Above and Beyond KM

A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

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This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • wunderbaum - new car Spotted on the side of a bus recently: “New customers are better than old customers because they have that nice new customer smell.”

    Really???

    We’re told that it can cost six to seven times more to recruit a new customer than to retain a satisfied customer. With an existing customer you can leverage your established relationship and track record. By contrast, these assets need to be created from scratch with the new customer. Satisfied customers are willing to buy more of your goods or services and they tend to be less price sensitive over time. Best of all, the happier they are, the more likely they are to refer potential customers to you.

    Esteban Kolsky rightly points out that to compare accurately the cost of retention versus recruitment, we need reliable data regarding customer acquisition costs and customer maintenance costs in the relevant industry.  I wonder how many law firms track these costs in any systematic way? What about tracking the costs incurred by a law firm knowledge management department to attract or retain its internal (or external) customers? Have you given any thought to the costs of maintaining and expanding your services to existing KM customers as opposed to ignoring what you’ve got and chasing new customers?

    When you think in terms of developing a long-term relationship, you realize that what you need is an ongoing conversation with your customer.  It’s this conversation that helps you understand your customer’s needs and how you might best serve. It’s this conversation that allows you to grow with your customer in a perfectly symbiotic way.

    Zappos has taken this even further.  The company claims that

    Customer service isn’t just a department. … We’ve aligned the entire organization around one mission: to provide the best customer service possible.

    Contrast this approach to the ones described by James Surowiecki when writing about the current crisis in customer service. Where does your law firm or KM department fall on the spectrum that runs from Zappos to far less attentive organizations?

    I’ve heard it said that the difference between a customer and a client is repeat business.  What are you doing to ensure that customers become long-term clients?

     

    [Photo Credit: Me Maya]

    2 Comments
  • Hand washing poster from Yale Do you know how to wash your hands? Now, before you complain about bloggers who ask dumb questions, let me rephrase that question slightly: Do you know how to wash your hands properly? Chances are you don’t.

    This issue arose when I found myself getting frustrated by restaurants that piously posted signs in restrooms instructing employees to wash their hands carefully, yet those same restaurants refused to provide hot water for hand washing.  How on earth could that be hygienic? This set me down the path of learning more about hand washing. Although I’m a scrupulous hand washer, I soon discovered that I had a lot to learn about the mechanics of hand washing. Among the things I learned are the following:

    • While hot water is nice, it’s not necessary. If you were serious about using water temperature to blitz the bacteria on your hands, the water would have to be scalding hot.
    • The key to effective hand washing is friction — it’s the rubbing of one soapy hand against the other that dislodges the oil that holds the dirt and bacteria on your skin.
    • According to the Center for Disease Control, you must scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds to clean them properly. How long is 20 seconds? The time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice.

    So clearly, even after a lifetime of diligent hand washing, I need to go back to hand washing school. What about you?

    Now even if you do better than I do on the hand washing test, how are your hand drying skills?  (I can hear you asking yourself, is she crazy?  How hard can it be to dry your own hands???!) Bear with me a moment.  Even if you know the basics of how to make wet hands dry, do you know the best method for every context?  For example, what’s the best way to dry your hands if you’re trying to keep your hands germ free? What’s better: a cloth towel, a paper towel or one of those jet air dryers?  (Hint: it may not be the jet air dryer.)

    What if you only have paper towels to dry with? Doesn’t that damage the environment? Is there a way to dry your hands and protect the environment? It took an entertaining TED talk by Joe Smith to show me how to dry my hands without ever needing more than a single paper towel.

    This foray through hand washing and drying is intended to illustrate a larger point. If we still have much to learn about tasks we’ve performed nearly every day of our lives, why do we believe we don’t need ongoing training for the tasks we perform at work? Technology changes, contexts vary, best practices improve.  Are you confident that you have learned and incorporated the latest training into your work?  If not, why not?

    The next time you wash and dry your hands, consider what other areas of your life could benefit from a refresher course.  We all need training.

    [Photo Credit: Patrick J. Lynch]

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  • Baigneurs Obesity in America is a problem of gigantic proportions. In fact, ABC News reports that “almost two-thirds of adults and almost one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese.” Unfortunately, it’s getting worse:

    …according to a new study out Monday, the number of overweight people in the U.S. will grow to almost 42 percent of the country by 2030, and cost a whopping $550 billion in obesity-related health care costs per year.

