While client feedback has a multitude of important uses, how can it be usefully obtained? As the director of Legal Support at Fisher & Phillips LLP, Terri Pepper Gavulic, noted, “[M]any lawyers don’t seek or use client feedback in a systematic way. Lawyers and their firms often operate without sufficient client feedback. Lack of feedback not only causes the law firm to miss many benefits, but it also deprives clients of the benefits they can reap when encouraged to give honest, candid input.”
Value of Feedback
Feedback can provide enhanced value for a client when the services the client needs, and how the client wishes to receive those services, are better understood. It can, however, also provide value to the lawyer by helping the lawyer focus important, and sometimes scarce, marketing dollars. In the new market of young and newer solo lawyers and competition from big firms and legal service providers (and the proliferation of the same), marketing resources may be limited–the effective use of marketing dollars is important.
Gavulic points out that client feedback not only measures client satisfaction but allows an attorney, “[t]o explore attitudes about the firm’s brand, image and reputation. Client feedback is important market research in the brand development process.” It can also help uncover possible business opportunities not previously identified and help “[t]est demand for a firm’s proposed practice, industry, or geographic expansion before spending time and money.”
Ideas to Help Obtain Useful Feedback
There are different ways to obtain client feedback for different purposes, goals, and budgets. One way is to offer written questionnaires at the beginning and end of a matter (subject to client engagement terms, etc.). Asking a client how they heard about the lawyer and how satisfied the client was at the end of the process are only two possible options. Lawyers can ask more specific questions such as what distinguished the lawyer from others that appeared on a web search. Was it that the lawyer’s name came up at the top with a photo and contact information, or that the client went to the lawyer’s webpage and preferred it to others, or did online ratings and reviews come into play? This way, the lawyer will begin to see what types of marketing are working and what types are not.
While some may argue that client questionnaires must be short, it seems most of us love to be asked what we think and willingly comply with the request. In some ways, however, obtaining feedback from clients is a self-selection process because it does not allow the attorney to learn why the potential clients that did not choose the attorney made that decision.
Of course, market research can also be conducted by a third-party marketing agency or research firm. This type of research is thorough and tailored to the lawyer or firm by the outside consultant retained by the lawyer or firm. It is, however, usually costly but is an option to consider when resources permit. Gavulic notes that this type of marketing research is used to, “[a]nalyze trends as well as overall service, competitive position, and how to prepare for the future needs of their client base generally.
Telephone interviews are another possibility that may be more extensive than a questionnaire but less formal than contracted market research. Whatever type of research is done to better understand marketing options and efficiency, it is important for the lawyer to understand what to do with the feedback and how to track which types of marketing are meeting with success and which types are not.
As Gavulic cautions, “In an industry as competitive as the legal industry, even small instances of poor or inconsistent service can cause a law firm to lose all or part of the work from a key client. With margins for error this close, client feedback programs should be standard operating procedure.” As humans, and lawyers, feedback can sometimes be an unsettling idea. Gavulic seems to suggest, however, that it is risky to operate without it. While she compares it to treating a patient without knowing their symptoms, it seems, generally, people seldom function at a high level without feedback to inform them of what is working well and what can be improved upon to achieve greater success.