Four posts today follow up on a conversation among Jim Hassert, Dan Hull and me. For a summary, see this post. The issue we discussed was whether the person conducting the satisfaction survey should be associated with the firm. Jim followed up with some further thoughts today, reaching the conclusion that he was comfortable with his original opinion that someone from the firm should do the interview. Dan Hull then posted that he was persuaded that Jim and I were right (putting aside for a moment the fact that I stated I no longer was sure that the interviews should be conducted by firm members). Then Michelle Golden weighed in with a terrific post (even though she ignored my post on the topic!) in which she persuasively argues that the interviews should be conducted by a neutral third party. Dan Hull then threw up his hands!
As I said in my post, I was impressed with BTI Consulting's data-driven analysis: "The most interesting things for me where its conclusions that outsiders can more effectively get the client's real feelings and that the number one question for determining client satisfaction is not a ranking on any kind of scale, but instead whether the client has referred the firm to someone else." At the moment, my feeling is that the lead should be an outsider, but that a senior partner should be present. The insider can sense nuance that the outsider may not, and certainly the presence of the senior partner communicates both the importance the firm attaches to the process as well as the value of the client to the firm. Completely outsourcing the process makes it appear to be a checkbook issue, clearly the wrong impression.
As a final note, I could not agree more strongly with Michelle Golden that these encounters should not be for marketing. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
I've written several times about client surveys. For example, here and here. The case for conducting client surveys is so compelling that its hard to believe that there are firms that don't do them, let alone that the majority of firms don't do them.
I saw from this post by Dan Hull that his firm does client surveys and that he is thinking about methodology. I also saw from his post that Jim Hassert at Law Firm Business Development has a series of posts about doing satisfaction surveys. They are Part I, Part II and Part III. Jim describes Akin Gump's experience and its manner of doing the surveys. Interesting.
I have been doing client surveys for a decade. With that experience, I believe the lawyers involved in serving the client should not be involved in the satisfaction survey. Familiarity can inhibit candor. I have always believed that the senior members of firm leadership should do the surveys since their presence underscores the importance of the process. In December, however, I occasion to attend a breakfast meeting hosted by BTI Consulting Group. BTI provides data-driven analyses of questions that vex law firm marketers. The data and analysis relating to client surveys can be purchased here. The most interesting things for me where its conclusions that outsiders can more effectively get the client's real feelings and that the number one question for determining client satisfaction is not a ranking on any kind of scale, but instead whether the client has referred the firm to someone else. Referrals are the byproduct of true satisfaction. For me, these two points were food for thought.
I was reading the latest issue of Law Firm Inc. (one of my “must reads”) and stopped at the “On Management” column about client interviews. I started reading, but had to stop. The article made too much sense. Every article about client interviews makes too much sense.
We’ve been doing client interviews for nearly five years. They are incredibly significant to the strength of our firm’s relationships with our clients. So why the title of this post? Its this: if people haven’t picked up on this by now, they never will. And just like people who refuse to give out their home telephone numbers, it works out much the better for moi.
Seriously, if you wonder, ask your clients if they would like to be interviewed. Every client with whom we’ve discussed the matter heartily endorses the process.
Yesterday, I began a discussion of questions a client could ask a prospective (or current) firm to determine whether the firm is truly committed to providing outstanding client service. Today, three addition questions.
4. How many client satisfaction surveys does the firm conduct each year? If the answer is few or none, how can a firm boast of providing great service. Not only is it part of great service to ensure a client is pleased, but only by asking and being judged can you determine, from the client’s perspective, whether the service your provide is exceptional or not.
5. What changes have been implemented or adopted as a result of client satisfaction surveys? No one is perfect, and changes adopted because of a client’s suggestion reflect a firm that listens and one that is seeking to improve. Both are measures of a firm committed to providing outstanding client service.
6. What happens to a lawyer who is criticized? There’s only one acceptable answer here. Nothing. Why is that? Because if criticism is viewed as anything other than an opportunity to improve, to do something better, to provide better service, no one will want to hear it. And if there is any hint of penalty (other than perhaps for repeat offenders), its hard to imagine that there will be meaningful commitment to hearing all possible criticism no matter how constructive.
Tomorrow, in Part III of this series, questions a client can ask about fees and what the answers mean in terms of client service.