“I’m mad,” Gay Mullins told the Chicago Tribune in 1985. “This makes me angry. I’m angry, and I’m mad. I feel injured. Betrayed. Like a sacred trust has been violated… People are having anxiety headaches. They’ve been placed in a distressed state.”
What was he so mad about? Coca-Cola had changed its century-old recipe. Mullins was so angry, in fact, that he formed a group with fellow jilted Coke drinkers and organized national protests.
The soda giant had of course run its new recipe past 200,000 taste testers before making the update, but when New Coke hit stands, real customers didn’t like it. They banded together,led by vocal rabble-rousers like Mullins, and lobbied for Coca-Cola to bring back its old taste.
Initially, the protests were ignored. A little pushback was to be expected, reasoned the soda executives. It would go away eventually. But it didn’t. For 90 days, Mullins and his protesters marched outside Coca-Cola’s headquarters holding signs bearing the slogan “Our Children Will Never Know Refreshment.”
Eventually, the soda giant cracked. It announced that it’d bring back old Coke. Mullins and his band of protesters erupted in cheers at the news.
Think about that for a second: thousands of customers dedicated three months of their lives to a soda they liked to drink. Why do you think Coke did what it did? Customer retention is key in the soda battle. Virtually every customer Coca-Cola lost was one Pepsi gained. When customers began revolting, Coke execs realized that such dedicated consumers were actually too valuable to lose—even if backtracking would lose them face.
This lesson in customer retention isn’t unique to soda. Customer retention is key for long-term success across the economy, even in traditional industries such as law, where clients have historically stuck around.
In the legal sector, the days of lifelong legal clients are long gone. Modern consumers shop around when they need a lawyer, and they’ll select a firm with the best offer at the best price. That presents a huge opportunity for forward-thinking businesses. In this unstable market, growing your law firm’s retention rate by just 5% is the same as boosting profits by up to 95%.
We profiled five successful law firms from around the world to help sort vanity retention tactics from tried-and-tested strategies. Here’s what they’re doing to keep their clients, year over year, even in a market cluttered with firms to choose from.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate: Florida Car Accident Lawyer Team
- Improve information access: Williams Law
- Put your people front and center: Dillon Consulting Services
- Cut down your response times: RDK Legal
- Offer an optional VIP service: JPG Legal
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate: Florida Car Accident Lawyer Team
Even basic legal services are intricate and time-consuming. That means clients are often left waiting for updates for days or weeks on end while their legal team works diligently behind the scenes. But when clients are left waiting for updates, they start to feel nervous. “Is something wrong?” a client may think. “Is anyone even working on my case? Would I be better off somewhere else?”
Darryl Smith, co-founder of Florida Car Accident Lawyer Team, recognized the value in communication long ago, but only recently learned to turn client communication into a retention tactic. When Smith founded his law firm, his team only spoke to clients when there was a clear need, such as when a client needed to sign a document. But this approach left a lot of time between calls, letters, and emails.
“This kept our clients in the dark,” Smith tells RingCentral. “We have a feedback survey after we deal with clients, and a lot of the feedback we received suggested that we update the client more often.”
So that’s exactly what they did.
The Florida-based firm began experimenting with a new communication schedule. Instead of getting in touch with clients when there was something to do, Smith asked his employees to call clients every other day—even when there were no updates.
“Clients love our new communication process,” Smith says. “We have been told by many of our past clients that their minds were at ease throughout their case, and they never had a question that was not answered.”
Smith says his firm is only a couple months into the new communication process but he’s already seeing improvement. Using his old communication strategy, Smith estimates that his firm retained just 50% of clients. Now, that figure is significantly higher, at 80%.
“I think it’s to do with comfort,” says Smith. “When [clients] are sitting at home in the midst of a legal battle, they’re constantly raising questions that can make them feel anxious. When you are constantly communicating with your clients, it is a reassurance. It’s an opportunity to present concerns they may have.”
When you provide a client with daily—or near-daily—updates, you’re not only keeping that client in the loop, you’re keeping them reassured. And a client who feels reassured is more likely to stay with you.
Want to deliver an optimal client experience?
See how Paragon Legal did it
2. Make information accessible remotely: Williams Law
Imagine for a moment that you want to check the status of your retirement savings. What do you do? You log in to your 401(k), right? Well, what if you want to check on the status of your house purchase or trademark application or immigration status? That almost always requires a phone call or email to your lawyer.
In today’s on-demand culture, the legal world lags a long way behind in terms of information access. But a handful of organizations are showing how things can be done, chief among them is Williams Law, an insurance and injury law firm based in Tampa, Florida.
A few years ago, Williams underwent a company-wide digital transformation. They ripped up everything and started again from scratch, rebuilding processes and policies around their clients’ needs.
One of the first changes they made was updating the firm’s document management and databases, says Marketing Director Danielle Fernandez. Before, documents had to be edited, sent, and stored manually. With the new system, client’s could access and edit their documents online—no matter where they were.
