Learning from clients

Any forward-looking business can learn from other organisations, and looking outside one's own profession is always a good source of ideas and inspiration.

The old Department of Trade and Industry (pre 2007) used to run a programme called Inside UK, and I once took some IT/IP lawyers on a tour of Microsoft through this.  Not only did the lawyers get a better understanding of a major technology company (a key target market) and its needs, but they also came away with some fresh ideas based on the Microsoft approach to talent management and client service.

I would encourage all lawyers to seek opportunities to spend more time with their clients to understand their needs and listen to their plans and feedback.  One of the reasons that the big accountancy practices have been so successful in developing their consultancy businesses, is because they harness the information gathered on client premises and use this to generate future business opportunities.

How can law forms effectively collect relevant client feedback? How can firms go beyond a brief client questionnaire?

The questionnaire is most frequently used as it is relatively simple and is the least costly option.  However, it also has its downsides. In order to get a reasonable response rate it is necessary to keep it brief - so questions are sacrificed.  Questions are written so that they are easy to answer with a score between one and ten - this minimises the opportunity for subjective feedback.  Telephone surveys can provide more qualitative detail, and face to face interviews or discussion groups even more so.  The use of focus groups can also be very enlightening. Depending on resources, a firm should consider segmenting their client base. For example, you might have face-to-face interviews with the top 10 per cent of clients, telephone interviews with the next 10-20 per cent and use postal or email surveys with the remainder.

Are there any examples of business initiatives or processes in the market that have been derived from client feedback?

Recently, a number of firms that are really serious about client service have embraced mystery shopping - a technique that has long been used in other sectors to measure client service.  This provides detailed and measurable feedback from mystery clients on many aspects of client service - it becomes immediately apparent where there are any weaknesses in systems, processes and skills.  Armed with this information, a firm can make appropriate improvements via training, coaching or by implementing new systems.

Of course, the recession has meant that law firms could no longer ignore complaints from clients about the uncertainty of hourly billing, and a growing number of firms have now introduced alternative fee structures such as fixed or capped fees or a flat annual fee in response to client demands and competitive market conditions.

How can a law firm analyse feedback to influence practice.

It is important that feedback is reviewed by the leadership and used to drive improvements. Simply publishing the results widely is important as this will remind staff that every aspect of the client experience can have an impact upon overall satisfaction.

I know some partners who always telephone (or get someone to call) a client if a score is below a certain level.  The intelligence from these conversations is then reported back to the management committee.  Where firms use mystery shopping, it is very powerful where the marketing and HR partners and staff work together to improve practices and provide relevant training and coaching.

Is client feedback important to firms of all sizes?

Yes indeed. No firm wishes to lose a client that they have invested time and money in attracting, whatever their size.  Client intelligence can help you identify where a client is less than satisfied and gives you an opportunity to rectify the situation.

Bigger firms usually have the internal resources for client service reviews and key client development programmes, but there is a range of options for small firms to buy into if they need support in measuring client satisfaction on a smaller scale.

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