Information and experience are invisible yet valuable assets which some firms are leveraging to build stronger client relationships
How useful to your firm is knowledge management (KM) and your KM team? The question is more relevant these days than ever because even in this era of Big Data, automation and disaggregation, many firms are still failing to marshal their in-house know-how in a structured way.
The consequences can be serious, with lost market share, clients and opportunities all resulting from a muddled approach to KM.
Get to know in-housers
KM generally takes two forms – internal or client-facing. A failure to leverage the former into engagement with the latter can result in a failure to build stronger ties with clients, and no-one needs telling where that can lead.
But a growing number of firms are building client-facing structures and systems into their thinking. This could include the sharing of knowledge with clients, interacting with them in a more regular or systematic manner or simply being more proactive about client-facing KM.
Take Olswang. Last year the media and technology-focused firm launched a scheme aimed at providing in-house lawyers with the information they need to help the next generation of talent emerge.
Called the Tomorrow’s Leaders Network, it is a series that takes a structured approach to relationship investment activities. At the same time it aims to bridge gaps in the firm’s knowledge about clients, while getting closer to them.
This is how it works. Olswang asks clients to identify someone in their legal team they consider a future leader. It invites these individuals to take part in the programme, which provides general counsel with a forum through which they can invest in their senior team.
In other words, it creates an opportunity for tomorrow’s legal stars to share ideas, raise questions and get to know external lawyers better.
Tomorrow’s Leaders Network meetings take the form of dinner discussions with several in-house lawyers at a time facilitated by high-profile external experts along with a client practitioner. So far, Olswang has hosted four dinners, with hosts including the likes of ITV chief executive Adam Crozier and the broadcaster’s group legal director Andrew Garard running the show.
The meetings operate under Chatham House rules, providing a confidential environment for attendees to share experiences and learn from each other. Through the network, Olswang looks to add value to the client relationship beyond legal advice, while helping rising in-house stars do their jobs better.
As a result the firm strengthens its relationship with the client while the in-house lawyer gets a warm, rosy feeling about its external legal services supplier.
As Olswang’s CRM head Jo Witham puts it, “Our KM has a heart and a beat to it.”
Witham says the dinners are similar to personal coaching sessions.
“Our feedback suggests that some clients don’t feel they have any other forum in which to meet their peers and discuss issues such as succession planning, how they influence strategy, their CPD goals and so on,” she adds. “The topics we discuss are aligned to their needs.”
One of the lawyers who has attended a Tomorrow’s Leaders Network dinner and clearly found it useful is Glenn Quadros, general counsel at Unilever’s Enterprise Technology and Solutions division.
As Quadros says, he is one of those lawyers who is “making that jump from senior lawyer to a GC role” – precisely the market at which the network is aimed.
“It’s more than just KM,” says Quadros. “It’s creating a forum. The difficulty for me is that when you become a GC you don’t get much guidance, so I found this to be brilliant. Just being able to talk to someone at that level, helping to make the jump to being a genuine GC. You’re inundated with pure KM, but tacit knowledge is like gold dust. I’m crying out for it and I haven’t got that from some of the law firms I’m using.”
Witham says that for Olswang the network “is not about pounds and pence”, but admits that “there may be a financial payback”.
“For us it’s about deepening and strengthening the relationship with clients,” she insists. “As a firm we’re all about insights and it’s about being able to initiate interesting conversations. It’s all about the brand.”
On top of this, Olswang has developed a scheme called the Peer Partnership Programme (PPP), an informal support network that meets quarterly and brings together peers from different organisations (sometimes including associates from Olswang and one client organisation, other times from Olswang and two client organisations) and facilitates the sharing of best practice and innovation at all levels.
Through the PPP Olswang says it “aims to facilitate an outward-looking focus to encourage the teams to learn from each other and develop and share best practice ideas”.
“For one of our clients the PPP is a KM programme that’s also part of their personal development programme,” adds Witham. “We believe it’s a tangible, progressive offering to help our clients. Return on investment could be a longer term result, it’s true, but for now we’re helping them learn, grow, share ideas and do their job more effectively. And it supports our brand as innovative and distinctive. Clients tell us they’re not getting this from other firms.”
Keep clients onside
Olswang is not the only firm making innovative waves from under the KM umbrella.
DWF believes it is the only law firm to have adopted the net promoter scoring system, a client satisfaction rating system created by Bain & Co more than two decades ago as a way of pinpointing how loyal an organisation’s clients are.
It works by asking your clients how likely they would be to recommend you and score the results. The higher the score, the more loyal your clients probably are to you. And if they are loyal, they are more likely to spend money with you.
Amazon and Apple Retail are well-known adopters of net promoter scoring, as are a growing number of professional and financial services businesses, including some of the largest consultancies.
At DWF the process involved the firm’s business development team meeting about 150 general counsel, heads of legal and claims directors at its core clients and asking them how likely they are to recommend DWF to a colleague or friend on a scale of one to 10.
Amazon is understood to score about 80. DWF’s score is 72.
“It suggests an exceptionally loyal client base but there’s still work to do,” says the firm’s client development director Clifton Harrison. “It’s a useful metric.”
DWF began using the system in June last year.
“It’s remarkably simple but it’s what you do with the quantitative and qualitative data that makes a difference,” adds Harrison.
DWF’s approach to client-facing KM also has the benefit of throwing up some unlooked for details, as Harrison reveals.
“We discovered that one major food client hated to receive messages by voicemail because they’re constantly on the move, while another wanted their emails to be addressed in a certain way, so we changed service level agreements to encompass these things,” says Harrison. “This is going beyond billing arrangements or other headline agreements, it’s about focusing on the small things. It’s the details that matter.”