Customer relationship management invaluable for gaining, retaining clients

Does your firm use CRM (customer relationship management) tools? If not you probably should.

CRM tools help law firms both land future clients and satisfy current ones. Lawyers can use CRMs to improve relationships with both.

“We talk to dental students at universities all the time,” said Michael Carabash, president and founder of DMC Law, a law firm that serves dentists. Many grads want to start or own a practice a few years out of school, so Carabash and his colleagues diligently record information for each one they meet.

“Two years from now, we’ll run a campaign dedicated to helping them save money by having a professional corporation,” he explained. “The CRM lets us gather all those prospective clients into one group and market to them.”

The basics of CRM

At its most basic, a CRM helps firms organize the data they collect so that they can later analyze that data to make better business decisions. Put more technically: CRMs can greatly facilitate input and reporting of business information.

“Solo or small firms can get away with Outlook and Excel for tracking stuff,” said Carabash. DMC outgrew rudimentary systems when they realized their lawyers were taking too much time discussing information on various matters for multiple clients.

CRM processes in individual firms (even among different people in the same firm) can look markedly different from one another. However, certain phases tend to appear in every CRM process.

Initial contact entry (intake)

During initial contact, people obtain information including contact information and other key facts.

After experimenting with smartphone technology that promised to replace business cards (“only one person in the room would have the app”), Joshua Lenon has “fallen back” to business cards, using his phone’s camera to scan them into Evernote. “Evernote breaks it down into usable formats, like v-cards,” said the lawyer in residence for practice management software developer Clio.

Lenon is bullish on web-based form tool Lexicata and its customizability. “You can design your own perfect intake forms” to capture the information you want, he said, instead of having people visit an office and fill out printed forms, then handing those forms to another person to enter into a computer.

Once captured, this contact information can be synchronized with other services, including contact applications, social networks and, of course, CRM systems.

Followup: retain or disengage?

Lenon advises follow-up communications within 24 to 48 hours of initial contact with potential clients. He noted a CRM challenge rarely found outside the legal space: deciding whether to retain or disengage with a potential client.

Many lawyers make engagement letters a practice, to state scope, fees and all other details of a client/attorney relationship. “Few lawyers have what I’ll call, for lack of a better term, a non-engagement letter, where they clearly document in their CRM system that they’ve spoken with the lead and explicitly stated there is no attorney/client relationship,” explained Lenon. This obligation also entails recording time, date and content of all communications with the person.

Client service

After the engagement letter, the relationship enters the service stage, where the lawyer does legal work for the client. Caravel Law employs a director of client happiness “to ensure we speak with our clients regularly,” said Stephen Monk, Caravel’s chief navigator (i.e. CEO — nautical history buffs will get the reference).

The same person is also director of lawyer happiness. “She matches clients with lawyers, to ensure everybody goes into a relationship wanting to work together.”

Client feedback

Caravel also collects feedback using Net Promoter Score (NPS). The firm uses a platform called “AskNicely” (how Canadian) to follow up on invoices with the following question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely would you be to recommend Caravel Law to a friend or colleague?” Monk doesn’t evaluate the NPS they get in isolation. “You can compare yourself with like companies,” he said.

Continuous contact over time can take various forms, from newsletters and other “buckshot” routines to more precisely targeted initiatives. Carabash’s lead generation with dental school grads is an example of the latter.

Reporting

While Carabash started his firm’s CRM initiative to better manage client information, that is no longer his favourite feature. “You can customize amazing reports,” he said, listing some of the insights he seeks, like: how much a client typically spends on a certain type of matter (data used in setting fixed fees); and when is the firm’s slowest time (a time to execute marketing activities).

Lawyers can ask for many types of reports depending on the issue, a lawyer’s targets and other criteria. “Some lawyers want simple, others a 10-page report,” said Celine Gilmore. “Business development is not a linear process. There is no one-size-fits-all process.”

Gilmore, in charge of business development and marketing systems for Davies Ward Philips & Vineberg LLP, manages the firm’s CRM, and she attributes its growing popularity within the firm to the insights it provides decision-makers.

Data quality management

Such value can only be mined from a CRM with complete and good quality data. Gathering information that goes into reports and assuring its quality demands ongoing effort. Gilmore advocates strict data management to ensure the quality of data used to make business decisions. “We do refresher training with our legal assistants every year,” she said. “We help them deduplicate their data.”

Carabash started “CRM at 1 (p.m.)” at his firm. “Pens and pencils are down as everybody goes on the CRM for about half an hour to enter data,” he said. A Monday morning huddle with law clerks to examine reports that run Sunday night helps the team keep things from falling through the cracks.

Lawyers themselves might not be the best people to take full responsibility of CRM. Caravel Law’s director of client happiness and Gilmore shoulder much of this responsibility at their respective firms. Carabash plans on handing the reins to the CRM he acquired to an office manager he wants to hire soon.

Over time, CRM databases acquire increasing numbers of insights, all of which may tempt lawyers to act. Gilmore advocates a focused approach. “You have to think about who your targets are, in your database,” she said. Catering to every target “doesn’t provide the right kind of value to the firm.”

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily website, published by LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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