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Content Under Pressure

How to Ask for Client Testimonials

Four smart questions can deliver killer content for your business development efforts.

By Susan Kostal

There’s a lot of discussion about when, and how, to ask for feedback over the course of a client engagement. A website or bio refresh is a great time to ask clients you trust why they hired you and what sets you apart from your competitors. And with many of us tweaking our sites or profiles at year’s end, it’s a good time to talk to clients about what they like about you.

Provide the Framework When You Ask for Testimonials

Happy clients are typically more than willing to provide feedback for proper, tasteful use in promotional copy. But many don’t know what to say. It’s important, then, to give them a framework to think about your professional relationship.

When talking about their work for clients, most lawyers tend to focus on the results they obtained. This makes sense; you were hired to solve a particular problem, and likely take pride in the outcome. But this is also the kind of narrative that you already control, and can highlight on your site via “Representative Cases” or case studies — being sure, of course, that you do so within your jurisdiction’s rules.

Clients also have a pretty good idea of your track record before they hire you. That’s why you made the final cut. What clients say over and over, though, as they ponder the hiring decision, is that they want to know what it’s like to work with you. Yes, you are smart and will solve their problem. But will the engagement be an enjoyable one? We all know good lawyers who are notoriously difficult to deal with. There are also some firms, sadly, that limp along with good lawyers but dysfunctional teams. So what is that intangible that sets you apart?

Potential clients want the inside track on this information. Most other factors being equal, the hiring decision is based on emotion, and the client’s perceived comfort level with the service provider. That’s what you want your client testimonials to reflect, and the client is the only reliable source of that. In other words, only they can tell the “client experience” story with true credibility. You want to help them get to the essence of their story.

Four Questions That Help Clients Tell Their Client Experience Story

Here are specific questions to ask when soliciting client testimonials:

  1. What was your largest concern about your legal matter before hiring our firm? Were you satisfied with the resolution?
  2. What do you value most about your relationship with our firm?
  3. What is it like to work with us as a firm, compared with other professionals you may have worked with?
  4. If you were to refer our firm to a peer, how would you describe us?

Notice the pattern of these questions. First, they encourage comparison and superlatives. They also encourage the client to talk about the nature and strength of the professional relationship. And the last question provides a handy way for clients to easily state that they are pleased enough to refer your firm to others — the gold standard of professional representation.

Watch for Themes

Ideally, you’ll be asking several clients simultaneously for reviews. Look at the responses collectively, and decide which part of each testimonial best speaks to the two or three themes you want to stress (responsiveness, cost-effective representation, well-managed teams, for example). Lightly edit the responses for length and clarity, and return the quotes to your clients for their final review and permission for use. You may only end up using a fragment of what they share, and that’s fine.

Don’t let the themes you want to come shining through drown in too much copy.

If Clients Decline to Participate, That’s Fine

Use this process as a touchpoint to communicate how much you value your relationship. Stress that you are always open to any feedback, positive or negative. Thus, there is no downside to asking for a client testimonial. By asking happy clients, you should be confident you’ll receive good responses. If a response is less than good, take that feedback seriously and act on it internally to ensure improvement.

If testimonials are lackluster, don’t post them, of course. But put serious time into asking why the client feels this way, especially if it’s the kind of client you want to keep.

Unexpected Plaudits

One thing I’ve found over the years is that my clients’ perceptions of me sometimes differ from my own. Many of us undervalue a certain talent or characteristic because it comes so naturally to us that we barely perceive it in ourselves. This means that soliciting client testimonials can lead to a surprise discovery of something about you that clients truly value, even if you take it for granted. That makes for a wonderful boost, both personally and for your marketing efforts.

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Susan Kostal Susan Kostal

Susan Kostal is a legal affairs PR, marketing and business development consultant based in San Francisco. She is a contributing editor for Attorney at Work and writes the “Content Under Pressure” column. Susan has covered legal affairs as a journalist for nearly three decades. You can follow her on Twitter @skostal and view more of her content at www.susankostal.com.

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