Who is Your Client Advocate?

Who is your firm’s client advocate?

(Yes, this is a trick question.)

Many years ago, I had the misfortune of finding myself in the hospital. One of the first questions they asked me was, “What do you do for a living?” When I responded, “I’m a lawyer,” the battle lines were drawn. They raised their defensive shields immediately, which naturally caused me to become extremely curious and highly observant. This, of course, just made them more anxious.

After I asked one too many questions, I was told that I was going to be discharged early. Just before my discharge, a person who called herself a “patient advocate” visited me. I vaguely recall a fairly pleasant person who seemed unable to take my feedback and cause any changes in the hospital’s approach. Coupled with the rest of my experience at their hands, I had no hesitation in telling everyone I met about my bad experiences with that hospital.

This is the wrong kind of word-of-mouth advertising.

Clearly, this was a suboptimal case. But before you start bemoaning the state of American healthcare, ask yourself these questions:

  • “Is there any parallel to client experience with my firm?”
  • “Is anyone in the firm even asking our clients about how they experience our services?”
  • “If they are asking these questions, what are they doing with the answers?
  • “What is changing because of the answers received?”

Now, let’s return to the initial question: “Who is your firm’s client advocate?” If you answered, “The relationship partner,” you fell for the trick. Relationship partners usually are good at staying close to the client, winning work, responding to client queries, managing client teams within the firm, and billing (and collecting!) in a timely manner. As a practical matter, not enough relationship partners have the time, training, or (frankly) nerve to actually walk in their client’s shoes and experience the firm’s service from their client’s perspective. In other words, relationship partners can be more reactive than proactive.

Seth Godin explains the difference between reactive and proactive client service: “Reactive client service waits until something is broken.” Proactive client service¬†anticipates where potential problems might arise and plans ahead to avert or mitigate them. Reactive client service makes the bare minimum changes necessary to pacify clients. Proactive client service holds itself to a higher bar: it creates the conditions that make clients grateful for and vocal about their wonderful relationship with your firm.

So what might a client advocate in your firm do?

  • actively solicit client feedback on their relationship and experience with the firm
  • conduct after-action reviews with firm lawyers and staff to gain a more holistic view of what happened
  • advocate on behalf of clients for new practices and policies that help avert or mitigate negative client experiences
  • work with firm lawyers and staff to embed those new practices and policies in firm workflows

Now, let’s return to the initial question again:¬†“Who is your firm’s client advocate?”

[Photo Credit: Paul Mercuri [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

 

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