Seeking client feedback appears to be getting more attention in firms of all sizes. Ballard Spahr (500-plus lawyers) has hired a full-time “client interviewer,” and Stanislaw Ashbaugh (19 lawyers) prominently links to their Chief Results Officer from their home page, and Ward and Smith PA (80 lawyers) has a partner who is devoted to visiting clients nearly full-time.  Other firms with similar positions include Orrick (over 1000 lawyers) with a firmwide ombudsman, and Reed Smith (over 1600 lawyers) with a director of general counsel relations.

Are these firms pacesetters for a greater focus on client feedback? Or is it just a fad?  One can only hope it is an encouraging trend.

Client feedback is clearly one of the most important things a law firm can do to enhance client relationships, which in turn results in more work. That is why it ranks No. 3 on my list of Top 10 Marketing Tips.  Moreover, a recent survey by The BTI Consulting Group reports that per attorney profits increased by 41.2% when there is “single individual accountable for firm-wide client service.”

If gaining more client work is what marketing and business development is all about – Hmm, I wonder! – and seeking feedback is that effective, then hiring someone for the business development team who would concentrate on that role would make a lot of sense.

If you don’t buy into that idea, at least hire a consultant to seek feedback for you. In many firms the managing partner fills this role, and of course, he or she is a good person for that; but, with everything else on their plate, it just doesn’t get the priority and consistent effort that it should.

That is why the actions of these firms are so impressive. And I’ll bet clients just love it, too.  Moreover, I’ll wager that each of them obtains an ROI of at least double their salary in any given year in new work for the firm.

So, who is the dedicated person seeking client feedback in your firm?

In a recent post I talked about following up whether you win or lose an opportunity for new work. The idea being to learn how to improve and do even better at winning the next time. 

Following my post I heard from Ford Harding who sent me a copy of his book Rainmaking: Attract New Clients No Matter What Your Field, 2nd Edition. The book includes a chapter “When You Lose a Sale,” which includes the following suggestions in seeking feedback:

  • Encourage stark honesty, like a Dutch uncle;
  • Try to set a separate meeting or at least phone call for the debriefing (not as part of the bad news call);
  • Make sure you don’t come across as threatening or angry;
  • Compile your questions in advance;
  • Three general questions you should definitely ask:
    • “Why did you select the other firm?
    • “What did they do especially well during the sales process?
    • “Where could we have been better?”;
  • Don’t be disagreeable or argue with anything you hear;
  • Keep notes on what is said;
  • Debrief as many people as is reasonably appropriate; and
  • Send a personal (handwritten) thank you note.

Following this advice will more than likely improve your chances of winning the next time.

Naturally, one might think every lawyer is responsible, or maybe the managing partner if it has to be brought down to a single individual. My initial reaction was the former, but after reading the article “The Power of One” by Marcie Borgal in The Complete Lawyer, I’ve come up with a different take on the issue. Marcie is a senior strategic analyst with The BTI Consulting Group in Wellesley, MA.

Her article starts with:

“A research study recently conducted (by BTI) … revealed a startling fact. Having a single individual accountable for firm-wide client service boosts per attorney profits by up to 41.2%”

I must admit I was startled by that myself. Marcie refers to these individuals as “client service executives.” Their job responsibilities include:

  • “providing client-focused tools and programs,
  • generating strategies to improve client service performance,
  • delineating gaps between performance and client expectations, and
  • regularly tracking and monitoring client satisfaction.”

Additionally, these individuals may conduct “annual interviews with key clients” to ascertain client service issues, as well as “clients’ goals and needs.”

Law firms “typically draw client service executives from the ranks of their most well-respected attorneys,” according to Marcie.  In most cases, I presume in most firms that person is likely to be the managing partner.   But, that may not always be the case.

For instance, Philadelphia’s Ballard Spahr has hired a full time in-house “Client Interviewer” and Seattle’s Stanislaw Ashbaugh has a Chief Results Officer on staff (with a prominent link from the firm’s home page).

