Memo to legal marketers - know your client, adapt your communication style to theirs, seek feedback

Legal Marketing Association conference attendees hear anecdotes good and bad

Memo to legal marketers - know your client, adapt your communication style to theirs, seek feedback
Yohan Sauves, Oliviana Mingarelli, Terry Moore, Paulette Armstrong

Knowing who your client is and how they like to communicate is among the essential skills you can master in the legal marketing world. That was the message given to attendees of the Canadian national conference of the Legal Marketing Association earlier this week during a panel where speakers swapped stories of experiences, good and bad.

"No matter the client, no matter the role, no matter your level of seniority, client experience really is everything," Terry Moore, Chief Marketing Officer at Cox & Palmer, said during a session called Storytime – the client experience. "And all the great business development efforts, all the great advertising in the world won't compensate for poor client experience."

Yohan Sauves, Senior Director of Business Development and Strategy in the Montreal office of Davies, Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP, agreed, adding that the "first most important thing was understanding the communication style of the law firm's clients.

Davies' Sauves also recounted to Legal Marketing Association conference attendees a story from when he worked at a different firm about “best practices" for inviting the firm's clients to an evening reception that was part of a larger conference. “I thought it would be more impactful to send fancier formal invitations rather than invite them over the phone or in person at the conference.

"What I hadn’t realized was that these clients included members of public and parapublic organizations, clients who had to report these types of invitations and, in some cases, pay themselves in order to participate. Knowing that in advance would have helped me not to push, push, push for the best practice on the books."

Oliviana Mingarelli, Senior Director of Business Development at Fasken, recounted her experience of figuring out how to get the attention of busy lawyers in a role she occupied early in her legal marketing career.

"I was on the communications side, and had a background in English and Journalism," Mingarelli said, adding that she assumed her clients would appreciate her thorough, well-written emails. While she had some positive responses, other lawyers never replied.

She soon realized that she needed to mimic the style of the intended recipient of her emails. After doing a bit of tracking and investigating, she realized that many of the lawyers she was trying to reach preferred "short and sweet" bullet point communications.

"So, I just started adapting my style," she told the conference attendees. "And all of a sudden, I would get back short and sweet answers from those who hadn’t responded earlier, and we could then move forward. It is something that has stayed with me, and always try to be very observant and read between the lines to really adapt the communication style."

Paulette Armstrong, National Director of Business Development at Miller Thomson LLP, used her speaking time to talk about the importance of getting client feedback, good or bad, and using it to improve the relationship.

"Listen to the feedback, and most importantly, do something with it and make a change," Armstrong said. She described a feedback session at a previous professional services firm. Armstrong said she had no idea the client was that unhappy, but the good news was that the client "had a good relationship with the team and did not want to let us go."

The solution? The client was invited to give a lengthy presentation about areas where the firm could improve, the major issues, and how to move forward. "And we used that presentation to make things better for the client."

Another valuable use of feedback, Armstrong said, is taking the approach of seeking advice on how to do things before going in with dramatic changes. This approach provides a good opportunity to get input from those who are vested in the outcome and helps build the relationship.

Cox & Palmer's Moore also talked about using feedback to invigorate the client relationship. She described the popularity of trivia at past in-person conferences a practice group at her firm regularly organized. It revolved around lawyers developing questions about awards and rules surrounding litigation, where conference attendees would compete for bragging rights by getting the answers right. However, Moore said it went by the wayside, even before COVID-19 hit, as webinars became a platform more regularly used.

Late last year, Moore said, there was discussion about reinvigorating this event, given how the pandemic had unsettled things. There was a lot of discussion about connecting with clients for this practice group, many of whom are still working from home. In reviewing past conference feedback surveys, many talked fondly of the trivia.

So, they decided to bring trivia back, Moore said, and the feedback surveys following the virtual event saw two words - "fun" and "love" – regularly used to describe the session.

Said Moore: "So when you are able to tap into the emotions of clients and create an experience where they use those types of words, particularly in a legal environment, I consider that to be a client experience home run."

And the final bit of advice came from Miller Thomson's Armstrong – "try not to say no to a team social."

"People in this room, they know if there's a work social, you will see me there.  It gives me the opportunity to connect with my team and build those relationships. So, get out there and make those connections and build your network."

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