In ongoing surveys of lawyers that I’ve conducted, most agree that client service is an important part of marketing, and yet many don’t have methods in place to measure client satisfaction. Among those that do have such procedures in place, even fewer follow up with clients after each individual engagement to determine their satisfaction.
Many lawyers tell me they don’t need formal procedures to gauge client satisfaction – they just ‘know’ whether or not their clients are satisfied. But do they really know? Don’t make the mistake of assuming that clients who don’t complain are satisfied clients. Once a client starts making objections, it may be too late to salvage the relationship. Many clients don’t complain until they’re already fed up and ready to walk out the door – or at the very least, not recommend you to others.
Some lawyers are afraid to ask clients for feedback because they fear it will invite clients to think of negative things to say. But the point of seeking information from clients is to find out how to improve your service. Sometimes even ‘over the top’ clients have legitimate complaints or concerns that can be addressed in a more global way. And often even the most unreasonable client complaints have a nugget of truth at heart that is worth exploring.
Another objection I’ve heard to seeking client feedback is that once a lawyer asks a client for their feedback, the expectation is that their complaints or concerns will automatically be addressed or resolved. Many lawyers fear that clients will suggest changes that the lawyer cannot make for ethical, financial or other reasons, and that failing to make those changes paints the lawyer in a worse light than failing to ask for feedback in the first place. In rare cases, that may be true, but turning that objection on its head may lead to a valuable learning experience.
If the client making the objection is a repeat client, or one from whom you are likely to get business in the future, the issue might be worth exploring in a more in-depth conversation or face to face interview to determine whether there is some middle ground that can be reached. Keeping an open mind during these conversations may lead to solutions the lawyer never considered – solutions that could be beneficial to both sides.
Alternatively, speaking with the client about the issue and addressing their concerns while explaining the reasons why changes can’t be made in the way they anticipate can strengthen your relationship and may provide the client with a better understanding of the way in which you work, while at the same time providing the attorney with valuable insights into the client’s priorities and goals.
Even for ‘one time’ clients, addressing these kinds of concerns can be valuable. Perhaps the issue is one that needs to be explained in more detail at the time you are retained to avoid misunderstandings with future clients. And chances are that taking the time to talk with a client, even one for whom you’ve already concluded your business, will generate goodwill that may lead to referrals in the future.
Seeking out feedback from clients can help you determine what kinds of clients to take on in the future; perhaps hearing the same complaints from the same kinds of clients is a signal that this type of work, or clients that fall into this particular category, are no longer the type of clients with whom you enjoy working, or with whom you can profitably run your practice.
Following up with clients after an engagement is concluded can also lead to valuable positive feedback about individual lawyers in the firm or about specific areas in which the firm excels. Sometimes the firm may not even be aware that they have particular strengths (or may not be aware that clients take note of them). In these cases, client feedback can provide valuable insight into the firm’s competitive advantages that can be used to differentiate the firm from the competition and strengthen its marketing.
Clients that see that their attorneys show a genuine interest in the client’s experience are often that much more willing to help the lawyer by referring the firm to friends and colleagues. And great comments on a client feedback form or in a follow up interview with a client after the successful conclusion of a case can sometimes lead to references or testimonials.
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Allison C. Shields
Legal Ease Consulting, Inc
Creating Productive, Profitable and Enjoyable Law Practices
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