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Your Client Feedback Program May Not Lead to Satisfied Clients

By Sue Stock Allison and Burkey Belser
September 10, 2009
Your Client Feedback Program May Not Lead to Satisfied Clients

I was recently talking with a colleague about how a majority of management event attendees say their law firms are doing client feedback in a systematic way; but when we ask clients if their law firms request feedback on service and performance, the answer is almost always “rarely” or “never.”

Clearly law firm management’s approach to client feedback is not resonating with their clients.

SO WHERE’S THE DISCONNECT?

Many attorneys and firm leaders believe they are doing client feedback when they meet with clients to thank them at the end of a matter or deal, or conduct social or leadership visits, or conduct market research. Meanwhile clients view those activities more accurately as business development calls, thank you visits or non-specific research.

Lawyers need to look at client feedback from the client’s perspective.

Also I suspect that part of the disconnect is that the term itself—client feedback—doesn’t make lawyers think of a comprehensive approach or any frequency of seeking comment from clients. I know many firms where management considers visiting one client a month or even one a quarter to be their “Client Feedback Program,” which after a year would give them a maximum of 12 client interviews. And how many clients did they work with during that time: 100? 500? It’s very hard to reach many clients at that pace. And if law firms are focusing on only the biggest, highest-potential clients with those programs, it stands to reason that most law firm clients would never be contacted by their firms.

Law firm management needs an approach that is geared toward retaining and solidifying client relationships on a broad scale—a Continuous Client Value Program. (In future posts I’ll discuss elements of such programs.)

MARKETING PROFESSIONALS ARE SMART—THEY’LL FIGURE IT OUT

I believe that most of them already have. Our recent “Marketing Hope” survey of Am Law 200 marketers found that 64% of participants plan to invest in client loyalty interviews in 2009 and 2010. They know they need to provide continuous client value, especially in the current economy. But they’re having trouble selling the concept to attorneys and firm leaders who already believe they are doing client feedback.

LAWYERS ARE SMART—THEY’LL FIGURE IT OUT

But how many lawyers are likely to stop to consider the difference between a chat with a client and an in-depth interview designed to elicit deep-seated emotional reactions and root causes for problems? I’ve often heard lawyers dismiss formal client feedback programs with, “I keep in touch with my clients; I’d know if there were a problem.” Unfortunately, it is too often the case that lawyers only think they would know if there were a problem. Keeping in touch with their clients, while useful and necessary, tends to be social or matter-specific. Not rising to the level of a formal client interview, it fails to address details of problems or even potential business opportunities.

SO THERE’S A DISCONNECT. SO WHAT?

Our research has all too often discovered serious misconceptions on the part of lawyers about their relationships with clients. Like the lawyer who said his firm was “poised to go national” with a client, while the client said the firm was not even on his short list of firms for that expanding relationship. Ouch!

And while you’re feeling good about having been able to establish a client feedback program of any sort, your clients are wishing someone would fix the problems. And where you haven’t identified a need, they’re giving work to other firms.

…this is a really touchy subject, because we have complained about this… and I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but it’s an ongoing relationship we have, and so once that matter is concluded we can look at making a shift. I wouldn’t hire him again, after this matter.

Make sure your firm’s client feedback program leads to satisfied and loyal clients by convincing management to develop a broad Continuous Client Value Program. If your clients feel your firm is really listening and acting to solidify the relationship, they will eagerly send more of their legal work your way.

…the fact that they are even bothering to conduct this interview with me makes me think much more highly of them and makes me think they truly value this relationship, which bodes well for the future.

Do it with internal staff or hire a professional. Just get a handle on your clients’ changing needs and expectations—before someone else does.