The following column is by Janet Stanton, Partner, Adam Smith, Esq.
For unfathomable reasons many law firms and lawyers eschew client feedback.
The reason we’re baffled by this is that at its most basic, the business of law firms is to serve client’s needs. Let me repeat that… the business of law firms is to serve client’s needs.
As such, client feedback is a critical factor of your firm’s long-term health; not merely a “nice to have when we get around to it.” Not getting client feedback is akin to not seeing your doctor or dentist regularly; presumably your and your firm’s financial health is right up there with your own physical health.
While client feedback is nearly ubiquitous in all other industries (perhaps the balance 90%+ of the economy is on to something?), the legal industry has been slow on the uptake. Acritas/Thomson Reuters found that only 16% of clients reported being approached for their feedback. This can make it a competitive advantage for firms that meaningfully seek and respond to client feedback. Moreover, it is a demonstration of personal interest in your client and can further cement the relationship.
And, entirely contrary to many lawyers’ worries, clients affirmatively welcome sincere discussions about their business and how you can serve them better. Further, there is ample research supporting the tangible value of securing feedback in terms of increased revenue and stickier relationships.
Importantly, if there is “bad news” you should want to be the first to know – it is far, far better to hear of it before the prognosis becomes terminal, to continue the medical theme. Moreover, we bet that virtually all of your clients engage in some form of client or customer feedback; it is a well-accepted bedrock of Corporate Land – so clients are not in the least surprised at all by the notion.
Securing the feedback is just not that hard (if that thought gives you pause, consider other interlocutors; senior marketing folks or a respected 3rd party). Moreover, once you have the feedback, how the information is used can be as important as securing the insights, themselves. We’ve helped firms squeeze every drop of usefulness out of the feedback. It’s a big investment, so we advise firms on how to get the most out of it. For example, combine the feedback with other data you have about the client and the relationship for a more comprehensive understanding of the client and their needs; to know how to better serve them.
There are some pretty common-sense “dos and don’ts”…
- First and foremost, these interviews are intended to secure insights into the relationship and identify areas to improve; these are not sales calls in sheep’s clothing. You’ll lose all credibility (or worse!), if clients think for a minute that these are veiled sales pitches.
- If issues arise, prompt and effective response is imperative. It is well-accepted that not responding is worse than not seeking feedback at all.
- The client relationship leader should not be the one securing the feedback. Use someone with more distance from the relationship; to ensure candor all around.
- Interviews shouldn’t be driven by “check the box” questionnaires; rather these are discussions are intended to suss out issues. Listen more than you talk. And, for Heaven’s sake, don’t get defensive.
- Feedback from clients should be reviewed frequently or serve as an evergreen agenda item if you have client team meetings (another good business practice, but a topic for another day). Moreover, all client feedback should be captured centrally and easily accessible by all who service the client.
In closing, I am reminded of this from Peter Drucker, “The purpose of business is to make and keep a client.”