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Have you ever wondered how satisfied your clients are with your law department? It may be more important for a corporate law department to measure satisfaction of its internal “captive” clients than it is for a law firm to measure satisfaction. After all, a law firm gets feedback every time a client drops the firm or gives it additional business. Even if our clients can’t easily take their legal business elsewhere, a law department will not be respected, will not be involved in issues early on when it should be, and therefore will not be as effective as it could be, if it is not satisfying its clients. The best way to measure whether you are providing excellent client service is to ask your clients. WHY DO A SURVEY? The first and most important reason for conducting a client satisfaction survey is that it’s the only way to determine your department’s performance level and to identify weak spots. Feedback from your clients will point out problem spots to which you may be blind. You can then develop strategies to improve those areas and increase overall satisfaction levels. Aside from feedback, there are two other important reasons for conducting a client satisfaction survey. The first is that it sends a message to the entire law department. Making every member of your law department aware that you will be soliciting their clients’ input to measure satisfaction from time to time emphasizes how vital it is that each member of the department strives to reach a high level of client service. The survey reinforces to all members of the department that clients expect them to be accessible, responsive and able to solve business problems, among other things. The survey also sends a message to your clients. It tells them that the law department is committed to satisfying their needs, and cares enough to ask them how it’s doing. Even if certain clients are not overly thrilled with the services of the law department, they should appreciate that the survey is intended to solicit their feedback as part of an effort to improve service. DECIDING WHAT TO ASK The first question we debated was whether to solicit feedback on individual attorneys and other members of the department, or to solicit feedback generally on the department as a whole. We normally solicit feedback on individuals, as part of employee performance appraisals. Therefore, we decided to measure ourselves on our performance as a department. This would establish a baseline against which we could compare future results. The next step was the somewhat tedious but critical task of deciding on the format to use, the range of scores and the specific questions. As with many projects, a good starting place was the Internet. We found a few association sites that had helpful information, including http://www.alanet.org/and http://www.acca.com/. Searches for client satisfaction surveys turned up at least one fairly funny sample survey intended to ease the pain of filling out the form. We decided to go with a more professional image. While it’s nice to show that the law department has a sense of humor, we didn’t want to risk creating an impression that we weren’t taking the survey seriously. In formulating the specific questions, we wanted to focus on the following aspects of customer service: Were we accessible? Did we understand the needs of the business? Were we responsive? Were we courteous? Did we inspire confidence? Did we search for solutions instead of roadblocks? We consulted our own employee performance appraisal form because many of the same service-oriented characteristics are evaluated in individual performance reviews. We included questions based on our company’s mission and values statement, to find out if our clients viewed us as living by them. Because we wanted to encourage our clients to fill out the form rather than toss it out, we limited the survey to 20 substantive questions on three pages, plus one page for comments. There were also a few generic “identifier” questions asking the respondents to identify their division, function (sales, operations, finance, human resources), and the section of the law department they dealt with most often. These identifier questions are critical in order to analyze and sort the feedback. Knowing how you will want to crunch the data is a key element of the survey design. We decided to use a scale of one to five, from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree,” for 20 questions. For the three general questions about the quality of advice, timeliness of service and overall satisfaction with the department, the scale was from one, “not at all satisfied,” to 10, “completely satisfied.” At the end of the survey, we left room for any comments the respondent might wish to add. WHO, HOW, WHEN? We sent the survey to senior management — the top 240 employees in the company. By selecting this broad group, we covered each division, as well as all functional areas. For the most part, these were our department’s core group of clients. It was important to us to survey the clients who worked with our department on a regular basis. We asked the recipients to identify themselves, but indicated they could remain anonymous, in which case they should send us an e-mail separate from the survey form to let us know they had responded. We chose to deliver the survey via e-mail. A brief cover message explained what we were doing and respectfully solicited our clients’ assistance. We attached the survey as a Microsoft Word document and gave the recipients three weeks to respond. About four weeks later, we followed up with a reminder message, asking for responses to be returned in one week. We gave respondents the option of returning the surveys either by e-mail, fax, or snail mail, whichever they preferred. We promised to report back on the overall satisfaction scores (the three questions discussed above). We also committed to using the feedback to develop initiatives aimed at bolstering the areas that needed it most. Responses were entered manually into a database, and then we analyzed the scores for trends. All individual comments were reviewed and proved quite valuable. LESSONS LEARNED In addition to identifying areas of weakness in the department, we were also able to identify ways to improve the survey process the next time. One area for improvement was the way we asked one of the identifier questions. For the question asking the respondent to circle the practice area in our department with which they interacted the most, we found that our clients frequently interacted with multiple practice areas, and so they circled several practice areas. This made it difficult to sort responses by section of the department. Perhaps next time we will ask our clients to identify and rank the three sections of the law department that they worked with most. Another area for improvement was the actual formatting of the document. Shading the rating areas made the faxed responses difficult to decipher. We hope to have our next survey developed and distributed online, using our company’s intranet. This would eliminate the problems of actually reading the results and would make the analysis a lot easier. All of the responses would be entered into a database automatically, rather than manually. We were pleased with the results of the survey. While the feedback generally was in line with our expectations, it certainly helped us to focus and prioritize our initiatives for improving client service. Interestingly, one of the few areas of common frustration was an administrative problem that should be relatively easy to fix. Without the survey, we might not have realized that a relatively minor change would yield a large return in terms of increased client satisfaction. The most frequent written comment was how pleased the client was that we were seeking their input. It definitely pays to ask your clients to grade your department’s performance. You may never achieve straight A’s, but seeing your report card will certainly help you get closer to that goal. Robert Stern is senior vice president and general counsel of Sodexho Inc., a food and facilities management company based in Gaithersburg, Md. Erin Walker is legal administrator for the department. For a copy of the survey form, write to [email protected].

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