It looks like some law firms are really taking client service issues – and, more importantly client satisfaction – seriously. As Marcie says, “[C]lients translate these approaches as an expression of interest and investment in them, their priorities and their concerns.” I think it is just smart legal marketing!

It certainly doesn’t hurt if, in addition to “happy-camper clients,” the firm’s profits increase by more than 40% in the bargain.

 

Thanks to Arnie Herz for the tip that led me to Marcie’s article.

Since I started interviewing law firm clients in 1990 (even used a film crew to capture five of them on a VHS tape – I’ll bet you remember what those are), I have never waivered from the belief that it is one of the most important things a firm can do to retain clients. And developing and enhancing client relationships is what marketing is all about. It is one of the reasons I put client feedback as No. 3 on my Top Ten Marketing Tips list.

Ballard Spahr in Philadelphia has made a major commitment to institutionalize its client feedback process. As reported on several blogs (Mark Beese on his Leadership by Lawyers, Larry Bodine’s Law Marketing Blog and Peter Darling’s Business Development) over the past week, Ballard has hired a full time “client interviewer.” It is reported that the person has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist, so she should be conducting some serious interviews. I agree with Peter that it is a brilliant move.

Your firm may not be in a position to justify the cost of a full time in-house client interviewer (Ballard has 500 lawyers after all), but there is absolutely no reason why your managing partner, or an experienced outside third party, shouldn’t be doing client interviews for your firm. The purpose is to determine how the firm is doing in the relationship, inviting honest feedback on any problems, and to learn what the firm could do better.

It is better to find out if there are problems, that can be corrected, before your key clients decide to try another law firm for their next matter. There is no time to waste.

Recently, I had the privilege of being interviewed about coaching and other business development topics by Cole Silver for his Expert Audio Series.  It was a lot of fun.  So, for those who care to listen to the golden vocal cords of yours truly, give it a go. (aw, come on, I know you’ve just been dying to hear me sound off on my various (mis)guided theories on all things marketing and business development.)

So, if you have 29 minutes to waste ………. errrrr, invest over lunch or your morning coffee, check out my coaching interview with Cole.  Some of what we talked about included:

  • Why coaching works
  • How it overcomes lawyers’ reluctance to develop business
  • How to select a coach
  • What coaching process entails
  • Why client visits and feedback programs work, and can lead to immediate business
  • How selling really works

What the heck.  You may actually get something out of it.  Give it a shot.

Seeking client feedback is probably the most underutilized technique for developing and enhancing client relationships. It is astonishing how few firms fail to inquire of their clients as to just how well they are doing as a legal services provider.

A number of surveys over the last several years have highlighted the need for law firms to seek feedback from their clients. Surveys by the BTI Consulting Group, ACC/Serengeti and others have reinforced the idea that clients actually want their law firms to seek their input on how the relationship is progressing, and on the services provided.

The idea is even more important in light of the current economic conditions and the resulting impact on all businesses. The likelihood that competitors will attempt to lure clients away from other law firms is real, and makes the need for a program that will enhance our existing client relationships more critical than ever.

Kane Consulting, Inc. offers client feedback services focusing on telephone or in-person interviews.

Steps in Process:

  • Memo to Attorneys explaining the program
  • Select Key Clients to be Interviewed
  • Send Letters to Clients (by responsible attorney and interviewer)
  • Conduct Client interviews
  • Send “Thank You” letter to Clients following the interview
  • Take action on any issues identified, if any, and
  • Follow up with Clients relating to any identified issues, and potential new opportunities.

Deliverable: Detailed report that includes notes on each interview, opportunities and areas of concern, if any.

For more information call Tom Kane today at (941) 376-3366, or email: TKane@KaneConsultingInc.com.

Back to Legal Marketing Services page

Back to Legal Marketing Blog Home page