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Client Relations

Using past experiences to create better futures through client feedback

REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

What is more valuable than your clients? Your current business—not to mention your future reputation—relies on whether they are satisfied with your services or quietly researching other options. So, if you are blindly guessing at what they need, what they appreciate, and what they can’t stand about your practice—why aren’t you asking them?

Why you should actively solicit client feedback

Client feedback has been called the “single most effective marketing strategy a law firm can implement”, and for good reason. Seeking out—and proactively responding to—client feedback offers numerous benefits, including:

  • strengthening client relationships;
  • developing new business opportunities and new ways to help clients;
  • correcting any missteps that you have made before they cause irreparable damage;
  • rewarding and encouraging high performers and outstanding efforts; and,
  • focusing your energies on high-return initiatives (and scuttling projects that don’t matter to clients).

When you make time to tell your clients how much you value their business and demonstrate that value by asking them what you can do to improve, you almost guarantee that they will feel better about your services. Even better, client feedback sessions can naturally evolve into strategic discussions about the direction of your clients’ business, their short and long-term goals, and their legal and business needs. You may well be able to help them meet those goals—but only if you know about them.

As an aside: don’t shy away just because you might hear some negative feedback. Realistically you are unlikely to hear anything awful that you didn’t already know. If you do, isn’t it better to find out before you have entirely lost the client’s business, with no idea what you did wrong and no opportunity to improve?

How to ask clients for feedback

Client feedback programmes can span a spectrum of options in terms of formality, depth, complexity, and use of technology. If you haven’t been gathering any feedback, it’s probably wise to start with a pilot programme within a single practice area or client group. Use that pilot to explore different approaches to gathering feedback. Depending on the client and the depth of feedback you are interested in, you might try one of these approaches:

  • add a single-question net promoter score (NPS) query in standard email communications (“On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend our practice?”);
  • ask clients to complete a multi-question survey delivered online in hard copy,
  • schedule post-engagement conversations to explore overall satisfaction and areas for improvement; and/or,
  • conduct in-person strategic visits at the client’s office.

With each approach, evaluate a variety of choices to find the right intensity. For example, should the lawyer in charge of the account visit the client or should a managing partner? Which stakeholder should they meet with? What should they ask? When should they stick to the standard survey questions, and when can they go off-script? You can even get meta about it, asking clients how they feel about you soliciting feedback and your methods of doing so.

In-person feedback sessions are particularly valuable opportunities to gather information about how your practice can help clients with other needs. How can you make their life easier? What are they stuck on or struggling with? What is frustrating them in their daily work? They may be holding back about these ‘non-legal’ issues because they are not aware that you can help.

To all the lawyers in corporate legal departments, this advice applies to you as well. If you circulate around the different business units within your company asking these questions, you’re likely to find several areas where you can provide valuable service, which helps to justify the existence and the budget of the legal department.

What to do with client feedback

This may be obvious but be sure to listen closely to what your clients have to say. Ask additional questions if you need to clarify their concerns. Be prepared to implement their suggestions, either as stated or indirectly by making a broader change. This is especially important if a client has been honest enough to weather the awkwardness of telling you about an annoying or off-putting practice.

Create a proactive strategy for implementing any adjustments that you have identified from client feedback. If you have a valid reason to continue that practice, you can at least explain the rationale behind it. It is also to share the information within your team. When you receive positive feedback, celebrate those successes—perhaps in an anonymised form.

Finally, check back in with your clients periodically. Follow up regarding any opportunities you have discovered, with a proposal for how you could help them solve those challenges. Advise them about how you have implemented their suggestions or taken their words to heart. Ask whether they have thought of anything else or seen a change in your practice since you last spoke. Actively seeking out and using client feedback about your past performance is one of the fastest, most direct ways to improve your future service and overall client satisfaction.

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