If You Want Something, Just Ask! How Client Surveys Can Help Build Your Business

  • October 15, 2014
  • Janet Dean

What's an easy, low cost marketing technique for lawyers? Ask your clients for feedback and respond to what they say. Really.

Consider the following reasons why soliciting and responding to client feedback works:

  • It focuses directly on existing clients who are by far your number one source of future business
  • Most individuals find their lawyer through the recommendation of a friend or relative. In most cases, that friend or relative refers a lawyer with whom he/she had a positive prior experience.
  • In most professional practices 85 per cent of next year's business will come directly from current clients. Current clients will also refer about half of next year's new clients.

Your clients evaluate the quality of the services they receive in terms of service-related criteria, not quality of work product - another strong reason why you should be listening to what your clients have to say.

Simply by asking for feedback, your practice will become much more focused on client satisfaction and client loyalty and this means more business, more repeat business and more referrals - isn't that your goal?

Don't make the mistake of assuming that clients will automatically speak up when they've got a complaint. All too often, the client just finishes their work and goes away without saying a word. You may even be able to think of an example where that may have happened recently in your practice. Therefore, it is critical to ask clients for their feedback right when you finish working for them.

Sometimes clients are turned off even before they commit their work to you. They may start "shopping around" when they find out you or your staff don't have the people skills or operational set-up to deal with them the way they want to be dealt with. It is important to ask clients for their opinions/needs right when you begin to serve them.

In other cases clients may be very pleased with you and your work but never come back and never refer anyone else to you. Do you know why? You should! By surveying clients after some time has passed since the transaction is over, you remind them of how satisfied they were and keep your practice at the top of their mind. In so doing, you will improve client satisfaction and build stronger and more loyal client relationships in the long term.

If you build in an opportunity to solicit client feedback in the middle of their transaction, it makes them feel comfortable to raise valid concerns and constructive criticism and this means an opportunity for you to serve them better.

Enough already

So to recap, you ask them before, you ask them during, you ask them after, and you ask them much after. Isn't that a lot of asking - won't the clients get tired of it? Absolutely, if all you do is ask. The flip side of asking is listening. Listening and acting on the responses you get from your clients - and that they wont ever get tired of because it will make your practice better and your clients more loyal. But remember, if you ask for client feedback and are not willing or prepared to act on what you learn, it's better not to ask at all.

Introducing a client feedback program into your practice

The key to an effective client feedback program is to find the right one. Here are a few ways to let clients know that you care about what they think:

  • In-person client surveys
    This can be a written questionnaire or just some questions asked orally, conducted while the client is in your office. Generally it should not be more than 3 to 5 questions. My favorite question for these surveys is "How are we doing?"
  • Client satisfaction surveys
    You can also mail questionnaires to current, and past clients. These questions should focus on how your client feels about their relationship with you and your ability to meet their needs. A good question on these surveys is, "Did we meet your needs on your XX file? If not, why not?"
  • Post-engagement questionnaires
    Sent at the closing of your file, post engagement questionnaires should ask questions specific to both the client and the file. Remember to keep the questionnaire short. This is a good time to use "rating scales" as well as short answer questions. A good question here is "On a scale of 1-5, rate our responsiveness to you" 1- Not responsive 5 -Ideally responsive.
  • Informal lawyer/client interactions
    Take every opportunity to ask clients what their needs are and how satisfied they are with how they are being served. Ask when you see them in the line at the bank, at the local Starbucks, or as they are coming in for their appointment to sign their transfers. Listen and respond to what they say and if necessary, adapt your practice and your service delivery model. If you don't know what to say, consider asking how them how you could better meet their needs.

Setting up a client feedback system takes some work and a commitment to consistent application. You may already think you know what your clients want and need - from years of experience and from firsthand exposure - and you may be right. The only way to truly know is to hear it directly from your clients - you won't know for sure if you don't ask. And the added value of asking is that it helps your clients feel listened to and valued - a good business model.

However you decide to collect the information, remember to consider the responses carefully and make whatever changes you can. A client-centered practice is a successful practice.