Got a ‘heroic’ client solution? Sure you’re not just being arrogant?

Why you should never listen to yourself harder than you listen to your client…

It’s easy to think you’ve got the perfect client solution. “This is going to transform their business… they’ll love us,” shouts the seductive thought. Yet what seems like a wonderful plan could be a relationship killer if you haven’t got fully under the skin of what your client is trying to achieve or how they like to operate. In other words, if you’ve listened to yourself harder than you’ve listened to your client, you could be in trouble.

This message was highlighted to the BDLN recently by Peter Duff, chairman of Shoosmiths, recent winner of the ‘UK Law Firm of the Year’ at Legal Week’s British Legal Awards 2015. “Lots of firms still concentrate on the ‘us’,” Peter told us in an interview. “They say to clients: ‘This is how we do it.’ But I’m always trying to reverse that. I want to make sure we speak to the client, listen hard, and then decide how to deliver, taking into account everything they say and do.”

Don’t prescribe. Listen…

Shoosmiths has developed this idea by creating a process which it calls ‘Client Listening’. Here, a business development team visits a client purely to find out about them, deciphering pressure points and identifying places where value can be best added. Peter says; “We ask business development professionals rather than lawyers to do this reconnaissance work because they tend to have better-developed listening skills. They create client ‘dashboards’ that set out each client’s terms, containing information from the best time to phone them, to the style and tone of reporting we should be delivering. Whatever the quirk is, we try to meet that.”

Whatever the quirk is, we try to meet that

Forget about client service. Think client experience

‘Client listening’ is the result of Shoosmiths’ No. 1 ambition to offer the best client experience of any law firm in the UK. “That’s our vision. That’s what we want to be famous for,” says Peter.

The reason Shoosmiths zooms in on client experience (client service is the wrong word because it doesn’t inspire enough creativity, believes Peter) is because the firm regards it as the top differentiator. “A good quality of service from big law firms is a given,” argues Peter, “but the ability to create a truly special client experience makes you stand out.”

Best people = best experience

If the best client experience is the destination, then recruitment of the finest people is the road to get you there, believes Peter. “If you put a job ad out there and it takes two years to find the right person, it’s still better to have spent that time waiting for that ideal individual,” he says. “Recruitment feeds all the way through to the client experience, because the bottom line is that the client is buying people.”

A good quality of service from big law firms is a given, but the ability to create a truly special client experience makes you stand out

But that road must be signposted by values that inspire positive habits, says Peter. “We have a set of values that have been in place for 12-13 years that everyone who works here knows very well. You can’t get promoted without working within them.” And a big part of those values is for everyone at the firm, no matter what role they are in, to have client-facing time. Trainees are deliberately not hidden away, and everyone is expected to work on their business development skills and to build client relationships. “We don’t reserve our client-facing roles for partners; it’s much wider than that,” says Peter.

So there you have it: an innovative approach with client experience – rather than client service – at its core. Everything from recruitment to values and beyond is designed to improve that client experience and to make it the best it can possibly be. That simple model has landed Shoosmiths the title of UK Law Firm of the Year, and it’s a model that can save others from what could be described as the ‘arrogance trap’ – that relationship-wrecking mistake of listening to yourself harder than your client, and coming up with a ‘heroic’ solution that completely misses the mark and may do more harm than good.