CRM: the business case for automation

customer by charles roderick

CRM stands for Contact/Customer/Client Relationship Management, where “contacts” include clients, introducers, business partners and prospects, so you want to capture and use information on all of these; but much is missed, so can never be acted upon.

CRM is high on the agenda again, prompted by increasing recognition of the value of informed relationships to help deliver more of what clients’ value. Making that happen requires accurate, up-to-date information about clients and other contacts to work with, that people can rely on with confidence.

Accuracy of personal data is probably top of that agenda for most right now though. GDPR has added the incentive now to explore better ways to manage personal data and to ensure its security more proactively and effectively. As ever, the GDPR’s mandatory compliance requirements from government is prompting action where there has been complacent inaction in the past – so take advantage of that.

As a result, there have recently been more useful, constructive and progressive discussions going on more widely within law firms about “data” than ever before, backed up with new plans to radically improve the quality of data they hold. This has become a catalyst to prompt new initiatives, supported by new technologies and strategies, many of which were already available before but just were not explored.

We are also finding that lawyers asked to do X and Y “to comply with GDPR” tend to do it, so that’s an opportunity to seize upon now before fresh complacency on data management settles back in.

Challenges to tackle

CRM initiatives have earned a poor reputation in the legal sector, largely because it hasn’t ever been easy, but much of that stems from the following challenges that have been difficult to address:

  • Contacts change jobs all the time, companies merge, people retire, move and much more, so information can quickly become outdated.
  • It is difficult to discover these changes and people understandably lose confidence in the reliability of any information on a system.
  • The lawyers in touch with contacts struggle to find time to enter information that is not directly related to the transactions they are working on into a central CRM or similar system and it is unrealistic to think that secretaries, keeping their ear to the ground, can fill this gap, however hard they try. It is suggested that users need to spend about 5½ hours per week to manually enter data into a CRM system that is effective. That is a lot of time!
  • Lawyers lose interest in spending precious, fee earning time adding information anyway, as they see that some of the information they get back out of the system is inaccurate or incomplete. That is difficult to argue with, particularly with their performance usually evaluated against fee earning time and financial targets.
  • Effective account management becomes impossible when shared information is unreliable and out of date, so client reviews and planning produce very limited results.
  • Lawyers don’t see enough benefits from account management, so it takes a back seat. Interest falters, so the incentive to develop a better understanding of the client’s business and their sector falters too.

Use automation to improve contact data

There are a variety of ways to get new data into your client management and CRM systems and to update it, so which of these examples would you prefer?

  • key it in manually;
  • automate data capture and enrichment – at varying levels: a) from emails you receive; b) from other internal data sources; c) by tracking your activity and that of colleagues, eg in Outlook;
  • retrieve from reliable third-party systems, eg social media, research;
  • DIY: let the contact provide and update it for themselves online.

There are now new and improved CRM systems and CRM add-ons to support more automated data capture; also dedicated e-marketing applications and modules within practice management systems to support clients add and verify their own data.

The good news is that the automation options – more attractive than keying it in manually, provided that the sources and the process are reliable – are all now feasible, using applications such as FullContact, Introhive, Microsoft Dynamics, InterAction IQ, Vuture, the Link App and a good many more.

Effective automation of data capture and automated enrichment of that data is therefore possible and will improve your chances of getting more reliable data into your system and maintaining it with confidence.

Automating data capture

The automated data capture we talk about here will automatically identify, track and build on all the recorded relationships between all your people and all your contacts, substantially without fee earners, their secretaries or others having to key it in manually.

CRM systems and add-ons from the likes of LexisNexis, Introhive, FullContact and Microsoft, for example, vary in terms of:

  • degree of sophistication they apply to measuring the strengths of those relationships;
  • variety of data sources they can access and integrate into reports;
  • ease/cost of integration with practice and case management systems;
  • quality and timing of the relationship reports that come back;
  • degree of automation of those reports;
  • extent to which information on is automatically enriched; and
  • cost of the applications and their implementation.

What you get can include, for example:

  • automated capture of not just contact information from your emails, opening new clients and matters; but also, information about appointments and notes about meetings from everyone across the practice;
  • extension of automated data capture to all participants in meetings and correspondents
  • services to automatically enrich the information you hold on a client on your system, whether in CRM or accounts or elsewhere – using reliable sources such as LinkedIn, but many more besides;
  • inclusion of financial and matter information on each contact from your financial and matter management systems – and, in some cases, from just about any other source of information you can define; and
  • online portals integrated with your internal records to allow contacts access to the information you hold on them, so they can verify and update them themselves.

DIY: contacts do it for themselves

Online portals to allow clients access to update their information and personal preferences have been around for some time but they should be used more routinely. Benefits that can be derived from using them quickly accelerate when there is more data (from automated capture) to work with. This also extends to asking clients to fill out a questionnaire or update their detail and preferences while they sit in reception or online.

This works, as Rosie Le Gros, Business Development Director at Kennedys, reported as far back as 2015, saying that “We’ve introduced client self-service data verification, so we now proactively ask clients to update their own details regularly. Our response rate to this request has been much higher than we expected – some of our interest folders have tripled with subscriptions!”

GDPR makes this even more attractive as clients have the opportunity to indicate their agreement to how you will manage their data. Every firm should do this now if they have the technology to support it.

Business case for automation and DIY

The automation of CRM data acquisition will result in radical savings from:

  • fee earners and support staff not spending time on keying data manually into the system – as mentioned earlier, if done diligently, this is likely to be in the region of 5½ hours per week; and
  • the cost of market research otherwise needed to enrich and augment contact profiles etc.

Substantial benefits in terms of new revenue then come from:

  • increasing the number of contacts added to the system that would otherwise be missed;
  • increased business opportunities identified from this more complete and shared data; and
  • the number of opportunities converted as they are pursued more effectively.

I suspect that this will increasingly become accepted practice, so it is appropriate to introduce now and develop this further in the future; an approach we advocate generally in relation to developing technologies to support GDPR compliance.

What to do now?

Now is a good time to tap into willingness to deal differently with contact data to ensure GDPR compliance. These discussions create the opportunity to engage with your people to explore their appetite to use new technologies to make data management easier, giving the opportunity right now to demonstrate (with your business development people involved too) how reliable contact information can be used to quickly open up new business opportunities. The GDPR buzz will probably only last for so long, so make that work to get people fully on board with data management, long term.

Allan Carton is Managing Director at Inpractice UK helping legal practices tap into new business opportunities, developing new propositions, better CRM, client management and improved processes; all making better use of technology. Email Twitter @AllanCarton.

Image: Customer cc by Charles Roderick on Flickr.