On the Edge of Client Feedback

We've all heard it: "We already know what clients want -- why ask them?" Or: "If we ask them, they might think of something bad to say about us." Or (my personal favorite): "If we ask them, won’t they think we’re in trouble?"

Do clients really want to be asked? Do they really want to tell you how they feel about your firm, its lawyers, and its services? Or are they tired of being surveyed by law firms and other service providers? Are your holdout lawyers right?

Three or four years ago, I started to tell law firms that clients would be over-surveyed in several years and that we would have to find new ways of reaching them. I was dead wrong on the first part and right on the second. Clients seem to have an inexhaustible interest in providing feedback to their firm. The challenge for us as marketers is to use the right tools, ask questions that provide actionable answers, and make sure the lawyers respond promptly and effectively.

Why Seek Client Feedback?

The challenge is made easier when you look at several facts. According to surveys of among Fortune 500 corporate counsel conducted biannually by Altman Weil beginning in 1992, more than three quarters of counsel think satisfaction surveys are"critical" to an ongoing relationship with their law firm. And almost 90% said that law firms should conduct formal client surveys on a regular basis, typically every year or two.

Most corporate counsel feel surveys provide the opportunity to "point out problems to the firm," "candidly discuss fees, costs, or other concerns,""identify new ways (staffing, alternative billing, etc.) that the firm can work with (the client)," and "reinforce firm strengths." In addition, many thought surveys were an appropriate forum to "identify areas of future legal need." That means the firm can develop a cross-selling matrix based on fact, not guesswork.

What Tools Can Be Used?

What tools are used? According to the survey, written questionnaires are still the most popular; in fact, nearly half had received them. What’s more, response rates to written surveys continue to climb -- typically, 50% of law firm clients receiving a survey in the mail will respond to it.

But interviews by telephone and in person are also on the increase: 34% have been interviewed by telephone and 16% were interviewed in person. Written and telephone surveys were most often conducted by outside consultants, personal interviews were usually conducted by responsible partners and/or outside consultants, and, less frequently, by the practice group leader, or marketing director.

Here’s the payoff: more than 40% of counsel have never been surveyed by outside firms. That’s never, not even once. Can client surveys provide a way of differentiating the firm while providing information back to the firm’s lawyers? You bet. In fact, there may be no other single tool that combines the benefits of positioning and critical information the way surveys do.

Act Now

But the time is short, and the window is closing. While clients continue to be more interested than ever in providing feedback to their firms, more firms are "getting it" and going directly to their clients for critical feedback. The time to get to clients is now, if your firm hasn’t done so already.