Smack in the middle of suburban Westchester, NY, nowhere near a ski resort sits Hickory & Tweed- an always busy and perennially award winning ski and snowboarding shop. The store is cramped, the selection is no better than any other ski shop I've visited, and the prices, well they are... not the cheapest around. However, I was astonished the first time I visited to see the mob of people waiting outside the door; you would have thought it was a rock concert.
It's easy to understand how Apple has created a mega-brand that is recognized the world over and loved beyond reason. When you combine laser focus with endless marketing dollars, amazing things happen. It is less clear how a small business creates powerful brand recognition that is valued and loved the way that Hickory & Tweed is.
Hickory & Tweed owner, Skip Beitzel credits his success to “focusing on experience”, believing that product selection is important, but how it “feels” to shop there is the key to customer loyalty. At Hickory & Tweed, it starts with a welcoming environment and culture filled with ski- memorabilia, as well as children’s toys and books throughout the store. Skip greets every shopper with a warm welcome and encourages his staff to inquire with great excitement as customers come in with old style skis, or lift tickets from far away resorts. After shoppers are helped, Skip confirms that customer was satisfied (he often asks his sales staff about “SS”- which I learned means “sticker shock”).
I came to visit Hickory & Tweed because my brother-in-law said Skip was “a friend” of his. Of the 20 or so people I saw greeted by Skip- more than half introduced Skip as “a friend” to someone in their party. I asked Skip what percentage of people that came to the store were friends of his- he responded “100%”. As shoppers leave he asks each customer where they will be skiing next- and provides them lift ticket coupons, maps, area restaurant advice or just a high five and a “wish I was coming with you”. Skip keeps a list of customers that may not have been happy- and calls them that evening to see what he could do to improve their experience.
Skip explained to me “if you are selling an experience- you have to do everything you can to try and make it a positive, watching the client every step of the way and dealing with even the smallest issue head on. I constantly remind the staff here- people can buy ski socks anywhere.”
If you would like for your firm to have brand and customer loyalty that Hickory & Tweed does, you must focus on your customer's experience. Their experience is more than just the work you do for them. NexFirm clients have shared with me a number of things that they do to maximize their customer's experience:
Manage Expectations- Clients are often dissatisfied not because the work you provided was bad, but rather that they expected something different than what was done. Several NexFirm clients have created a "Matter Kick-Off Process", which includes a conference call with clients to review the scope of work and steps involved, a projection of cost, a discussion of where things might go out of scope, and conversation about potential outcomes.
Over communicate- A change in status on a matter that is not promptly reported to clients can cause significant dissatisfaction. Some NexFirm clients will create scheduled communications around the matter calendar; others do it periodically (every two weeks, for example). All of them stress with their team that communicating status with clients is vital, and that senior partners should get involved when the communications may not be well received by the client.
Solicit/respond to feedback- Assuming that your client is happy because they continue to give you work is the most dangerous mistake you can make. Many NexFirm clients will have a "Matter Conclusion" process that includes a conference call with a partner that did not work on the matter, so that the client can feel comfortable to give honest feedback. Responding to feedback is critical- simply "we will try better next time" can make the client feel as if their concerns are not heard.
Wrap it up in a bow- Selling your client does not end when you land the work; the best legal marketers are continually working to cement and expand relationships with existing clients. Small firms tend to avoid the ceremony of year-end reviews or periodic reports to clients, and the clients notice. Consider creating a formal reporting and communication process to demonstrate the value you have provided to your clients. This is a time to spend time and money to make it look very professional; you don't want the communication to be that you can't keep up with big competitors.
No one is rooting for Skadden Arps to be successful, but many of your clients are emotionally invested in your success. Give them more and more reasons to feel great about your services. The brand and loyalty you build pays dividends for a lifetime to come.
Always remember, clients can get their legal work done anywhere.
David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org