Be creative in how you use your client’s time. If they are visiting your firm’s office for a training event or a CLE session, could you schedule a feedback discussion over lunch?
So, don’t assume a client doesn’t have time until you ask them. The client can always say no or suggest a period or format that will work better for them. And remember, even if your clients do decline the opportunity to participate, they may still value having been asked.
3. You might receive negative feedback.
It is very natural to be concerned about what your client might say, even with your strongest relationships. Since you cannot guarantee that the feedback you receive will be positive, it’s better not to collect it in the first place.
In reality, most client feedback interviews are very positive, and you are more likely to find the feedback encouraging and confidence-building. Where issues are raised, it is important to know about them and to have the opportunity to address them before the relationship is harmed.
Since 2002, Acritas has been commissioned by many law firms in the US and globally to conduct client feedback programs. Acritas has completed over 1,000 client feedback reviews in the past two years and can attest that the majority of feedback clients provide is positive.
To provide wider market context, we looked at Acritas’ Sharplegal research—an annual survey of law firm clients where they rate their satisfaction and likelihood to recommend firms. In this research, we see only a small proportion of dissatisfied clients (which we define as those giving the firm a score of 6 or less out of 10 for satisfaction).
In 2017, 556 US clients gave feedback on a firm they work with—only 5% were dissatisfied.
In the global study, 1,203 clients gave feedback on a firm they work with and only 6% were dissatisfied.
The law firm/client relationship at its best is a trusted partnership, based on open and candid communication. Rarely will you discover a major issue that the relationship manager and firm isn’t aware of at some level, but it can happen. Recently, Acritas uncovered one such issue during a feedback interview. The law firm was on the brink of being fired, but acting on the feedback, it was able to save this significant relationship.
It’s rare for client feedback to turn up such huge issues. Much more often, problems or frustrations will be new or at an early stage. Picking them up early means they can be fixed before lasting damage is done. While it may be uncomfortable to hear negative feedback or constructive criticism, it is better to know
about and address clients’ frustrations before they develop into a bigger problem.
4. You already know what your clients want and need.
You’re a good lawyer, so you are in near-constant communication with your most valued clients. You already know what they want and need from you, so why collect feedback from them in a structured way?
It is true that an ongoing relationship with a client provides many opportunities to collect feedback. However, it is important to periodically take a step back from the day-to-day management, and have a more strategic discussion. A feedback interview can be an effective way to understand more about your client’s goals, needs, and expectations, to understand how the firm is performing, and how best to support your client to deliver their objectives. It also helps demonstrate the firm’s commitment to listen, understand and improve. Firms whose work is transactional may find that clients feel neglected “in between deals.” Client feedback will reveal issues like this and provide a touch point with your client in between transactions.
In addition to periodic relationship reviews, other triggers in the relationship life cycle that can prompt a feedback discussion include on completion of a major matter; when a pitch has been delivered (whether you win or lose); when there has been a change in organizational structure—in the client organization or in your firm. When revenues with a client have been increasing or decreasing, or when new competition enters the market, the firm can learn a lot by seeking feedback.
Clients often criticize lawyers for not sufficiently understanding their business or not being better informed about the client’s ambitions and strategy. A feedback interview is an opportunity to talk with clients about their priorities and how the firm can support them. It can provide the firm with a forward-looking viewpoint, enabling the firm to be more proactive. As demonstrated by the Dechert example above, client feedback sessions can open the door to new opportunities and can highlight areas where the firm can provide additional support.
While you have regular conversations with your clients and you know what they might say, it is worth considering the benefits of asking an independent third party or an objective colleague to conduct the interview. Clients may be more willing to discuss any concerns they have and often share a different perspective with an independent party.
Establishing a new client feedback program or broadening and formalizing an existing approach can be challenging. There is often resistance from within the firm, and you or your partners may naturally feel apprehensive. But the challenges are not insurmountable, and, with the right structure and support, the outputs can be highly valuable to the firm and the client.
Client relationships are a law firm’s most valuable asset and must be treated as such. Despite the many reasons not to collect formal client feedback, it just might be that you should.
One last factor to consider: there is no point in asking your clients for feedback unless you are prepared to take action. When you ask a client for their feedback you are setting the expectation that you are willing to take their comments on-board and, if needed, to change.