Bothwell Marketing Print Article

Client Surveys - A Goldmine of Information

Firms who systematically seek feedback promote better client retention. 

Since landing a new client can cost five times the money and time than keeping an existing one, it makes sense to do everything possible to keep existing clients happy. Firms who systematically seek feedback and address issues promptly will promote better client retention. Numerous studies show that many unhappy clients communicate their dissatisfaction by walking away from the relationship. Not wishing to engage in the blame game or any type of confrontation, it is simply easier for them to move to another law firm – undoubtedly there are several already lining up.

So, how do you know if clients are happy or not? Maybe you could ask them!

Lawyers often hesitate to ask clients for candid feedback – what if a client says something negative about their legal skills? In fact, clients often consider the legal product as the minimum of what they expect. Our surveys show that the manner of delivery of legal services is what differentiates a firm. For example, clients tend to prefer firms that provide a budget and stick to it – you might want to ask clients about their experiences with budgets. You might also ask a client what he or she considers a realistic budget for repetitive types of matters, and how others firms have helped them manage their budget. You could also encourage them to tell their horror stories – there is often a lot to learn from bad experiences. Also, ask them what they consider inexcusable. Although clients may be reluctant to "bad mouth" other law firms, the more information you gain the more of an edge you will have over the competition.

A client survey can present an opportunity to describe your firm's strengths and philosophy. If a client reveals a problem with a former law firm, advise him or her how your firm would handle such issues. During a survey, discuss expectations and service, not pending matters. Address such issues as timely return of phone calls, billing and accounting issues, firm responsiveness, creativity and the overall quality of service. One-on-one feedback allows for quick corrective measures before the relationship goes awry.

To get a broad-based picture of trends, and to provide a neutral third party option, firms are opting for formal client surveys conducted by outside consultants who can provide benchmarks from similar research with other firms. By sampling a significant number of clients, the firm can identify systemic problems and defective processes as well as uncover opportunities and/or relationship problems with individual clients.

Surveys can be conducted in-person, by telephone, by written questionnaires or by e-mail. Of course telephone and e-mail surveys can cost less than in-person interviews. On the other hand, meeting in-person will generally produce information of a higher quality. Although clients are generally positive about the process, no one wants to waste time. An experienced interviewer can usually zero in on critical areas quickly. Specifically the interview should address results, value, efficiency, staffing, reporting and overall communication.

Candidates for a survey should include the firm’s most significant clients, since they pose the highest risk to the firm if they move their business elsewhere. Surveys should also seek out clients whose overall business has declined, or where a certain practice area is no longer used, and the firm is unsure why. Likewise a small client with growth plans offers an excellent opportunity to learn more about future needs. Ideally, a survey will cover a representative range of clients from new relationships to long-standing ones, as well as large and small clients across all practice areas.

The purpose of a client survey interview is not to hard sell the firm. The primary mission is to establish the health of the client relationship and look for opportunities to improve and grow it. When you discover what clients think, you must put this information to use in practical ways that clients will appreciate. In addition to thanking them for their participation, clients should also be advised – promptly – as to what action will be taken based on their input. Surveys by themselves do not improve service. Rather, everyone in the firm must be committed to take action. Hearing the information directly from clients typically has more effect on lawyer behavior than any internal edicts.

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