The 2013 Experience Lab: The Relationship Game

November 11, 2013 Jobst Elster has been providing legal market news, commentary & analysis, market research and legal event coverage for more than a decade, and in this capacity embraced the opportunity to partner with One North to cover the 2013 Experience Lab.

2013 Experience Lab

Having previously commentated, reported and blogged about hundreds of legal technology events, legal seminars and conferences, we always welcome the 'non-traditional' event format that deviates from long, mundane presentations and product demos all too familiar as part of the conference circuit. Different is good. This is what we like about the Experience Lab! In talking with Lab attendees, we discovered equal enthusiasm about the creative format consisting of a few 'typical' sessions with a majority of the remaining content being delivered in short, 20 minute 'flash' sessions.

Here's our take on One North’s 2013 Experience Lab: “The Relationship Game”

One North kicked off its 2nd annual Experience Lab on Wednesday evening with an interactive cocktail reception at the creative agency’s Chicago offices. As mentioned in a previous InsideLegal post, the theme of this year’s Lab was “The Relationship Game” – client relationships and how law firms and professional services organizations can build more long lasting, authentic relationships with their clients. Before the work began, there was time to network at the One North office. The reception allowed clients to meet the members of their account teams and even see their offices/cubes. To help facilitate, One North had set up a photo wall of their employees divided by teams, to help put the faces to the names.

Experience Lab 2013 2

This was a creative way to make attendees more comfortable and help them find team members. Also on hand (to tie into the theme) were games of all types – board games, pool and even the ever popular Cornhole. As the reception wrapped up, the attendees headed off to team dinners throughout Chicago.

Day one of the event included sessions and discussions that honed in on the nuts and bolts of relationship marketing. Walking into the Hotel Palomar for a bustling and energetic pre-session breakfast was an early indication that all 115+ marketers came to ‘play’ and actively partake in the 10 sessions planned throughout the day – from the keynote to 20 minute “flash” sessions broken into relationship building subthemes … including “Needs|Services”, “Context/Communication”, “Trust/Authenticity” and “Partnerships/Inspiration”.

Brandt Elliott, One North’s Director of Business Development and the Experience Lab’s emcee, kicked off the event and introduced the keynote - “The Network is Your Customer” by author, professor and marketer extraordinaire David Rogers. Rogers, who authored a book by the same name, explained that customers are no longer viewed as isolated individuals, but are seen as dynamic and interactive participants in a network in which they are constantly responding, connecting and sharing among themselves and with businesses they care about. He went on to describe five customer network behaviors and corresponding value creation strategies for the digital age. These included providing customers access without boundaries; engaging customers by providing valued content; customizing offerings and adapting to client needs; connecting with your customers by becoming part of their conversation; and lastly, collaborating with customers to enhance the overall experience. Rogers cited many examples of popular B2B brands that had embraced this ‘network’ concept and greatly improved their overall relationship with customers. One example that stood out to us was SAP’s Community Network, which is used by customers, developers, consultants, mentors and students to get help, share ideas, learn, innovate and connect with others. Currently, the network includes over 2.5 million members who create over 3,000 posts a day.

Although the keynote was a tough act to follow, One North CEO John Simpson was next to share his insights on how organizations can build digital relationships with their clients by “creating unique experiences with their audiences” and putting an end to the age old ‘spray and pray’ approach to sharing information and value with clients. After all, the best form of marketing is the kind that does not feel like it is marketing at all. One of the biggest take-aways from John’s session, and really the central theme of the entire Experience Lab so far, is the introduction of the relationship cycle, a representation of how law firms and professional services organizations can engage their clients to build long lasting relationships that build trust and - over time - advocacy.

Relationship Cycle

John’s five relationship cycle ‘truths’ included the following:

  • EMBRACE:  Companies need to realize and understand that they are relationship-based businesses.
  • BELIEVE:  There needs to be conviction in a greater purpose that goes beyond profit making and sales.
  • CREATE:  Purposeful experiences with content and context are critical.
  • NURTURE:  Take care of and care for the client experience at every step.
  • INSIST:  Make sure there is accountability across the relationship.

Following the two morning sessions, several One North presenters shared their views on client relationships, delivered in 20 minute TED Talk-style sessions followed up by ‘table talks,’ giving attendees a chance to drill down on various concepts and brainstorm with colleagues on best practices. The eight sessions covered a wide topic spectrum:

