By Victoria Davis
Note: The following article shares insights from the LMA Solo/Small Team SIG’s Februarytable, which focused on client surveys and implementing a client feedback program.
Pandemic-related restrictions may be coming to an end, but COVID-19 continues to impact the way law firms conduct business. Now more than ever, it is important that law firms focus on providing excellent client service.
In the February 2022 Solo/Small Team SIG roundtable, presenter Yolanda Cartusciello of PP&C Consulting provided tips on how to overcome common obstacles to implement a client feedback program — including how to begin a program, what types of questions to ask and the impact of COVID -19 on client feedback — as well as trends from recent client interviews.
Overcoming Common Internal Obstacles
Two common issues that law firms face when bringing a client feedback program to fruition is making the project too large and struggling to get firm leadership on board. If you’re having problems getting backing from leadership, Cartusciello suggests calling the project a pilot program and starting with three to four clients. If possible, start with alumni clients, as shareholders will likely be more comfortable with you having conversations with former members of your firm.
There also may be the thought that the client paid the bill, so they must be satisfied with the work and there is no need to gather feedback. Cartusciello cautions this is not always the case, and relying on past client behavior may not predict future success. In her previous work with an organization focused on in-house counsel needs and desires, survey responses from in-house practitioners showed that 45% of them had fired their law firm in the past two years. Many of the noted respondents they had not directly called the law firm to fire them but had stopped working with the firm following the closing of the last engagement and payment of the bill.
Internally, there may also be pushback because of the risk of receiving critical feedback and not knowing how to respond. Cartusciello suggests being proactive and responding as soon as possible. Clients will give credit to law firms for trying to gather and act on feedback, although it might not be solved immediately. Law firms may stray into the danger zone if a client believes there is a problem that the firm should know about, even if the question had not been asked.
Cartusciello mentioned another common objection is firms already know what their clients are thinking. While an attorney may know what one specific client is thinking, do they know what the firm’s other clients are thinking? The experience a client has with each attorney from a firm informs their overall opinion. While they may be happy with one attorney, they might not have a great experience with another attorney or practice area, and the firm has lost out on a cross-selling opportunity.
Questions in a Client Feedback Interview
Cartusciello recommends including questions that ask for a score of 1-10 and others that ask for a narrative answer. When developing questions, tailor them around common client experience expectations, including critical analysis, pragmatic business advice, a deep understanding of clients’ issues and the current marketplace, efficient and cost-effective services, swift turnarounds, technological savvy, and unwavering attention to detail . Also be sure to include questions that focus on the client’s relationship with the firm. Cartusciello says the No. 1 aspect that was reported on during client interviews once COVID-19 hit was the client’s relationship with the attorney and their law firm.
In her experience of an unprompted client interviews, there are common issues that arise on an unprompted basis — and they are rarely about the quality of legal advice. Ask questions that will provide insight into the dimensions of that relationship, such as communication, quality of advice, collaboration within the firm and with the clients, respectfulness, and billing and time keeping practices. It is important that the interviews focus on gathering information on how to enhance the relationships with the clients.
If firm leadership wants the attorney to conduct the interview, encourages them to instead consider utilizing the marketing/business development professional or an outside consultant. With a third party, you remove the chance of accidental bias when reporting and ensure credibility and objectivity. Clients are also more likely to be open in their responses on any negatives with a third party. Cartusciello s utilizing a single interviewer, as a single baseline will allow for easier comparison among interviews.
COVID-19’s Impact on Client Feedback Programs
COVID-19 has impacted how client feedback programs are being done and also shifting how we communicate with clients. Prior to the pandemic, Cartusciello says most client interviews were in person. Now, many clients don’t mind participating in interviews online, which has saved time and cut down on travel expenses. Clients also now expect more email communication from their attorneys, something that was not as scrutinized in interviews pre-pandemic.
While implementing a client feedback program can seem like a huge undertaking, the benefits outweigh the negatives. Gaining insight through client interviews can provide invaluable knowledge to strengthen relationships and an opportunity to expand on those client relationships.
Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard LLP
Victoria Davis is the marketing and communications specialist of Brooks Pierce in North Carolina. She is responsible for marketing content coordination to support the firm’s communication strategies. Victoria is based in the firm’s Greensboro office.