity?
Why is the legal industry out-of-synch with its own customers for whom customer-centricity is an existential imperative? Short answer: lawyers.
Law is struggling to keep pace with the speed of business as well as to satisfy clients. A key reason is that there are too many lawyers involved in managing and providing legal delivery and too few senior executives with business, technology, digital transformation, and change management experience. The legal sector also has a dearth of logistics, supply chain, project and process design, customer-experience, data analyst, and risk management experts among its ranks.
Law touts its intersection of legal, technological, and business expertise, but it does not hire that way. Too often its workforce recruitment process is “round up the usual suspects” and put the lawyer in charge. When multidisciplinary talent is recruited, it is often denied a seat at the management table and/or a meaningful say in strategic planning.
Many legal providers conflate acquiescence to client demand with client-centricity. They are two different things; the former is reactive and tactical while the latter is proactive and strategic. Reducing invoices, offering fixed-price billing, and outsourcing eDiscovery is not client-centricity. Multidisciplinary, data-backed solutions to business challenges, services and products tailored to meet customer needs, and legal processes that streamline and accelerate business is.
The trillion-dollar global legal industry has fast-talked change even as it has slow-walked it from the customer perspective. Law touts customer-centricity, hands out countless “innovation” awards, and gives itself high customer satisfaction marks notwithstanding client data that indicates otherwise. The legal profession should reduce its level of self-congratulation and increase its commitment to customer alignment, value, and service. This is not accomplished by proclamation.
Law’s shift to customer-focus is a process that requires hard work. It starts with cultural evolution and involves challenging the continued efficacy of its sacred cows— delivery structures, models, customs, processes, mindsets, metrics, reward systems, and workforces. They are reimagined and refined or replaced by new ones that better align with and respond to customers. The legal profession was built to serve lawyers. The legal industry, of which lawyers are a part, must be built to serve customers and society.
Law retains the culture and vestiges of when it was exclusively about lawyers; legal expertise was its sole ingredient; the profession was the industry; the practice of law was synonymous with the delivery of legal services; and the traditional law firm partnership model was the sun in the legal universe. The profession still views performance from the lawyer perspective, not the customer. Profit-per-partner (PPP)— not net promoter score (NPS)— is its Holy Grail. The profession’s hubris, tone-deafness to changing customer expectations, and lip service to “innovation” is creating a widening gap with its own customers as well as an enormous opportunity for customer-centric providers to accelerate market share gains.
The profession’s misalignment with its customers helps explain the emergence of a handful of elite legal service providers. The new-model providers possess deep, broad multidisciplinary expertise, technological and process acumen, capital, effective use of data, business DNA, a reward system that prizes performance—both internal and customer-based. These providers have forged models that respond to unmet market need for business-disciplined, customer-focused, data-based, multidisciplinary, agile, scaled delivery of legal services.
Note to the legal profession: lawyers are no longer the presumptive choice to manage the delivery of legal services. Nor are lawyers the presumptive “trusted advisor” for customers confronting complex business challenges. This is a bitter pill for the profession to swallow, but its health and influence depends upon it.
What Do Customer-Centric Legal Services Look Like?
Customer-centric legal services can be delivered from a variety of sources—in-house legal departments, law companies (a/k/a “alternative legal service providers”), law firms—or Amazon. The provider source(s) may vary, but their core characteristics do not. These include:
1. A culture built upon a customer-first commitment.
2. A culture aligned with the customer.
3. A relentless commitment to improve customer value, satisfaction, and experience.
4. Investment in technology, human resources, and training to meet the changing needs and expectations of customers.
5. A long-term approach to building customer relationships, not a transactional one.
6. Customer-centric legal services may involve a single end-to-end provider or a seamless supply chain. The workflow design is dictated by matching the “right” resources—human and machine— to achieve the optimal efficiency, cost-effectiveness, value, results, ease of access, transparency, scale, results, and customer experience.
7. A focus on what the customer needs, not what the provider sells.
8. Success metrics that benefit customers, not internal stakeholders.
9. Outcomes/results are what’s valued, not inputs.
10. Applying legal and compliance data to fashion customer strategy.
11. Effective data strategy enables customer-centric legal providers to become proactive customer business partners/value creators.
12. Two specific examples of customer-centric legal services are: (1) litigation avoidance; and (2) streamlining contracts to compress the sales cycle. More legal work does not necessarily produce better results for the customer; it is often counter-productive and always costly.
13. Data strategies for legal (especially in-house departments) are not separate from the business.
14. Consistently outstanding, seamless customer service/experience.
15. Operate at the speed of business, not law.
16. Senior management ranks include legal professionals that are not licensed attorneys.
17. Digital customers require legal providers that are on the same journey.
18. An ability to deliver at scale.
19. Differentiated services and products that solve customer challenges.
20. Jettison the myth that law is unique from other industries. It is not, especially now.
21. Transparency, customer-access, and customer feedback.
22. Effective customer service tools (service centers, bots, self-help information, thought leadership, etc.) that are constantly upgraded/augmented.
23. Investment in workforce up-skilling to anticipate/meet client needs.
24. Driving value not only to customers but also to their customers.
25. Providing legal services and products that solve problems and create enterprise value.
26. Customer referrals to and/or collaboration with providers whose products/services better suit customer needs.
27. Hiring practices that reflect law’s intersection of legal, technological, and business expertise.
28. Elevating diversity, agility, “people skills,” humanity, and passion as hiring criteria.
29. Metrics and reward systems focused on customers, not stakeholders.
30. Build an organization that is easy and pleasurable for customers to engage with—produce results and make it a terrific experience.
31. Borrow from other industries—the business of delivering legal services is not unique.
32. Always view things from the customer perspective.
33. Create a culture and hire a workforce of learners for life.
34. Commit to constant improvement.
35. Do good to do well.
Conclusion Bill Gates observed that “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” The legal establishment’s willingness to learn from its unhappy customers will determine its standing in a rapidly changing industry where the customer is king.