Robert Camp is the Director of Strategic Innovation and former Managing Partner of Stephens Scown. Since taking over as Managing Partner in 2011, Robert doubled the turnover of the firm, which has now been ranked for six consecutive years as one of the best employers in the UK (according to the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For survey). At the Managing Partners Forum in 2017, Robert’s firm stole the show with Best Corporate Culture, Best Managed National Firm and Best Leadership of a Mould Breaking Firm.
In an industry famous for its caution and conservatism, Robert has become a driving force for change. One of his great current interests is in redefining the customer experience for the sector, so we met with Robert to discuss:
- The key drivers behind this shift
- How firms create the perfect customer experience
- The importance of allowing your people to be themselves
- Building tribes
- The effects on all of this of the Coronavirus
You’re a great advocate for redefining customer experience in law. What’s driving this shift?
The internet has completely changed the way we interact and transact. There’s so much information available and the younger generation understand how to find it. If all we do is provide people with that information while offering good client service, then we’re going to find ourselves with an ever-shrinking customer base.
Instead, we have to go much further and offer a truly memorable experience.
And how do you do that?
There are two things.
First of all, we need to achieve an emotional connection. The decision for a customer to engage a solicitor is often driven by an emotionally charged event, but we often forget that.
“As an industry, we need to go beyond the mere transaction and tap into these underlying drivers.”
When we have completed an engagement we should always ask for feedback on their experience and not just the service, and when you do it’s incredible how rich that information can be. They might say, “It was the toughest experience of my life” or “It nearly destroyed my marriage.”
As an industry, we need to go beyond the mere transaction and tap into these underlying drivers. We need to give our customers space to talk about their non-legal concerns, so we can help them on that emotional journey.
For Stephens Scown, we have identified three separate groups of customer:
- Distressed purchasers – those going through a divorce, being sued, etc.
- Emotional purchasers – for example, they may have grown a business for 30 or 40 years and they’re now selling it.
- And then we have residential property customers, who fall into both camps – they’re emotional because they’re selling their home and they’re distressed because the system is broken.
A lot of it comes down to language. The way we communicate has a huge impact on our ability to develop these relationships
and as lawyers, we’re pretty bad at that. When we write emails, for example, we tend to use really hard language. If you’re going to write “I hope that everything is okay.”. Remove the “that” and use “everything’s”. “that” is not necessary and these small changes make the sentiment so much more human. If we can soften our language without diluting the quality of our advice, we’ll be in a great place. From that platform, we can start to build tribes of people with common beliefs and find ways to bring them together. That’s how you get customers for life.
Secondly, we need to radically up our game in terms of systems, processes and technology. After all, our competition, at least in terms of how customer expectations are set, now includes the likes of Google, Amazon and Netflix. And why are these companies so loved? It’s because they’re fast, frictionless and easy to engage with. These are the companies setting the bar for great customer experience, and we have to ensure we’re applying those same principles within our market.
It’s the combination of these two things – deep emotional connections plus slick systems and processes – that will define the successful firms of the next decade. I like to call it ‘the human/digital’ and it’s that we need to embrace.
How do you go about changing the behaviour of solicitors to fit with this new world? Can it be done, or is it more about adjusting your recruitment process for future hires?
You can definitely encourage behaviour change, but there’s no question it’ll be easier for some than others.
An important point to stress here, however, is that this is not about building a team of clones. Neurodiversity is an important part of any organisation. You need to encourage people to be themselves and feel they can play to their own individual strengths. The key is ensuring you organise the team the right way, so those with high emotional intelligence and great communication skills are spending as much time with customers as possible, while your technical geniuses are allowed to get on with what they do best.
Currently, there’s an expectation at partner level that you need to be able to do it all, but I think in the years to come we’ll see much more of a split. The natural rainmakers will spend the majority of their time building relationships, while others will be allowed to just be fantastic technical lawyers. I think this will be a huge relief for a lot of people.
Is this more about customer acquisition or retention?
It’s acquisition but through retention. After all, why are those Silicon Valley giants so successful? It’s because their services are “sticky” and their customers are their greatest champions.
“Our most valuable marketing assets are our happy customers. We’re not there to sell, but rather to act as host and facilitator.”
That’s how it should be for law firms, too. Our most valuable marketing assets are our happy customers.
You’ve spoken about building tribes. How does a law firm go about doing this, particularly if it has a disparate range of audiences?
While most companies blanket their messaging across their customers, the best firms will use the data available to create very specific strategies around each of their target markets.
How they do this will depend on the business. Taylor Vinters, for example – an excellent firm – have one very clear audience; high growth tech companies. And they’ve created a really powerful tribe within the UK for people that fall within that category.
We’re not there to sell, but rather to act as host and facilitator.”
At Stephens Scown we have our designated specialist sectors, for example, the leisure sector which is going through a terrible time at the moment, social housing, energy, employee ownership, etc, and our goal is to build tribes within each of these markets by bringing them together.
Whether it’s offline or online, we have to create a safe environment where they can share their insight and challenges. In doing so, they’ll start to build emotional ties, both among themselves and with us as a firm. We’re not there to sell, but rather to act as host and facilitator.
How are recent events with the Coronavirus affecting this, if at all?
The need to work from home could drive some really positive change as it forces firms to realise formality and excessive structure can be counterproductive and inefficient in the modern world.
Take video conferencing, for example, which is making us far more accessible. Until now, it’s been easy for solicitors to distance themselves from customers. Even if the customer books a face to face meeting, the solicitor is in the dominant position as it’s on their terms in their office. Video conferencing forces greater parity and strips away much of the formality.
“The more you strip away barriers and allow your personality to come through, the stronger the connection.”
I think this represents a real opportunity as it helps us build those emotional ties, but we’re likely to need some training. We’ll need to learn to always talk to the camera and maintain engagement throughout the conversation, which doesn’t come naturally to every solicitor.
This trend also applies to how we distribute marketing content. If you look at how different firms have responded to recent events, some have posted long, heavy articles packed with technical information of how to deal with the outbreak, while others have tapped into the emotional dimension of events, and done so in an informal manner via smartphones and webcams.
This is just the way the world is going. Even on high profile TV news and talk shows, a lot of the contributions are being filmed via mobile phones from living rooms and back gardens. The more you strip away barriers and allow your personality to come through, the stronger the connection.
If this is the way the market is heading, how do you turn these behaviours into quantifiable metrics so that you can monitor and drive progress?
One of my worries about the current situation is that once we’re back to some sense of normality we’ll all try and fall back into our old habits. Having the right metrics to drive these changes for the long term is going to be critical. There are lots of things we do already, such as holding competitions for those with the most internal referrals, running mystery shopping campaigns, etc, but we need to go further.
Exactly what these metrics will look like will depend on the company and its customer base, but I’ve got no doubt that the most enlightened firms will ditch many of the commercial metrics and focus instead on those that promote the right behaviours. If they do that, then commercial success will follow.