    Clearly we have a consumption problem. But that’s not all. JP Rangaswami, one of the brightest lights in the knowledge management and Enterprise 2.0 firmament, recently gave a TEDx talk in which he suggested there were parallels between food and information. In fact, he suggests we should think about our information production, preparation and consumption like we think about our food production, preparation and consumption. Who is producing good quality information?  How can you identify good quality information? How do you set limits on your information consumption?  Do you need an information diet or even an information fast?

    Now, consider lawyers in America.  Many of us have an extremely unhealthy lifestyle: we work long hours, get little sleep, eat a poor diet, get insufficient exercise, and suffer high levels of stress. This could make us prime candidates for obesity. Lawyers are equally bad about their information consumption — we don’t always pay sufficient attention to the quality of what’s coming at us from the information fire hose.  Further, our orientation to service leads us to allow far too many interruptions in the name of staying on top of the situation or being responsive.  If JP Rangaswami were here, he’d say that when it comes to information consumption, lawyers snack all day.

    In light of the obesity epidemic with respect to both food and information, what can law firm knowledge management do?  Well clearly, knowledge managers cannot cut off the supply of information so we’ll have to help our colleagues make better choices.  In the realm of physical health, doctors will recommend more exercise, smaller portions of food and longer nights of sleep, among other things. With respect to information obesity, how do we turn the situation around? We need to teach ourselves and our colleagues a healthier approach:

    I’d strongly recommend you take the eight minutes required to watch JP’s talk. (I’ve embedded the video below for your convenience.) Then think about what changes KM can bring about to help colleagues adopt a healthier approach to their consumption of information.

    Hat tip to Luis Suarez who pointed out JP’s excellent TEDxAustin talk and also shared how he has made changes in his own life to avoid an unhealthy weight gain and information obesity (see the video below).

    [Photo Credit: Romain Pittet]

    1 Comment
  • What are the key factors that lead to a successful long-term relationship between corporate clients and their outside counsel? LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell (in association with The Global Legal Post) have just released a report of a 2012 survey of in-house counsel in Western Europe that seeks to answer that question. The report examines the following issues:
    • Selection factors,  reasons for reviews of panel firms, and the frequency of those reviews.
    • Factors influencing the retention of firms for future work.
    • Top reasons for the removal of firms from preferred panels/lists.
    • Approach taken by in-house counsel to evaluate law firm performance and common themes in feedback.
    • Value-adding elements of relationships.

    Of the 219 in-house lawyers who participated across 16 countries in Western Europe, the results were very clear:

    • To be successful, a law firm must demonstrate that it understands its client’s business needs.
    • A guaranteed way to end a client relationship prematurely is to provide poor service.
    • Cost is a factor, but it can be outweighed by the high quality of the firm’s service and the extent to which the firm demonstrates its understanding of client needs.
    • Clients appreciate value-added services such as free training seminars and lawyer secondments.

    Be a Trusted Advisor

    Clearly, knowing the law is necessary but not sufficient. Clients aren’t looking for an erudite legal lecture, they want the assurance that you understand their situation and have the legal sophistication to apply the law appropriately to their facts.  Beyond that, clients want to know that your understanding of their business is so deep that you can anticipate their needs and be active in helping manage their legal exposure. In other words, your client wants you to be a trusted advisor, not just a technician for hire.

    How can KM help deliver what the clients want?

    If your knowledge management program has focused primarily on legal documents thus far, now would be a good time to think about adding some current awareness programs.  In addition, consider partnering with library and training professionals to provide opportunities for lawyers to learn more deeply about client industries: What are the economic drivers? What are the pressures? Where are the opportunities? Look for ways to passively capture KM resources from these training programs and from the related conversations within client service teams.

    Focus on Feedback

    Lawyers are notoriously thin-skinned, so they sometimes shy away from asking directly about client expectations and satisfaction. As a result, they can find it difficult at times to understand how best to serve their clients. The report addresses this issue squarely:

    Most respondents were also very happy to participate in feedback programmes conducted by their law firms, although less than half had received an invitation to provide this. However, law firms appear to be even less committed to using customer insights to help strengthen their relationship. Only 28% of survey respondents said that their law firms came back to them to share the results and communicate improvements or changes that would be made as a result of feedback received.

    Thanks to this report, we now have some insight into exactly what clients are looking for.  Although the report relates to a study of in-house counsel in Western Europe, I have a hard time believing that their North American counterparts have materially different expectations of their lawyers. Put another way, I think a North American law firm would be foolish to disregard these results.

    The client has spoken.  The rest is up to us.

     

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