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Client feedback interviews are an important aspect of client service. But it’s important to use your time wisely — focus on the right clients and ask the right questions. Lawyers should spend 80 percent of their marketing time with existing clients because these interviews can broaden and deepen relationships. Also, additional matters and cross-marketing opportunities can arise when clients are asked: Has our firm done anything to dissatisfy or frustrate you? And how can we improve our service? Recent research by Touch-point Metrics, a consultancy based in San Rafael, Calif., reports that more than 30 percent of law firms are conducting client feedback programs. And another 30 percent report that they are developing such programs. So, if you are not talking to your clients regarding how they feel about the delivery of services, there’s a good chance that some other law firm might be. The reason client feedback programs work is simple: They are the most effective tool to help ensure that clients are completely satisfied — rather than merely or somewhat satisfied, which may not be enough to foster a true sense of loyalty. Clients tend to first think of attorneys who’ve asked for feedback when a new matter arises. Even when a client has complained about a past service glitch, he or she still tends to call the attorney who has come to visit for face-to-face feedback. Service glitches lead to “moments of truth” where the attorneys can acknowledge a past mistake (without being defensive) — and then recover with the client. These moments of truth are the human side of any service business. We all make mistakes. But uncovering a service error, taking responsibility for it and developing a recovery strategy with the client is fodder for creating complete client satisfaction. WILL MY DESK BE THERE IN THE MORNING? Firms and attorneys resist conducting client surveys because they have real concerns (in some cases, fears) about the consequences: embarrassment to the lawyer or the firm; not being hired by the client again; losing a bonus; being fired from the firm; exacerbating the client’s anger or dissatisfaction. But the fears are probably exaggerated and overblown. The bottom line: Clients enjoy the interviews, but only if they are conducted with a sense of genuine concern and if the interviewer follows-up in a timely and appropriate way. Nothing annoys a client more than a lack of follow-up. If a problem surfaces, the lawyer must get back to the client promptly with a recovery strategy. This is not to say that you will not hear constructive feedback or in some instances, negative feedback from clients. WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO CONDUCT THESE INTERVIEWS? It has often been said that it is only important to interview the clients you want to keep. That is, you need to interview only your most important clients, because there’s just not enough time to interview and follow-up with them all. Start with three of your most important clients. If this is your firm’s first foray into the client feedback process, you will want to budget additional time for long-term follow-up in which you can make any corrections to service you provide based on the client’s comments. These meetings would seem an excellent opportunity to market your services. But this is not a time to pitch new business. This meeting is a chance to sit down face-to-face with your client, off the clock and in their office, to explore service delivery issues. WHO SHOULD DO THE INTERVIEWING? Don’t spring questions on clients if you’ve scheduled the meeting for another reason. If the client knows you are coming to find out ways to improve the delivery of legal services, he or she is usually quite candid. With that said, some attorneys are uncomfortable asking their own clients these types of questions. There are two options: First, someone other than the attorney who’s primarily responsible for the client’s account should conduct the interview; you could even designate a client services partner who regularly does this on behalf of the firm. The second option — and our preference — is that you go as a team with another partner to increase objectivity, achieve better note taking and make sure you miss as little as possible of what the client is saying. We do not recommend more than two people attend in most circumstances. Three or more people can make the experience too overpowering for the client. THE INTERVIEW AND THE FOLLOW-UP This is not a deposition where you ask for yes or no answers or facts. A specialized means of conducting the interview is required. During the interview, listen 70 percent of the time. Listen actively, that is, reflect back what you’ve heard and comment on the feedback to make it clear to the client that you are listening. Take time to ask follow-up questions to get more details. Steer away from closed questions requiring simple yes or no responses. Take copious notes. Let the client know that what they are telling you is so important you are writing it all down so that you don’t miss a thing. Most lawyers find that active-listening training greatly benefits them. Send a thank you note within 48 hours of the meeting. Highlight any moments of truth discovered in the meeting. Provide a summary of key points discussed. Let the client know that you will be back in touch and detail what you plan to do to recover from any service glitches that were discussed. In our experience, it’s fairly easy to plan recovery strategies for 98 percent of service glitches. This recovery process is what creates satisfaction and loyalty on the part of the client. If you decide to push this idea once again to the corner of your mind, just remember our favorite adage: Someone is talking to your clients. Is it you? INTERVIEW QUESTIONS What follows are some of the fundamental questions to ask your clients in order to gauge their satisfaction. Some redundancy is built into this list to give options to the interviewer. � What aspects of the services we are delivering to you (your company) are working well? (What should we keep doing?) � Is there anything we could do to improve the way we have been working with you? (Ask about: collaboration, goal setting, creating legal strategy, frequency of strategy sessions, corporate policies that your firm may be unaware of, cultural issues, etc.) Is there anything we should stop doing? � Have we ever had a miscommunication with you or are we unaware of any service problems that may have occurred in the past? � When a piece of litigation (real estate, transactional matter, etc.) comes in, what is most important to you in deciding which outside firm to hire? � It seems that many companies we have worked with feel frustrated that their written service guidelines are not always followed precisely. Are you experiencing this as well? � What are the most important aspects of client service to you? � What are your preferences in the delivery of legal services? (communication, memos, technology, strategizing on matters, responsiveness, fee alternatives, etc.) What does it take to create complete client satisfaction in a relationship between you and an outside law firm? � What should an outside firm avoid doing? (What should we stop doing?) When there is a service glitch, do you generally take the initiative to discuss it with the firm? � What aspects of technology, if any, are most important when working with outside firms? (e.g., e-mail, secured documents, shared software, law firm extranets, etc.) � What additional information would you need about our firm for us to be considered for (additional) future work or to get on the short list for your next proposal? What are your selection criteria? Merry Neitlich and Anne Gallagher are partners in Extreme Marketing, based in Irvine, Calif. E-mail: [email protected] and [email protected]

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