Twitter is a reliable bellwether of organisational pre-occupations. With confidence, I can report that client engagement is trending in the minds of many business owners and legal tech commentators. For instance, this recent exchange got me thinking about not only the importance of asking what people want, but how you ask:
Matt Homann: What do your best customers wish you’d do better?
Nir Golan: Love the idea of asking your customers what they wished you would improve. So brave and a great way to strengthen that relationship. Amazing to see how communication is again such a big issue.
Jeffrey Carr: And never, ever, accept “nothing” or “I don’t know” as the customer response. Structure the conversation to make it meaningful about improvement for the future, not blamestorming about the past.
Nir Golan: Ask. The power of asking.
Here I want to consider why it is so crucial for library and information professionals to be communication experts. Simply put, by asking what our end-users need, we can provide a value added service to our organisation and our clients - without which they cannot operate.
Communications are the key to challenges facing the library and information world
Communication goes to the heart of client or end-user engagement. In the legal information context, we have occasionally missed the communications mark which has obviously had repercussions. A previous blogpost pointed out 41% of survey participants cited perception of the library and information service as the biggest barrier to success in their role.
One respondent wrote of their role covering the promotion of the service, and this really is key. Getting a lawyer or another of your end users on your side could be your key to getting your service noticed with its value coming from an external source.
Or it could be a case of promoting your service through testimonials from your coworkers, or linking up your value to your organisation’s key strategic objectives. Whatever it may be, what’s key is that you talk the same language as your target information consumers to get them to sit up, pay attention and see the library’s value.
This mismatch in communications has often meant that the information service has not achieved the recognition it both needs and deserves. This has been reinforced by the recent AALL report where they state only 64% of library and information professionals said they were experts in communications.
What is the most efficient method of communicating?
We are almost overwhelmed by the choice of communications technologies on offer. It obviously depends on your organisation as to what mix of communication systems are in place. Add flexible working, dispersed individuals, teams and global end-users to the mix, and it can get complicated. You might have a few of these:
- Meeting software for internal and external use, eg Zoom, GoToMeeting, Webex
- Internal messaging and information sharing, eg Yammer, Flowdock
- Client interaction, eg Intercom, Zendesk or another client portal interface
I’m not forgetting email but like many companies at Vable we are encouraged to use more collaborative ways of communicating. The usual rules apply; if it is a one-off question with no real urgency, it might be more convenient to contact a colleague through Flowdock or client via Intercom. As soon as it starts to get more complicated, pick up the phone or arrange a face to face conversation.
One of the unfounded fears about agile working is that communications will suffer. Many agile working case studies suggest that with the right preparation and approach, the opposite is true. Agile working requires regular team meet-ups, as well as an adoption of a clear workflow. It has been noted by library teams that visibility is enhanced, and they see more of one another through regular videoconferencing - a definite benefit.
How can communications put the client at the centre of your world?
The Twitter conversation above describes perfectly the evolution of my thoughts. I used to see the library and information service as the centre of the web of organisational knowledge. In terms of the raw information needed by the firm, it still is, but I would suggest that we have to look beyond the immediate internal audience. Instead we should prioritise the needs of the client.
For example this article on value states:
Increasingly client RFPs include questions on law firms’ use of Knowledge Management (KM) and Project Management (PM). The questions are phrased in a way that assumes that both are in place, a clear indication that both are a threshold requirement to the firm’s ability to compete. This is worth repeating! Law firms’ ability to compete increasingly hinges on their ability to demonstrate operational excellence.
The information service must communicate to management that they can demonstrate operational excellence. This is only possible if they can be involved in conversations with clients from the start and ask how they can be of service - whilst making suggestions to spark ideas. Get involved with business development initiatives such as events or newsletter construction.
As an aside, I must highlight that all examples of success and service value should be recorded and highlighted at budget setting time - see paragraph 20 for evidence of library excellence.
You already have the power, so use it!
Ultimately the method of communication doesn’t matter - conversations can take place in person at a conference or over social media - or just settling into a new job. Listening to and extracting information is the most important and valuable skill. And done right, it builds that platform of trust, respect and confidence. As one LMA conference attendee put it:
Collaboration relies on trust, communication, and change management. Our success depends on the ability to understand our stakeholders’ needs and adopting a mutually beneficial approach to achieve the desired results […] Our work to continuously develop our communication skills will serve us well but also contribute to the success of the firm as a whole.
Sometimes clients 'don’t know' but it doesn’t mean we should be satisfied with that answer when we are having those conversations. Although it is a challenge to come up with creative ideas and suggestions, we have to be prepared to put in the effort to get the ideas flowing. The image above demonstrates a tried and tested way of engaging your end-users - powerfully.
Whatever you do should promote your service, and turn around any negative perceptions. You have to assess what is realistic and acceptable for your service and never has the ability to communicate been so important. We want 100% of you to say that you are experts because to truly face up to a competitive and difficult market, you need to have powerful communication skills. But do you know what? You are an expert communicator already!
What are the biggest challenges you are currently facing? How do you communicate with clients and end-users?
With thanks to @MeetAtFilament, @Matthoman, @CarrNext, @lawheroez