Client Feedback: An Essential Element of Client Service

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A new LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell survey reveals that Canadian law firms are far more likely than other international firms to ask for client feedback , but many of those firms remain unsure of the return on investment for doing so. Perhaps that’s because they aren’t doing much, if anything, with the information they receive.

The survey found that 65% of firms surveyed now ran a client feedback program, as compared to a previous global study conducted in the first quarter of 2011, which found that just 48% of firms surveyed routinely asked for client feedback.

Client Feedback to Assess Expectations and Client Service

An important element of client service is meeting client expectations. But assessing whether those expectations have been met to the client’s satisfaction also requires asking for client feedback, whether by telephone after the matter is concluded, by sending an online survey, or otherwise seeking regular input from clients about law firm performance.

Earlier this year, Larry Bodine wrote a post on the importance of listening to prospective clients as part of a successful legal marketing toolkit. Bodine talked about listening as a sales technique and gave great tips on how to listen to a potential client’s cues on what they want, how they want it and on how to “close” desirable business. He then went on to note that “a key way to measure your marketing effectiveness is listening to the client and responding to what they say,” and followed that up by stating that only 40% of law firms conduct client feedback surveys. Bodine called this “pathetic.”

Whether the statistic is 40%, 48% or 65%, more firms should be surveying clients. Just ask the firms themselves: 87% of respondents to the Canadian survey felt that obtaining client feedback was either “important” or “extremely important” to their firm, and 92% believed clients valued a firm’s willingness to seek input from clients on firm performance. If so many lawyers think it is important (and even more importantly, if clients think it is important), why are so few lawyers doing it?

Why Aren’t More Lawyers Obtaining Client Feedback?

Of the surveyed firms that did not routinely collect comments from their clients, 82% said their lack of a formal client feedback program was because it was not a priority for the firm’s leadership and 24% blamed lack of staff or resources. Given the above statistics, it’s mind-boggling to think that firm leadership doesn’t think that obtaining client feedback is important. And it is difficult to understand how lack of staff or resources could be a legitimate excuse for not obtaining this information.

Client feedback can be obtained by telephone, by sending a simple questionnaire with the firm’s closing letter (or at other times during the engagement), or by sending an email with a link to an online survey. Most of these methods cost little or nothing and require very little manpower once the initial survey questions are determined.

What Happens Once Client Feedback is Received?

Perhaps the worst statistic to come out of the survey was that only 56% “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that their firm had adjusted its behavior towards clients in response to feedback. What is the point of seeking client feedback if the firm isn’t going to take action on it?

Part of the problem may be that firms have difficulty seeing the value of routinely obtaining client feedback; only a small majority (54%) “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the proposition that their firm’s feedback program had produced a return on investment and a significant minority were neutral on the subject. Forty two percent of respondents had “neutral” views on whether feedback obtained was shared openly and broadly within their practice, while 25% felt there was no sharing at all. Clearly, if the responses are not shared within the firm, it cannot be acted upon.

While survey results show that Canadian law firms intend to begin seeking feedback from clients or increase their existing efforts, in order to make those efforts worthwhile, firms will need to improve their internal communication about and response to the information they receive from clients. Although obtaining client feedback is admirable and is appreciated by clients, when clients take the time to provide that feedback and firms fail to either respond or improve as a result, clients are much more likely to be dissatisfied than they would if no feedback were sought at all. So what should firms be doing?

Systematize Client Feedback and Satisfaction Efforts

Firms must take steps not only to put in place specific methods to obtain feedback from clients about firm performance and client needs, but those methods should be systematized to take place automatically at strategic times during the relationship. Ongoing systems should be put in place for obtaining information and tracking client preferences, needs and wants. A formal client feedback form can be developed and sent to clients on a routine basis, whether by regular mail or electronically. Feedback may also be obtained by telephone or in person.

On occasion, written responses may be more candid than responses obtained during a meeting if a client is too embarrassed to tell a lawyer directly that they were unhappy with some aspects of the lawyer’s service.

Once the information is received, it should be communicated to everyone in the firm (attorneys and staff alike) who have contact with that particular client. Indeed, it would be helpful for all staff within the firm to have this information, as the same issues may arise with other clients as well, and one client’s feedback may be instructive for other matters as well.

Information is worthless without action. Firm must analyze and take action on the information received.  This may require an additional telephone call or in-person meeting with clients to discuss their concerns, to learn more about the client or to clarify their issue.

At the very least, all firms should conduct individual post-engagement meetings or reviews of each client matter. The managing partner or other responsible person must review with the team anything less than stellar results and create a plan of action to not only rectify the current situation, but also to ensure that similar problems do not arise in the future. Measurement is key – not only to determine what clients want, but to change behavior within the firm. Measurement can be done by a simple 1-5 rating system on a client feedback form. Goals and standards should be set within the firm to establish what ratings are acceptable.

Rewards and compensation within the firm should also be tied to client service. If the firm is going to take the position that client service is important, it must be reflected in rewards and compensation.

(photo: Shutterstock)

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