Jeanne Hammerstrom is the Chief Marketing Officer of Benesch and has firm-wide responsibility for business development, client service and marketing communications. Jeanne is a frequent speaker and writer for the legal marketing industry.
When you consider the benefits of collecting and acting on feedback from your clients — the ability to preserve valuable relationships, spot potential problems and address them early, and tailor services and process to better serve your clients — it seems obvious that a client feedback program should be a top priority for every law firm. But many firms do not regularly survey the companies they serve and, unfortunately, miss out on this valuable source of business intelligence.
If you are one of the minority of firms currently running a client feedback program, you are already ahead of the curve. But you may not be extracting the full value from the information you collect. Here are some tips on how to optimize your current program:
Make sure you are talking to the right people. Of course you will want to prioritize outreach to your firm’s top clients, but your entire client roster contains valuable sources of information. Has your firm recently hired new laterals? Connecting with the clients of those new attorneys can be part of the onboarding process, and help you identify areas where your firm’s processes and approach may differ from the previous firm. Ask how things are going so far, what you could improve and what the clients most value in the relationship.
Create an accessible process, and offer multiple options. Pre-pandemic, most client feedback programs involved scheduling in-person sessions to talk through the client experience in real time. While it’s still true that a live conversation probably elicits the most honest and nuanced feedback, the logistics of scheduling those in-person sessions with very busy general counsel and chief legal officers could often be very challenging. As remote work became the norm in 2020, our team explored alternate avenues for communication, conducting sessions via Zoom and conference call, and were pleased to find that the increased accessibility actually improved engagement and relationship-building. The easier you can make it for the client to connect, the more likely they will be to make time for the session and give it their full attention. Shorter, more frequent touchpoints are often preferrable to a long, formal session.
Prepare well for the conversations. The more your team knows about the firm’s relationship with a client before the conversation begins, the better positioned you will be to get the kind of feedback that can actually help improve service delivery and the overall relationship. This starts with internal communication: Reach out to your firm’s attorneys to let them know the client service program exists and that clients may appreciate an invitation to share feedback. You can provide attorneys who are interested with a form letter they can send to their clients, which explains the process and gives the client a heads-up to expect a call. Your team should also prepare by talking with the relationship attorney to get the backstory: Have there been any problems in the past? Is there anything we need to own or repair? What may be changing that we need to make the client aware of? And what are the successes? What’s going well that we can build on? Finally, get up to speed on the financials and staffing of matters for the client. All this background knowledge will help you ask better questions and avoid any surprises.
Consider outside support. Depending on the size of your firm, it may make sense to outsource some of the actual conversations to an outside assessment firm. While it’s understandable to be hesitant about bringing someone external into the process, experienced providers of this service talk to GCs every day and know how to efficiently manage the conversations. If you still want to manage the direct contact with clients yourself, you can instead have an outside provider assess your firm’s program itself and suggest ways you might improve, streamline or shift your focus.
Make the most of what you learn. Gathering feedback from clients is only the first step in the process. Next, and just as important, is what you do with the information you’ve collected. As you design your approach, think about the multiple ways the feedback is relevant. Of course, relationship partners will be eager to hear what their clients are saying about them, and practice group leaders and managing partners will be looking to get the lay of the land to know how well the firm is serving its clients overall. But client feedback is also valuable internally. It can spotlight top-performing associates and inform the performance-review process. It can also guide decisions about how to staff matters in the future. And reporting positive client feedback to all employees of the firm can be a great morale booster and encourage everyone to keep up the good work.
Some firms resist investing in client feedback programs because they are afraid of what they might learn, or they think they already know what their clients will say. But sometimes these conversations yield surprising information, and whatever you learn will be useful. While interviewing clients takes time and some resources, there is no better way to get a clear picture of how things are going, and what you can do to strengthen and protect your valuable relationships.