Please pay attention. I am about to share one of the most effective, mind-blowing legal marketing strategies ever developed. It is guaranteed to revolutionize the industry and dramatically alter the way we view our profession from this day forward. Are you ready? Are you sure? You might want to sit down for news of this magnitude. Brace yourself.
Here it is — seek client feedback. I know. Breathe. Get some water. Find a quiet place to regain composure. Take a yoga class. Read a Chambers submission. This type of ground-breaking information can shock the system.
Ok, back to reality. The idea that law firms should seek client feedback is hardly an innovative concept. In fact, I would have guessed that every firm, regardless of size or geographic footprint, had in place an established process and/or procedure. So why does anecdotal evidence, as well as industry research, continue to show that many firms are not actively and routinely engaged in capturing this meaningful information? After all, asking clients to provide candid comments about law firm services can prove essential in developing strategies as well as deepening those precious relationships. In addition, it is a process already successfully utilized by virtually every other professional services industry.
Still not convinced? Here are some additional benefits of gathering and leveraging client feedback, as well as insights into the critical role it can play in positioning your firm for both short- and long-term success. Please note: For purposes of this article, gathering client feedback refers to conducting in-person interviews.
Gain Outside Perspective
While the maxim “perception is reality” is probably a tad overused, it certainly has its place in our discussion. The view from inside a company, firm or organization is unique and provides the framework for specific perceptions. This inside-out view is certainly vital in managing the various aspects of a firm’s operations and strategy. However, an insider’s perspective is somewhat skewed in that it can never fully capture the experience/perspective of the outside consumer.
Far too often, attorneys assume they know what their clients value most and treat each one essentially the same. To this point, I often tell attorneys that a law firm’s brand (and to a similar degree an attorney’s personal brand) is a perception or emotion maintained by a client or prospective client, describing the experience related to doing business with a firm or purchasing its services.
In other words, clients (or other external audiences) ultimately determine what defines firm value. As insiders, we do not. Believe me when I tell you it is quite an eye-opening experience to see your firm and lawyers through the eyes of clients.
Do you know what your clients value most in their relationships with you? Until you do, you will not be able to provide the kind of service and establish the type of relationships that will set you apart from the crowd of otherwise capable firms looking to build their client roster.
It should not come as a big surprise that many relationship partners (or the lawyers responsible for managing the day-to-day client relationship) might not be terribly open to direct, structured client feedback. And, in all honesty, it rarely has anything to do with performance issues.
For many, seeking detailed client insight is simply asking for trouble where there isn’t any and, as a result, should be avoided if at all possible.
Excuses for such avoidance range from bad timing for conducting an interview to recent in-house staff changes to random undisclosed sensitivities. Underneath it all, the objective is usually for the relationship partner to delay (if not prevent) having the client interviewed in a forum where the partner is not present to review, massage or otherwise influence the provided feedback. Bottom line, this “political” dynamic is extremely detrimental to the firm and the client. Objective client interviews eliminate the filter and the bias often associated with a relationship partner’s client satisfaction reports and should be conducted unless the objections or hesitations have a sound basis in fact. Remember, clients belong to the firm. They are not the property of any individual attorney.
Put the Focus on the Client
High on the list of success factors for law firms is a commitment to client focus. Can you think of a better way to demonstrate such a commitment and to generate concrete results from such an effort than to meet directly with the client and solicit input on ways to enhance the relationship and generate additional value? If so, please share it. Further, unlike other scenarios where you meet with clients to discuss a range of matters, these feedback sessions are all about the client. What are their interests, needs and objectives? Anything else is off the table.
Based on the necessary client history research, questions for these sessions should be framed to elicit a clear and thorough understanding of the firm-client relationship and address everything from individual attorney performance to work quality to billing statements to staffing composition. In addition, specific suggestions should be made for making the relationship more valuable to the client (which in turn makes it more valuable to the firm).
Understand Client and Industry Challenges
One of the most significant benefits of seeking client feedback is what is actually gained in the preparation phase. To ensure that every feedback session is unique and customized to the particular client, begin each with a detailed review of the client’s legal, business and industry position. But to maximize such an examination, make sure to review in advance the client’s website, corporate filings (if applicable), press releases and news coverage, social media sites and other online legal research platforms. Use these tools to structure questions regarding such things as company/industry trends and concerns, legal decisions, market strategy and C-suite priorities.
The insight gathered through the up-front process and actual meeting is priceless. It is virtually guaranteed to enhance existing bonds between a firm and its clients. Moreover, you are if lucky, it can lay the foundation for a discussion regarding additional areas where the firm can provide its services.
Lawyers want the opportunity to customize service offerings based on specific client needs and objectives. Even the most routine matters vary from client to client. Nevertheless, this customization process does not operate in a vacuum. It requires collaboration — both within the firm itself, and between the firm and client. Client feedback efforts strengthen collaboration among firm lawyers and favorably position the firm if/when clients encounter more complex legal matters or ones outside of those areas where the firm is currently serving the client. So why speculate on client priorities or expectations? Ask them and get the information you need. Then, disseminate that knowledge across the appropriate team of lawyers to ensure the client receives superior legal services and value.
In a desire to “think outside the box” or to uncover a new approach to solving an old problem, we often lose sight of tried and true methods. Soliciting client feedback has been and will likely remain the most effective strategy law firms can use to protect and expand client relationships. It might be the only way to ensure that a law firm is providing the level of service and value that clients need and expect.
This article touches upon just some of the potential benefits of this “in-the-box” approach. In reality, many strategic firm decisions and functional areas might be enhanced by asking clients their opinions and truly listening to their responses. Just remember, service cannot be improved without honest and meaningful feedback. It simply does not and will not happen.
***** David McCann, J.D., is senior manager of marketing and communications at Snell & Wilmer. He can be reached at 602-382-6517 or 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.