Feb. 2009 Event Recap: Client Feedback Programs That Deliver Quantifiable Results

By Jamie Mulholland (Jamie Mulholland Marketing)

Unlike some other businesses that are able to build customers of the same type of business or makeup from a volume perspective, for law firms, every client creates a conflict of some type: another customer that they cannot accept. Which, of course, creates a challenge for a firm's business development efforts.

Fortunately, other opportunities for law firm business development exist in that of making that client a promoter of the law firm. That is, someone who is so delighted with your capabilities, approach, and service to them that they voluntarily sing your praises and channel referrals to you.

Surveys are one fantastic tool to allow you to find out how to maximize opportunities with any client and make them a promoter.

This was the challenge of opportunity issued by Laura Meherg and Nancy Mangan of the Wicker Park Group given at the recent educational program of the Metropolitan Philadelphia Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association.

Founded by a group of formerly in-house legal marketing professionals, the Wicker Park Group helps attorneys across the country interview clients to get feedback and, as a result, more business. Their professionals have conducted surveys on behalf of companies like AT&T and Whirlpool, and some of the world's largest law firms, not to mention a number of smaller regional and boutique practices.

THE MARKETPLACE

The marketplace for legal services has never been more competitive. The supply of work is there, but there are also plenty of lawyers available to do that work. And the legal departments outsourcing it are overworked, understaffed, and now measuring the level of service they receive from law firms on a more rigorous metric than ever.

The top goals of an in-house or general counsel (GC), according to a BTI Consulting Group Report, are to:

  1. Control Costs
  2. Mitigate Risk
  3. Ensure Compliance
  4. Support Business Goals

And in their quest to achieve those goals and select who exactly receives that work, GCs are forced to made choices between firms. As a result, in order to get the service and support they need, they won't necessarily fire a firm, they will send less work or work of less value.

Surveys offer an opportunity to find out when this has happened, why it happened and how you can recover that work.

Now, legal marketers must know that when and if they were to pitch the concept of a client survey to the firm's decision makers, some typical roadblocks will immediately be raised. "You're not talking to my client," "We don't need a survey—my client would come to me automatically if they had a concern," and "Clients are too busy to take part in something like this," are just a few.

Such apprehensions, however, cannot be more unfounded, asserts Wicker Park. Clients are NEVER too busy to share feedback on how they can be served better. Ignorance is NOT blissignorance is missed business.

GETTING STARTED

Once you have the buy-in of firm leadership and have established exactly what you are trying to achieve from the results, you can move into the methodology of how to conduct the surveys.

Some firms conduct written or electronic surveys, which are convenient from the firm's perspective as it lays the responsibility of completion in the hands of the client and there is not as great of an investment of personnel or time as with other methodologies during the collection of information stages. However, trends show that this method has the lowest return/response rate.

Telephone surveys, while increasing those response rates, does not afford the interviewer the ability to read and respond to body language. Additionally, clients aren't as comfortable sharing negative thoughts (read: opportunities for improvement) over the telephone as they are in person.

Face-to-face interviews, whether they are conducted by the firm's marketing/business development staff, a managing or other partner, or an outside consultant (but never the relationship attorney), will always elicit the best information and the highest return.

In any event, encourages Wicker Park, no matter what the methodology, a firm should conduct the surveys in exactly the manner that they can. The important thing is in doing it. Also important, in the preparation stages, is thorough internal research and communication on the client: who they are, how they came to do business with the firm, who the internal players are and how they interact with the firm's attorneys and staff, and the patterns of business during the length of the relationship.

THE INTERVIEW

Wicker Park provided a number of sample questions that can be helpful in the interview, such as "What do we do well or what could we do differently?" and "What are the three greatest challenges facing your department in the next 18 months?" but stressed that even the best questioning will not elicit the valuable information that can be obtained by simply listening. If interviewers spent 85% of the time listening, and just 15% of the time confirming understanding and asking follow-up questions, they may find a wealth of helpful information.

It is important to do a few things, post-interview, to maintain the buy-in of the firm and keep the information and impact positive. Among them: share highlights with the relationship partner immediately, prepare a written report with action steps thoroughly, and share praise with the firm universally.

While interviews can produce feedback of the most typical nature (such as requests for cost-cutting due to increased internal budget pressures), it can also uncover incredible opportunities for the firm. It can show a firm how to align personnel around the client, how to communicate better with the client, and how to provide value-adds to the client. And in the end, the firm is given an opportunity to not simply provide the client with satisfactory service, but extraordinary service.

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