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Outsourcing Competitive Advantage?

There are a number of core strategic questions which firms need to answer when entering into an outsourcing arrangement.  The most significant is to what extent a firm should be prepared to outsource areas of potential competitive advantage.

If one takes the view that outsourcing is driven by a desire to reduce costs, by buying into a consistent set of scalable processes which are shared across a number of organisations, then it follows that none of these areas should (or could) be sources of unique competitive advantage.

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Easy to do business with?

There is a management adage that “businesses that do well tend to be businesses that are easy to do business with”.  Looked at from a client experience management perspective, it could be easy to believe that many firms adopt attitudes, approaches, policies and procedures which have quite the opposite intent.

My strong view is that client strategy must sit at the heart of all strategy – without clients we simply don’t have a business.  What that means in practice is that any initiative must be stress-tested by looking at it through the eyes of the client.  By asking a small number of core questions, based around new client benefits and the building of sustainable competitive advantage, it is quickly possible to identify the overall cost-benefits of projects competing for limited resources and make the best possible prioritisation decisions.

Understanding the client experience can be achieved by looking in detail at the touch points with the firm.  Some of these will be physical, for example the accessibility of premises, the quality of the built environment or the efficiency of front-of-house services.  Others will centre on service delivery such as the ease with which lawyers can be contacted, responsiveness and clarity of communication.  Taken together this touch point analysis provides the management team with an accurate perspective on “how it feels to be a client”.

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Fingers Crossed?

The last year has seen saw numerous “big plays” by firms, both nationally and internationally, as they set about positioning themselves to take advantage of market opportunities or dealing decisively with challenging market conditions. Early indications are that 2013 will paint a similar picture with mergers, restructurings, redundancies and strategic repositioning dominating the headlines in the opening few weeks. It is also fair to say that the numbers of headline grabbing firms are small when viewed in the context of the whole market, but their influence in shaping that market and the thinking of other law firm leaders is huge.

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