  • The client service pyramid: How Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be leveraged when striving for transformational client service. How do companies move from loyalty to evangelism?
  • Using analytics to gain insight: By better understanding digital marketing metrics and data, you can create actionable information. Although analytics are often data rich and information poor, companies can utilize metrics to provide useful insights.
  • Relationship marketing and context: Though firms need to have the right technology and digital tools to reach clients, they need to better understand the individual targets’ context so they can deliver content that is valuable to them.
  • Storytelling: The importance of making connections through narration, interactivity, authenticity and context cannot be understated, especially in the digital age.
  • Relationships based on trust and authenticity: Successful product and services go beyond selling something customers need. They are relatable and convey trust and authenticity, characteristics that are critical in building long term relationships. Case in point, within the past few years, Proctor & Gamble has made the strategic move from merely selling 'products’ to selling the 'business of improving lives'. New Tide commercials for example, focus on the father-daughter experience as opposed to promoting a laundry detergent that cleans clothes.
  • Connecting emotionally … through design and visual appeal: First and foremost, a website should be functional, reliable and usable before a layer of enjoyment is applicable. Once the core is defined, it is the added ingredients - authenticity, quality, attitude, organization, visual language - that can trigger emotional responses. If positive, these emotions will often lead to advocates of your brand.
  • Client relationships are put to the test in Moments of Adversity. How strong are your relationships when the going gets tough? A key question posed here: In moments of adversity, when speed is critical, how quickly can your organization respond? Do you have layers of approvals to go through? Is there a way to streamline that process?
  • Good things come in small packages: Though understanding and executing on the big picture is critical, so is the focus on details. One North presenters introduced the concept of microinteractions, “the little details that separate something you tolerate from something you love.”

The content featured in Friday’s Lab session ended how it had all started on Wednesday evening … with a laser focus on relationships. Namely, a panel discussion focused on best practices, tips and advice when it comes to relationship building between law firms (and other service providers) and their clients.

Day 2 Panel

The panel, moderated by One North’s Dawn Michalak, could not have been more qualified with Wicker Park Group’s Nat Slavin and Akina’s Deborah Knupp sharing countless scenarios of how firms can better serve their clients with, in many cases, extremely simple and common-sense based measures. Make your clients look good. “If you strive to do this day in and day out, and your client knows it and appreciates it, then they will keep you,” stated Slavin who assumed the voice of the GC as part of the discussion. Much time was spent debating “why do firms leave”, an appropriate topic, considering wavering client loyalties. Nat Slavin cited economic pressures, new needs and service failures as the top three reasons GCs seek out new outside counsel partners. Knupp focused on what she coins the ‘three Cs’: 

  • Care: You do not care about me or anyone on our team more than yourself
  • Camaraderie: You do not care about each other. You don’t like each other, don’t work together
  • Creativity: You take us for granted and provide no new ideas and creative thinking

The remaining discussion focused on tools and practical concepts that any firm or PSO can implement when looking to boost client relationships. Based on her extensive experience working with law firms and CEOs on building better relationships internally and with clients, Knupp suggested that companies establish a client experience protocol, a playbook of sorts, designed to differentiate a client’s experience with your company. She suggested 7 areas of differentiation:

  1. Client feedback: Are you asking/getting feedback from your client at all times. Create a culture of client feedback and highlight the “voice of the client.”
  2. Creating the client intake ‘wow’ factor’: Once the ‘ink has dried’ on a new relationship, what can you do enhance the client experience and make your client feel good about their business decision?
  3. Know your clients’ business: What do you do to know your client business? Panelists mentioned companies like UPS or Waffle House who invite their outside counsel to deliver packages and work the line at the restaurant to get a better feeling for their business and culture.
  4. Crisis protocols: Do you have a protocol for reaching your clients during a crisis and vice versa, similar to a BC/DR plan for client communications.
  5. Client appreciation is vital: Keep track of personal milestones and go the extra mile when it comes to appreciating your clients. For example, an associate at Foley & Lardner hand-delivers books for his clients every Christmas based on topics they have discussed throughout the business year.
  6. Client communication: Keep clients in the loop and tell them what you want to meet about beforehand. Consider using live chat on your site to answer simple questions.
  7. Streamline the billing and invoicing experience: Nat Slavin cites the client invoice as the “single best marketing tool you have”. Show as much as possible to prove value.

The panel and Experience Lab concluded with an audience Q&A and detailed discussions of how law firm marketers can use some of the proposed best practices to better serve their internal clients and best equip them to reach relationship ‘rock star’ status with clients. If you get the opportunity to attend One North’s Experience Lab next year, don’t hesitate!

If you weren’t able to attend (or if you were), you can follow the event through our Storify page.

Jobst Elster brings extensive experience in market analysis, market research, public relations and product marketing to the legal industry. He has served as a legal market strategist for the last 14 years, advising companies entering the legal market, involved in mergers and acquisitions, and expanding operations overseas. Jobst regularly writes and speaks on the topic of legal technology, legal marketing and big data. He can be reached at [email protected].


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Jobst Elster

Jobst Elster is InsideLegal’s Head of Content and Legal Market Strategy. He brings extensive experience in market analysis, market research, public relations and product marketing to the legal industry. He has served as a legal market strategist for the last 15 years, advising companies entering the legal market, involved in mergers and acquisitions and expanding operations overseas. Jobst regularly writes and speaks on legal technology, technology innovations and futures, legal marketing and big data. He is a member of the ABA’s Big Data Committee. He can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @InsideLegal.

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