The Firm: Client feedback even more important in today's economy

By Tom Kane
The Daily Record Newswire

In the current economic climate, keeping clients happy and retaining their business is even more critical.

The value in seeking feedback is well understood by some law firms, although still too few carry out any type of client satisfaction survey to learn how they are performing in the minds of clients.

There are a number of reasons to ask your clients for their thoughts on how your firm is doing.

The main reason is to uncover any problem areas in the firm’s relationship with the client. Generally, unhappy clients do not confront their lawyer or law firm with their concerns — they just talk with their feet. That is, they give their next legal matter to a different law firm.

Another reason is that clients want to provide feedback, but they don’t want to have to initiate the discussion.

Seeking feedback shouldn’t be a one-shot deal or for just a few clients. Firms should seek feedback at least every two years, at least from key clients — at a minimum.

Not only should firms seek feedback during and after completing a matter, but they should also ask for input before they begin working on a client’s case. Seeking clients’ preferences on how they would like their matter handled can only benefit the relationship. This will help avoid misunderstandings and possible unhappiness on the part of the client.

Lawyers should always want to know what clients expect in terms of how their matter is handled, how the lawyer communicates with them, when and how the communication should take place, and when they would like to receive status reports.

Creating a feedback program
Getting buy-in for conducting satisfaction surveys is easier said than done. It helps to take small steps, such as by conducting a feedback “pilot program” with a couple of clients. Then publicize to everyone at your firm, including the staff and other attorneys, what good things the clients had to say about the lawyer(s) involved and the firm.

There are three primary ways to obtain client feedback. The first way, which is the least effective in my view, is by using written questionnaires. Generally, questionnaires tend to be too long and time consuming for the client to complete. As a result, the response rates are typically low.

A telephone survey is more effective. And the most effective method of obtaining feedback, in my opinion, is through in-person interviews.

A law firm’s feedback program should be conducted by a third party, not the attorney who handles a client’s matters, if possible. This can be someone who works at the firm or someone from outside. It could be the managing partner or other senior lawyer, or a staff person such as the administrator or marketer, if the firm has one.

Solo practitioners should be asking for feedback themselves or retaining a consultant to do it. Clients are far more likely to be candid and honest if the feedback is not sought by the person they interact with on a regular basis. However, attorneys in small practices must also weigh the cost of obtaining feedback, and a consultant could charge anywhere from several hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on the number of clients surveyed and the method used.

Feedback questions should cover:
• Service issues (timeliness, responsiveness, thoroughness, communication skills, status reports);
• Quality of work product (benefits to the business, results, bottom-line improvements);
• Billing questions (reasonable fees, detail in invoices, alternative fees); and
• Overall satisfaction (what could have been done better or differently, will they use firm again, would they recommend the firm to others).

With the abundance of quality lawyers and law firms that a client can pick from in today’s marketplace, it is essential to know how your firm is doing in the eyes of your clients. If you don’t ask, you may find out  what clients think when it is too late.

Tom Kane, Esq. is the author of the Legal Marketing Blog (www.LegalMarketingBlog.com) and president of Kane Consulting, Inc. A former practicing attorney, he has more than 24 years experience assisting lawyers with their marketing and business development strategies and coaching needs.

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