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Communicating

Client Feedback: Ways to Get It Wrong

By Joan Feldman

Here in the Midwest, autumn calls for heavy-duty yard cleanup. Predictably, the leaf blower broke just as the first round of oak leaves fell. The chainsaw and the hedge trimmer died next. So we dropped them off 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!” To ask a few 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

While having more information is always better, 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 or fill-in-the-blanks. Find out early how your 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.

2. Include extraneous or stupid questions. 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. Your client engagement letter or agreement should state your service and 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 document is the basis for your end-of-matter survey. Refer back to it 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 or ask for an online review 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 or go on a Yelp rant. 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  — 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. Sure, they make 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. 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.

Illustration © iStock

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Joan Hamby Feldman Joan Feldman

Joan Feldman is Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of Attorney at Work, publishing “one really good idea every day” since 2011. She has created and steered myriad leading practice management and trade publications, including the ABA’s Law Practice magazine where she served as managing editor for a dozen years. Joan is a Fellow and Trustee of the College of Law Practice Management. Follow her @JoanHFeldman.

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