A short while ago I was asked to present at a Practice Management Conference to owners and senior managers of law firms in the UK. The brief for this event was to present on the challenge of engaging with younger clients. A very topical issue not only for lawyers but many businesses facing the prospect of attracting new customers in the digital age.
Personally I find the topic fascinating and equally intriguing when you consider how little attention is given to thinking about the socio demographic make-up of potential clients. OK, my apologies to those marketers out there that have this all neatly packaged but note, you’re in the minority. There’s plenty of talk about addressing customer needs, presenting and delivering goods or services that appeal to a niche market but how many of us need to appeal to a broad spectrum of the population? How do we make that work?
For my presentation I didn’t want to talk solely about the youngest, newest client segment. Sure, talking social media and digital advertising would be sexy and necessary but in isolation would not place that particular generational trend in context with other older segments of the population. So there I had it. Let’s cover ALL bases and provide an overview of the generations and their likely preferences.
To kick the presentation off I asked the assembled audience which category they fell into. The options.
- Baby Boomer
- Generation X
- Generation Y/ Millennials
- Net Generation/ Digital Natives
To truly test the audience of law firm senior executives I didn’t offer up the list in timeline order as it is above. I then provided the specific classification by year to determine exactly which group they would fall into with a little more detail as to the typical traits of each, the dates represent the dates of birth :-
- Traditionalists 1925-1946
Formal, private, loyal, trust, respect, face to face, written, value time
- Baby Boomers 1947-1964
Competitive, aspirational, hardworking, want detail, like options, challenging
- Generation X 1965-1979
Entrepreneurial, independent, work life balance, sound bites, e-mail, feedback
- Generation Y/ Millennial 1980-2000
Optimistic, confident, seek positive reinforcement, multi taskers, e-mail, text, skype
- Net Generation/ Digital Natives 2001+
Connected, ethnically diverse, entitled,
When asked to then place themselves in the appropriate category it became quite apparent most had mistakenly considered themselves to be in a category other than the one they belonged to. This highlighted the fact that as a rule we don’t know which generation we are and probably don’t see it as being very relevant. That is a mistake.
Let me provide a couple of examples:
Mrs Marple is a recently widowed lady of 77. She is having her late husband’s estate managed by Swish Swash Law. Swish Swash pride themselves on being at the cutting edge of technology. “It’s all in the cloud man” “we’re totally paperless” “Have you seen our App?” “The websites purely organic and built for the mobile and tablet market” Yadda yadda – you get the picture. Well Swish Swash employ some very bright young lawyers and they are equally adept at their use of technology as they are at applying their legal knowledge. They have a 24/7 approach to service and in their best efforts to keep Mrs Marple informed they send an e-mail and follow up text to her to inform her of their progress. It’s sent at 9.15pm. Next morning a rather angry daughter of Mrs Marple calls the lawyer who sent the text explaining that her mother had been asleep and got very stressed when the message arrived thinking anything sent at such a time could only be bad news!
As a Traditionalist Mrs Marple would prefer face to face communication, a phone call would be ok as would a letter but only during normal office hours. This generation values privacy and whilst very hardworking they do not always appreciate the 24/7 immediacy of life preferring a more ordered and sensible approach to working hours.
My 2nd example features Jordan, a young entrepreneur who is setting up a business with a couple of friends he met at University. They have plans to launch a business offering animation and augmented reality software solutions. They need help with setting up the company and creating a partnership. Jordan’s father has recommended the family firm Boggit Down & Co. Established in 1888 they have a long tradition of serving the local people of their small market town and cover private and business clients services from their grade II listed high st office. Reginald Smythe (63) is the head of company commercial and a partner. He receives a call from Jordan’s father and askes his secretary to arrange a meeting with the 4 young men.
Jordan receives a call from Edith, Reginald’s long standing secretary and she has difficulty arranging a time when they would all be available, they finally settle on a date 3 weeks hence. Jordan receives a letter 3 days later inviting him to the offices and setting out the terms of an engagement with Boggitt Down & Co. Jordan and friends are not impressed. They wanted to get things up and running pronto, they can’t wait 3 weeks and quickly decide to find a lawyer who can see them that week..or even better be prepared to have an initial e-mail exchange to provide advice and help them get started. They Google for law firms who understand software businesses and find two within 10 miles of Jordan’s home town and a third that offers online support nationally.
As a Generation Y/ Millennial group the young entrepreneurs are quite confident, assertive and expect rather more instant returns. The culture clash with the very traditional firm of Boggitt Down & Co. is too much and they can see that the firm is not going to “get” them or their business. Boggitt Down & Co. has not moved with the times nor understood the urgency of their need to set up this business. The firm simply presents itself as it has done for years and not adapted to the preferences of a new, informed and impatient generation.
Two simple examples that do genuinely occur on an all too regular basis. But what can firms do if they need to win and maintain clients from a cross section of the generational divide?
- Be aware of the client and their likely preferences, never assume
- Create variety in the methods of communication, face to face, phone, traditional letters, e-mail, text and Skype.
- Consider training for staff to understand the variances in behaviour and how best to offer client care with an emphasis on generational differences.
- Look at your own business and place it in its own generational group. Where does your firm fit. This isn’t when the business was established but more likely the generation of the owners or most dominant partners/ directors. Their influence will be affecting the persona of the business.
In my firm we have a mixture of baby boomers, generation X’s and recently introduced generation Y partners. The business is evolving and the factors that impact on the outward facing communication with clients are equally prevalent with internal communications. Being aware of those subtle differences in attitude and approach to work is becoming increasingly important. The generation game certainly is one for all the family – just don’t forget your *cuddly toys.
*(That final reference places me firmly in my Generation X category, but equally recognisable by baby Boomers and Traditionalists apologies to any readers who are too young to remember the classic Saturday night BBC show of the 70’s and 80’s)
If you would like to discuss marketing support for your firm please feel free to contact me to arrange an initial no obligation meeting