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Ask the Experts

What You Need to Know About Client Feedback Programs

By The Editors

Question: We’d like to start a client feedback program. What do we need to consider when implementing this type of program?

Ask the Experts from the LMA

Jim JarellJim Jarrell: I think it’s safe to say that every firm needs some form of a client feedback program. How your particular program will look depends on your firm’s goals, size, resources and budget. Whether you desire a robust, structured program for client engagement or simply create a survey to measure results, there are three things to consider when implementing your own program:

  1. A good client feedback program is more than just a survey or a face-to-face interview. You do a disservice to those providing feedback, as well as the rest of your clients, if all you are doing is collecting feedback but take no action based on it. For your program to be successful and — more importantly — appear successful to your clients, your firm needs to instill a culture of “client listening” among every member of the firm and be serious about making changes, even if the feedback is politically or culturally difficult. Just as important, your firm should look for multiple opportunities throughout the year, at various touch points in a relationship, to learn about the clients and their perception of the firm. A particular “pain point” in January might not be an issue in September, and vice versa.
  1. Think about giving your client feedback program real structure. Structured programs send a clear signal to surveyed clients that the firm cares enough to ask their opinion. You can reduce costs by using an online survey for the bulk of those questioned while saving face-to-face meetings for more key clients. Be careful about how you staff the face-to-face meetings. If you want any hope of getting genuine and honest feedback, relationship lawyers should not perform the feedback interviews with their own clients.
  1. Don’t ignore your staff interactions. Sometimes, the person who speaks most often to your clients may not even be the relationship lawyer or her associate(s), but the legal assistant or paralegal. Legal assistants and paralegals receive informal feedback from the clients all the time. Find out if they’re actually sharing that feedback, and if they aren’t, put some processes in place so that feedback makes its way up the chain.

Another idea you should consider for soliciting feedback is social media. It’s fairly easy nowadays to keep track of interactions on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media platforms. The key to leveraging these channels to the max is interaction. When a client gives kudos, thank them publicly for it, and when they express dissatisfaction, take the time to reach out to them, take the conversation offline, and address their concerns.

Nobody said it would be easy. If it was, every firm would already be doing it!

Jim Jarrell is the director of marketing and practice development for Stark & Stark, A Professional Corporation. He recently moved to New Jersey from Chicago, where he was the business development manager for Barnes & Thornburg LLP’s litigation department. Follow him on Twitter @JimJarrell.

Stacy A. SmithStacy Smith: A client feedback program can be a beneficial business development and marketing tool when properly developed and executed. Start with these factors in mind:

Measure what matters. Focus on what is and will be important to your clients. Ask structured and measurable questions, as well as unstructured questions that are related to your client’s challenges, emerging needs and future plans.

Measure the right way. Determine what methodology to use to secure feedback from your clients. There is no one-size-fits-all methodology. It depends on your law firm, the industries you serve and the clientele you represent. Primary considerations:

1. Who will conduct the client surveys?

  • Your law firm, or
  • A third-party consultant

2. What survey method will you use?

  • Direct mail. Response rates for direct mail surveys are traditionally low. Your client pool will need to be of a substantial size in order to obtain meaningful data.
  • Email. Email surveys have a slightly higher response rate than direct mail, but you still may encounter an issue with securing enough aggregate data to analyze.
  • Online. Online surveys are fairly easy to develop, have a broad reach, are efficient with client contact and follow up, and most programs have some integrated data analysis tools. Keep in mind that online surveys yield a higher response rate from satisfied clients, so you might miss out on collecting vital data from unhappy clients.
  • Telephone. Telephone surveys provide the most objective feedback in that they provide not only the quantitative data that you’d get from direct mail, email, and online surveys, but also immeasurable qualitative data that those sources cannot provide. If your law firm is conducting the survey directly, your client might be less than forthcoming, so you could consider a neutral third-party consultant with solid interview skills to whom the client might be more open.
  • Person-to-person. In-person meetings will provide the most useful and qualitative feedback of all the methods. It’s my position that these interviews are best carried out on a small scale, and on a personal level — attorney to client. While the results can be somewhat biased, using a third-party consultant could be viewed as cold and impersonal.

Measure with purpose and intent. Define the analysis method(s) you will use for the data collected: Do you want firm-wide statistics or practice group comparisons? Consider how you will present the results to your firm. Determine how you will use the data to better position yourself with your clients. Last, decide how will you follow through with your clients. Always follow through. Otherwise, your clients may assume that their feedback was meaningless and that assumption could hurt your relationships.

Stacy A. Smith is the firm administrator and director of marketing and client relations at Carter Conboy, a full-service law firm with offices in Albany and Saratoga Springs, New York.

Ian TurvillIan Turvill: The ostensible purpose of a client feedback program is precisely as it appears — to gain input from clients on the performance of your firm in delivering legal services. However, in many instances, the actual outcome of such an exercise is to learn far more about a client’s broader business needs, opening the door for yet more work across more practice areas. So, the first consideration for any “doubters” in your firm is to acknowledge that this exercise supports revenue growth.

With that in mind, the second consideration has to be which clients you will choose to participate. Do you reach out to established clients, or do you find out more about those who have only recently been acquired? If you aim to grow relationships, then the latter category might be the better bet.

Finally, while many clients are only going to have good things to say, the process will inevitably elicit negative comments about other attorneys, staff, or overall firm performance. Be careful and sensitive about how you share this feedback: Some may be hurt or offended by this guidance, and it may hinder future cooperation.

Ian Turvill is the CMO of Freeborn & Peters LLP, a full-service firm headquartered in Chicago. Turvill is currently a chair of the Legal Marketing Association Midwest Chapter at Chicago City Group. He was previously elected as the National Marketing Scholar of the Year by the American Marketing Association. You can reach him at  iturvill@freeborn.com or on Twitter @IanTurvill.

That’s a Good Question! What’s Yours?

No, not every law firm has a professional marketer or business development coach on staff to answer questions. So send us your questions via email or in the comment section below, and we’ll pass them on to the experts at the Legal Marketing Association. Watch for the best responses here in Ask the Expert.

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The Legal Marketing Association provides professional support and education as well as opportunities for intellectual and practical information exchange.

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