“Our clients have the ability to sign all their documents remotely and access their files on our portals,” Fernandez explains. “Our paralegals work hard to keep each client’s file up to date so they only have to log on for an update on their case.”
With their new system, Williams Law tore down a big barrier in communication. Before, clients had to personally request updates from their lawyers, and the lawyers had to manually fetch the updates for each request. Now, it’s largely self-serve. If someone wants an update at midnight, they can log in to Williams’ portal and get it.
Improving information access can help soothe worries and keep clients engaged with their case, increasing the likelihood of repeat business.
3. Put your people front and center: Dillon Consulting Services
Remember the adage people buy from people? Well, it’s true for retention, too: people stay with people. Nowhere is this truer than the legal sector, where clients pay for the time, knowledge, and expertise of their lawyer.
Understanding that you’re selling more than just a service is key to improving retention, says Paul A. Dillon, a business consultant specializing in professional services. “Clients must have confidence in the competence of the people providing the service,” he explains. “All that a professional service organization has is the competence of the collective minds of the people that it employs.”
Once you start seeing your practice as a collection of people, rather than a faceless corporate entity, it’s easy to see the value of highlighting your employees.
Dillon recommends showcasing the people behind your business so prospective clients can put a face to the service. That means highlighting your staff on your website, personally signing emails and letters, and providing direct contact information rather than generic office details.
By putting your people front and center, your clients will associate your firm with its individuals, forging a stronger emotional bond than they ever could with a faceless firm. When they come to reconsider whether or not to use your services again, it’ll be a choice between the people they personally like and a horde of anonymous competitors—and that makes it an easy choice.
4. Cut down your response times: RDK Legal
How quickly do you think you need to respond to new inbound enquiries? A week? A couple of days? Maybe 24 hours?
According to Harvard Business Review, leads contacted within an hour were nearly seven times more likely to result in a meaningful conversation. After the hour had elapsed, it was increasingly likely the prospect had gotten a reply elsewhere and no longer needed help. While it’s a slightly different dynamic in ongoing client communication, the underlying principle is the same: faster communication means better service.
“Clients won’t fire you so long as you are communicating with them,” says Russell Knight, an attorney based in Chicago. “This means returning phone calls, sending out written updates, and calling.”
But prioritizing communication is only part of Knight’s retention plan. Once he had a strong communication system in place, he started ratcheting down his expected response times. Currently, he insists his employees return all client communication within 48 hours. And that could be cut down in the future.
“We require a 48-hour call back policy,” he says, “but if there is even a hint of miscommunication or misunderstanding, the attorney on the case gets in touch with the client immediately via telephone.”
As it turns out, clients don’t like to be ignored. If you want to keep them coming back, make it a practice to always quickly return their calls.
For example, see how MHP&S Law increased their billable hours by using an app integration to look for not just phone calls with a client, but also SMS texts, internal team messages and file-sharing tasks regarding that client, and even video meetings held to discuss the case.
5. Offer an optional VIP service: JPG Legal
When new clients arrived at Jeremy Peter Green’s trademark law firm, JPG Legal, he used to tell them the same thing: “Our turnaround time for a legal opinion or trademark application is around one or two weeks.” Usually, that was fine. Most clients had planned well ahead and built Green’s timeline into their business plans. But not everyone.
Occasionally, clients would need work completed within a few days, and that caused problems. “[Our turnaround time] worked for most of our clients, but not for clients who were in a hurry,” Green tells RingCentral. If he took on such clients, he knew they might be frustrated by the standard deadline. If he said no, they’d go to one of his competitors.
About a year ago, Green decided to experiment. He rolled out an expedited service for rushed clients. “I added a feature to our client intake form allowing them to pay an additional fee for expedited service, guaranteeing a two-business-day turnaround time for each major update in the trademark process,” he explains.
From its first day, Green’s new service was immensely popular. Not only that, it helped improve customer satisfaction and retention.
“I found that our happiest clients were our expedited customers, meaning they were the most likely to hire us for additional trademarks or refer their colleagues,” Green says. “Now, whenever we hit rough patches, I take comfort in knowing that about a third of our clients are very happy with our service and are likely to keep hiring us.”
If your prospective clients are looking for something you don’t currently offer, see if you can offer—and charge for—it.
Protect your clients and keep them around longer
Attracting new customers is expensive. A new retail customer costs $10, a new manufacturing client $83, and a travel customer $98. Those costs pale in comparison to legal customer acquisition costs, which can run to several hundred dollars—or more.
That’s why a growing legal firm can’t focus solely on landing new business. If you’re losing clients each year, it’s virtually impossible to replace them and turn a profit. That’s why retention is so important.
While retention might not feel as sexy as a new marketing campaign, the numbers speak for themselves: returning customers cost less, buy more, and refer you to a steady stream of new contacts. It might not always be the best practice to always be chasing new prospects, but sometimes you just need to work on delighting the customers you already have.