How good a job are you doing? Client surveys are the only way to know

As a college undergrad (years ago), I interned for a really good lawyer. He knew the ins and outs of immigration law like the back of his hand. He could handle routine cases in his sleep and worked on challenging cases like a scholar. He knew how to navigate his way through the bureaucracy of the immigration system and had a reputation for knowing his stuff.

Unfortunately, he also had a reputation for being kind of a jerk. He treated his clients like they were there for him, and not the other way around. He was abrupt and rude, and also a little volatile. I bet he never knew he was making such a bad impression. Had he known his reputation, I suspect his business could have done much better.

The truth is, you never really know how well you’re doing unless you ask. You can’t just ask colleagues: they don’t know whether your bedside manner is a problem. You can’t just ask clients you know love you: that will give you a biased answer. What you need to do is ask all of your clients. That’s right – all of them.

It may sound daunting, but businesses do this all the time. It’s called “customer loyalty research,” and it can be done relatively easily. Here’s how to do very basic customer loyalty research for your own practice.

1. Write a survey

There are different types of surveys that can get at customer loyalty. Some measure satisfaction, which can be a basic “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” survey. Others measure affinity, which can be useful for brands that try make an emotional connection with their consumers. Others are designed to measure share of wallet, which is useful for services or products that are purchased frequently. In legal, I recommend using the Net Promoter Score, or NPS. NPS surveys center around one question: “How likely is it that you would recommend [INSERT YOUR NAME OR PRACTICE] to a friend or colleague?” Because client recommendations are a central component to business growth, measuring likelihood to recommend directly would be more useful than measuring just satisfaction.

The response to this question is an 11-point scale, starting at 0 and going up to 10. Make sure your survey lists out each number in this scale and explains what the end points mean. Also – and this is very important – be sure to follow this question with one other: “What is the primary reason behind the rating you provided?” It’s not enough to know how well you’re doing if you don’t know why. See the image below for an example of how your final survey might look:

If you’d like to include other questions, you can do so after these first two (though these first two already tell you plenty). For example, you may want to ask if they’ve already referred you, or if they were happy with how responsive you were, how well you explained the process, etc. But keep in mind that surveys like this should be as short as possible. If they’re too long, few people will take them. You can already expect that many people won’t want to take them no matter how short they are, but the easier you can make the survey-taking process, the better your chances are of getting results.

Also, start each survey with a very brief introduction that explains what the survey is about and how long it will take to complete. At the end of the survey, thank them for their time.

2. Determine when and how to send it

Surveys that are short and sweet can easily be administered by email. You can simply paste the survey questions into the body of an email and send it to your clients (this is called a “survey invite”). If you do this, you would ask your clients to simply reply to the email with their answers. You could then enter their responses into a spreadsheet so you have all the data in one place.

Another option is to use an online survey tool like SurveyMonkey or SurveyGizmo (some tools offer free basic plans). This might make survey design, the survey-taking process, and data analysis easier. The survey tool will generate a URL for the survey, which you can paste into the body of an email and send to your clients.

If you send the survey this way, you may want to include a question at the very end asking for their name and email address so you can follow up with them if you want to (the survey tool won’t automatically capture that information). Or, you can choose to not know their identities. If you do this, include verbiage in your invite explaining that you’ll never know who they are. People are more likely to offer honest answers if they know they’ll remain anonymous. The down-side to this is that you can’t follow up with them if you want to apologize for bad service.

Don’t send your client a loyalty survey until you are completely done with their case. Otherwise, they may not respond honestly for fear that their answers would impact the handling of the remainder of their case. However, don’t wait too long after their case is closed or their impressions could fade.

The best option, especially if you can afford it, is to hire a neutral third party – like an administrative specialist or market researcher who works outside of your firm– to send the emails on your behalf. Clients feel more comfortable giving feedback to someone other than the person they’re directly evaluating.

3. Analyze the data

NPS data can be analyzed in two ways: at the individual/client level or at the aggregate level. At the individual level, you can look at each client’s answer to the rating question. A score of 9 or 10 means that you have won them over in terms of sending you referrals (these people are called “Promoters”). A 7 or 8 means they probably won’t refer you, but they probably won’t hate on you either (these people are called “Passives”). A 0 through 6 score is likely to mean that they could recommend that others not use you (these people are called “Detractors”). So if you see a client responding with a 9 or 10, look at their answer to the second question to figure out why they liked you, and keep doing that. If your client responds with a 0 through 6, see why they didn’t like you, and fix that. For this unhappy client, it might be a good idea to reach out to them, thank them for their feedback, and let them know that you are making changes to improve. This is also a good rule of thumb when responding to negative reviews.

You can also analyze the rating data in aggregate by calculating your Net Promoter Score (NPS). To do this, you should collect at least 100 responses from clients (as a general rule, 100 survey responses allows you to rely on an aggregate score). Once you have 100 responses, you can calculate your NPS this way:

  1. Calculate the percentage of people who gave you a 9 or 10.
  2. Then, calculate the percentage of people who gave you a 0 through 6.
  3. Lastly, subtract the percent for 0-6 scores from the percent for 9-10 scores.

For example, if 60% of your clients gave you a 9 or a 10, and 40% gave you a 0 through 6, then your NPS score would be 20  (60-40=20).

The benefit to calculating an aggregate score is that you can track, over time, whether your score is going up or down. If it’s going up, then your improvements could be working. If it’s going down, you may need to make different types of improvements. Also, because NPS is a standard score, you can compare your score with that of the industry. In 2016, the NPS score for the legal industry was 23. If your score is higher, you’re doing better than average.

Customer loyalty research is a huge area of market research, and it can get pretty sophisticated. Many market research companies have specialized teams who do nothing but customer loyalty research, and if you have the budget and the need, you can hire them. But knowing what your customers think of you doesn’t have to be complicated. All you need is two questions. You never know what you might learn about yourself and your practice from just that.