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The managing partner of a national law firm recently met with a long-term client on the advice of and in attendance with a marketing professional. The company was a closely held business, owned by a father and son team. The meeting would be conducted by the son. Driving to the meeting, the managing partner briefed the marketing professional. “I expect glowing results here. This client loves us,” he said. The partner was correct. The client had only wonderful things to say about the law firm. Even after careful probing and questioning, no problems or service glitches were unearthed. In closing, the marketing professional asked, “If there was one thing that we could do to enhance our relationship with your company, what would it be?” The son replied, “Well, it’s a little embarrassing for me to say this but, you know that new partner that has been replacing Dave since his retirement?” The partner nodded in agreement, as the son continued, “Well, Pop hates him. So we’ve been out interviewing other law firms to find a replacement. But just for the litigation.” The moment of truth had indeed come to light. The litigation accounted for approximately 80 percent of the firm’s work with the company. Facing the news, the managing partner went back to the office, replaced the partner with one to the client’s liking, and salvaged a long-term and prosperous relationship. Moments of truth like this are one of the most significant reasons that lawyers dislike client feedback programs. Indeed, some lawyers’ worst nightmare is that a client has something negative to say about the work, the service or the relationship — and that something will be communicated to colleagues in the law firm, causing severe loss of credibility, prestige, and possible partnership units of compensation. And yet, few preconceived notions are further from the truth. In fact, the overwhelming majority of client feedback programs provide positive feedback that enhances an existing relationship and almost always sets the stage for new business generation. In the case of the father and son business, the lawyer uncovered critical information that actually saved the relationship. While it might have caused a momentary “deer-in-the-headlights” look for the partner when he learned that the company was considering moving its litigation business to another firm, it was the most important piece of information he could have heard that day — or that year. This example underscores one of the most important maxims of marketing: that “client loyalty” is not the same as “complete client satisfaction.” The truth of the matter is, anything less than complete client satisfaction will likely cause a client to consider leaving or leave their current provider. How so, you ask? Consider that in surveys conducted of clients who leave their lawyers for another, service frustrations are often rated as the most important factor in their decision. These clients usually report that the service from their former firm was fair to good; the clients just were not “completely satisfied.” In other words, the so-called “loyal” clients stay with lawyers whom they think can consistently and completely satisfy their needs. This is important information because many lawyers delude themselves into reporting that their clients are entirely happy with the quality of their legal work, as well as their service. Yet, in more than 95 percent of the instances in which we have interviewed in-house counsel and corporate executives, we’ve unearthed many ways in which service quality could be improved to create a better relationship. The issue, we think, always goes back to finding out the details that will not only meet a particular client’s expectations, but also enhance the relationship. DESIGNING A CLIENT FEEDBACK PROGRAM Just as no two law firms are alike, no two client feedback programs should be off-the-shelf productions. What are most important in designing a client feedback program are the clear objectives of the law firm. For example, we have been retained to create client feedback programs for a number of specific reasons, including: raising visibility for a specific practice area; targeting new business opportunities; and thwarting the possible loss of business to competitors. Creating a stronger institutional firm culture; addressing service recovery issues; and understanding how perceptions of a firm affect purchasing decisions are all common objectives, too. Of course, some firms also use client feedback programs as a way to gather specific client data for their marketing efforts. In all these instances, the key is to understand the “whys” of setting up a program so that the ultimate results will meet a defined set of expectations. Beyond clear expectations, the best client feedback programs typically have some similar characteristics, including: � A Project Champion: Whether it is the managing partner, the marketing partner, or simply an influential lawyer, a successful client feedback program must have a project leader who can support the initiative and ensure its continuation. � Interview Training: While the legal profession has adopted many sound business principles, it continues to lack solid training in the marketing skills needed for a client feedback program. True, most lawyers are particularly adept at questioning a witness. But many are not as skilled in how to probe deeply for information on service delivery and quality. Questioning techniques as well as active listening skills are usually part of the marketing training program conducted prior to any actual interviews with clients. � A Set Program Process: Successful programs lend themselves to replication. In client feedback programs, replicating a similar process in all interviews is the best way to capture “apples to apples” information across client meetings. Depending on the firm’s objectives for the program, a client feedback process might include any or all of the following components: Pre-interview information gathering Pre-interview meeting with all attorneys on the client team Development of a basic discussion outline Development of a data capture template Development of a standard follow-up program Attorney team debriefing meeting � A Plan for Handling Negative Feedback: Even in the best client meetings, negative feedback can arise. Be it about a particular partner, a paralegal, the billing format, or the length of time it takes to return telephone calls, negative feedback must be dealt with decisively and directly within a firm. If it is not, the entire client feedback program could be undermined, as partners will become increasingly reluctant to participate and to share results. Instead, all individuals taking part in the program must understand how to “listen” to negative feedback and how to recover from it productively.

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