‘Counting the Cost of Poor CRM Strategies’

April 30, 1998

Although few law firms deny that CRM is beneficial, creating an institutionalized firm-wide customer focussed culture is the real challenge facing today’s lawyers. Achieving success in this commercial environment requires a rethink that extends from law firm culture to the management specifics, such as billing for profitability.

Integrating technology into an overall business process that fits into the working culture and practices of a firm is an essential factor in any CRM strategy. By failing to achieve this union of strategy, culture and technology, firms continue to waste their IT investment.

In two recent studies by Performance House, the global communication and performance consultants, to measure the quality of communication from law firm switchboards and Web sites the results showed that many current CRM strategies are not working.

In March 2003, a study was conducted into the quality of service being provided by 15 major law firms over the telephone; Berrymans Lace Mawer, Bevan Ashford, Bond Pearce, Clarke Willmott & Clarke, Cripps Harries Hall, Dickinson Dees, DWF, Eversheds, Irwin Mitchell, Osbourne Clarke, Pannone and Partners, Russell Jones and Walker, Shoosmiths, Walker Morris, Wragge and Co.

The study took the form of a mystery shopper exercise, with the law firms being measured against the Performance House service mark framework, designed specifically for the legal sector. The call is marked from the first point of contact through to the closure of the call and any future communication or information that has been promised or received. The telephone communication attributes measured include articulacy, knowledge, relevancy, willingness to assist and ability to think laterally.

The results were somewhat concerning.

In the first instance, a 30% variance between the best and worst performers identified a level of inconsistency, at sector level, that has not before been encountered by Performance House – as a rule standard of service within a sector is usually consistent. This can be accredited perhaps to the fact that other sectors pay more attention to meeting and/or exceeding their client and customer expectations.

In the main, the first point of contact was warm and welcoming however some switchboards were particularly unwelcoming, often interrupting in mid sentence; on one occasion, the firm interrupted the caller by saying “we don’t talk to the general public”.

Support staff are increasingly being used for client liasion, the relationship between the client and the ‘front line’ staff – The Corporate Welcome Mat – becomes increasingly more important commercially. Often the company as a whole is judged by the efficiency and effectiveness of the fee earners’ support staff.

Law is a complex area and knowledge of partners and solicitors specialist areas is difficult but is a particular weakness of the switchboards. 21% of callers were transferred to the incorrect individual, resulting in more than one transfer within one call. This was due to the switchboard transferring callers through to extensions without definite information that they could assist the callers. In customer services this is called a ‘blind transfer’

It was evident that only 28% of switchboards explained or introduced the caller to the extension user. This resulted in callers having to explain their situation and details again. Introducing the caller prior to the transfer would greatly reduce the number of incorrect transfers as it would allow the extension user to explain they can’t help but offer another possibility.

The aim of the callers was to receive practical information over the telephone within one call to the service. This was rarely achieved; most callers were offered call backs with a small percentage of firms stating a caller must be assigned a solicitor prior to any information being offered. Less than a 33% of the calls resulted in the query being resolved first time.

The Web site study also had interesting findings. ‘Any effective medium for communication has to be a two-way interaction. Companies who use their Web sites solely for advertising purposes are not effectively using this interactive medium thus not meeting their own client’s expectations. Your client has to be able to ask you questions, obtain specific information and receive informative personalised answers without the need to ring or arrange a meeting.’

On the whole, Web sites were well designed, visually pleasing and acted as a good promotion for the firms, however a well-designed site does not necessarily mean an effective or useful site. The biggest cause for concern came from the number of companies replying to e-mails or online forms that are enticing Web site visitors to contact the firm, with less than 42% of the sites responding to requests for information or business enquiries. This is just another indication that CRM strategies within law firms have specific weaknesses that can be easily addressed through the implementation of suitable communication procedures.

With many law firms implementing some kind of CRM system and strategy, it is questionable whether these have so far delivered the desired business objectives. Whilst firms are becoming more sophisticated in their use of integrated technology and portal solutions, it is a sad fact that many are still floundering in their basic CRM strategy and fail to reap the potential benefits. Leaving a basic question left unanswered.

Why spend the money if it’s not going to have the necessary impact?

The hard fact is that up to 65% of CRM projects fail because too many people put too much emphasis on the technology. The success of a CRM project is dependent on changing the attitude and behaviour of the internal customer – the switchboard, marketing, legal secretary or support staff, towards the external customer – the client.

Clearly then there is a powerful and compelling business case for introducing a Total Interface approach to CRM strategies, focussing on programmes for continuous improvement and development.

The key components for the business case are;

1. Improve client care and relationship management

2. Improve motivation and development

3. Support organisational development

4. Contribute to culture change

5. Enhance profitability.