Daily Dispatch

Communicating

Client Feedback: Ways to Get It Wrong

By | Oct.24.12 | Client Service, Communicating, Daily Dispatch

Here in the Midwest, autumn calls for heavy-duty yard cleanup time. Predictably, of course, the leaf blower broke just as the first round of oak leaves hit our lawn. The chainsaw and the hedge trimmer died next. Okay, no big deal. We simply dropped all three at the local hardware chain-store for repair.

Then the phone calls began. Apprising of the repair progress. Warning the extended warranty would expire “soon!” (Sure, in five years.) And, yes, to ask “a few” feedback questions about our service experience. Multiple calls, multiplied by the number of items we’d had repaired, and multiple follow-ups to the follow-up calls. While this is a store I really like, I may not go back. Because even though I know their calls are meant to convey they care, I just don’t have the time for that much caring in my busy day.

Don’t Offend in the Name of Feedback

Customer and client satisfaction surveys can be a very good thing—including for lawyers and their firms. But we are all so addicted to rapid feedback. Whether getting it or giving it, by phone, on the Web, via text or whatever means is necessary! It has become part of our culture—from Yelp reviews to “Dancing with the Stars.” And with online tools like Zoomerang and Survey Monkey, it’s so easy to do a survey (and without having to take the bitter truth in the face). How could it be a bad thing, right?

At the heart of the matter is whether you are using the right survey method for the right audience at the right time. While having more information about your clients is always better than less, asking for it in clumsy or inappropriate ways can create more problems than it solves. Here are five ways to do it wrong.

1. Skip your homework. You can ask for feedback in many different formats—in person, on the phone, multiple-choice, open-ended or fill-in-the-blanks. Find out early how your respective clients prefer to give feedback. Some may feel a phone survey is an intrusion in their workday but would readily click the link to an online survey. Others will never bother to complete or mail back a paper survey, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep a list of questions in your pocket for your next conversation with them. The way you deliver the survey, and the way the questions are framed, has to speak to who they are or you’ll make clients feel you don’t care.

2. Include extraneous or stupid questions. Surveys have to be customized for your practice, of course. You can’t slap your firm name on top of a generic template that asks clients if they are “happy” with their outcome. While you want to keep the questions short and to the point, you must also make sure they apply specifically to you and your client. Don’t, for example, include questions about staff support or services the client didn’t encounter. And why ask for feedback on things you can’t—or won’t—fix? Think carefully about what you are looking for and how you will use the information you gather. Are you looking for validation of something particular? To solve a specific problem? To measure interest in that particular practice area, or assess your personal skills?

3. Forget what you promised in the first place. With every new client or matter, your engagement letter or agreement (you have one, right?) should state your service or value proposition. This is where you tell the client what to expect. “We will return phone calls within 24 hours,” for example, or “We will provide status reports every two weeks.” This engagement letter is the basis for your end-of-matter survey. Why not refer back to that initial agreement, and ask how well you met the expectations you set?

4. Send it cold. It might seem like a bright idea to include a satisfaction survey with your last communication—your final bill. But first you better make sure they know that bill is coming—and that you’ve prepped them for what’s in it. You don’t want a client who’s upset with your bill to turn right around and rate your likeability on a scale of 1 to 10. But beyond that, if, by the end of a matter, you have no clue whether your client likes you, you’ve already been missing the boat. You should be asking good questions to measure your clients’ satisfaction level throughout the matter—in person or on the phone. End-of-matter satisfaction surveys are meant to give you insights that help you continue a happy relationship—not start anew.

5. Lose perspective. Sometimes you can get so caught up in completing a task or doing the right marketing thing that you forget clients are people first. Unless you are integral to their daily business or have held their hand through an intense ordeal, you probably aren’t top of mind. That doesn’t mean they don’t think highly of you. But they have other things to worry about besides reassuring you. What you see as another friendly follow-up call or email may come off as annoying or even intrusive. (”Why does that law firm keep calling me?”) If they don’t respond right away, follow-up once, even twice, and then just let it go. Your world may revolve around whether they liked your new location or answering service, but they might not have the time for that much caring in their day.

Joan Feldman is Partner/Editorial at Attorney at Work and a principal at Feldcomm, a custom publishing and marketing design firm in Chicago. An editor and writer, Joan has created, steered and contributed to myriad practice management and trade publications, including the American Bar Association’s Law Practice magazine. Follow her @joanhfeldman.

Illustration © iStock

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