Editor’s Note: Recently, a law firm marketing expert shared with us a survey that highlights what the client is really thinking, and how law firms can effectively respond.
Given the level of focus placed on client teams, industry teams, and client feedback by our law firm clients over the past 18 months, it would appear that firms are not only seeking out the voice of the client, but they are listening and taking action.
When I became a Chief Marketing Officer back in 2004, I sent an email message to the partners in the firm extolling the virtues of asking our clients for feedback. I did my best to make the message compelling, citing results from a then recent survey that read, “According to a recent survey of Fortune 1000 Corporate Counsel, only 31% of a firm’s clients are satisfied with their outside law firm’s performance.”
Aside from making the point that about two-thirds of the F1000 were dissatisfied with their existing outside counsel, my message attempted to communicate the strong correlation between our competitors doing a better job of seeking feedback and improving their performance with my firm losing wallet- and market share.
Since then, we all know that the market has materially changed. Competition for legal work as well as for best-in-class lawyers has become more aggressive. Curiously, though, the data suggests that law firm clients feel that law firms still have a long way to go when delivering service in a way that is materially different from the competition.
Some GC Panel Insight
At a recent Legal Sales & Services Organization (LSSO) conference, a panel of four General Counsel were asked a battery of questions to gain their perspectives in a number of areas that include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Websites and lawyer profiles;
- Content marketing;
- Understanding the client’s business;
- RFPs/sales pitches; and
- Client Feedback.
Nearly 80 questions were posed to the panel. Instead of including all of the questions and related replies, I am sharing some of the highlights from the very interesting exchange. Insights from the GC panel follows.
Websites and Lawyer Profiles
When asked about whether law firm websites include too much information, the panel agreed that what matters is how easy it is to find the information that visitors are looking for, regardless of how much content is there. The same was true for lawyer profiles. In both cases, the emphasis was on being as specific about the firm’s or lawyer’s experience as possible. Communicating an understanding of, and demonstrating experience in, the respective industry was paramount.
Three out of the four panelists said that they “regularly read one or more law firm newsletters or client alerts.” Conversely, three out of the four GCs said that they never read a law firm’s blog posts. With respect to collateral, all agreed that law firm brochures and other “leave-behinds” offer little to no value. Finally, all four panelists said that they have never hired someone or asked them for more services as a result of published content.
Understanding the Client’s Business
It would appear that the legal industry is making some progress on this front. The panel unanimously agreed that their outside lawyers “are generally making strong efforts to learn about” the client’s business and industry. Moreover, they went on to say, again unanimously, that their lawyers “understand the importance of industry context to the legal strategy & decision-making.”
When asked about the single biggest thing that most often is missing from RFPs or sales pitches, the unanimous answer was “demonstrating that they understand our business.”
When asked about their preferred method of providing feedback, the panel was in agreement that they would prefer an in-person interview over a written survey. However, they were split when asked about who they would like to conduct the interview. Two said that they would expect the Relationship Partner to conduct the interview and the other two said that they had no preference, including third-party providers.
When I was with Ernst & Young, we referred to the client feedback program, “Client Loyalty and Satisfaction Survey” or “CLASS.” We focused on gaining feedback from the client in a manner of different ways. One of the more successful ways to engage the client in these discussions was “post-matter reviews.” When we conducted post-matter reviews, we didn’t look to the calendar to determine if enough time had passed so we could have another client feedback session. We would simply conduct a short exchange after each matter was complete. We asked quantitative as well as qualitative questions in these reviews. Some of the quantitative questions that we posed were:
“During the engagement, did we:
- Conduct the Engagement in an efficient manner with minimal disruption?
- Make recommendations that were constructive, creative, accurate, and actionable?
- Under-promise and over-deliver?
- Add value to your organization?”
There were other questions related to scope, process and so forth, but you get the idea. Some of the qualitative questions that we asked included:
- Do you have any suggestions related to how we can improve our service that you can share with us?
- Is there anything else that you would like to discuss related to our business relationship?
These post-matter reviews would take from 15 minutes to an hour, depending upon how much time the client wanted to spend on the qualitative section. Post-matter reviews fit nicely into the rubric of the law firm’s “Client Experience” model.
If you haven’t been successful deploying a formal “client feedback” program, you should try the post-matter review concept. It’s a simple method to get your lawyers used to the idea of proactively asking for feedback in the context of a timeline that makes sense to both the lawyer and the client. The end of the matter is the trigger.
With respect to seeking out the voice of the client, be proactive. Do not wait for the client “Report Card” to be due, or worse, for the client to ask to have a sit-down with the team or firm leadership. Once you have the feedback session, it’s critical to act upon the suggested improvements and then communicate with the client about the plan of action.
***** Bruce Alltop is a Principal at LawVision Group. Prior to joining LawVision in 2012, he spent 25 years in house as a sales and marketing professional. His experience includes nearly 10 years as an AmLaw 100 Chief Marketing Officer in Boston. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.