Getting More Client Feedback
Client Satisfaction Surveys for Private Clients
Valuable not only for feedback but for marketing and new business leads
Client satisfaction surveys are important measures of how well you are serving your client base.
Compliance with Outcomes Focused Regulations (OFR) means that law firms should have systems in place to demonstrate that they provide a proper standard of service to their clients and one that is in their best interests. This can only be substantiated by asking the client about their experience of the service and legal advice received.
But these surveys are much more than tools to obtain good client feedback.
Client feedback can identify demands for other services so these surveys start to play a role in business development and planning.
Good client feedback can also be used for marketing: positive client reviews will spread the word about how good your service is.
Recommendations from clients can bring in new clients and new revenue.
Plus the good news is that using client feedback as a marketing and business development tool is a low cost but effective way to spread the word about your firm.
Despite the real benefits noted above, it seems that many law firms are still not asking most of their clients about their services:
A survey by YouGov in 2013 found that only 1 in 5 of the private clients of law firms and solicitors were being asked to complete a client satisfaction survey at the end of a matter (Source: UK Legal Services Report 2013, YouGov Sixth Sense).
So, outlined here are the reasons why:
a) You should start to elicit regular feedback from your clients if you are not doing this already
b) You should make sure your feedback processes are robust and you are making full use of your client feedback results if you have a client feedback system in place already
Client Surveys – the Bare Minimum
Client feedback has never been more important to give law firms the evidence that they are achieving the required outcomes under the OFR compliance regime. For this reason alone, Compliance Officers for Legal Practices (COLPs), Practice Managers, and Partners should be making sure that their law firms have an effective client feedback system in place which stands up to scrutiny.
Mandatory principle 5 of OFR states that “you must provide a proper standard of service to your clients”. A well-run client feedback system provides evidence that this is being achieved.
The Lexcel practice management standard also requires law firms to have a procedure to monitor client satisfaction across all practice areas.
“Knowing you client” and “knowing your market” are now crucial in a changing legal landscape where new competition, new business models, and new routes to market are starting to impact on many traditional law firms and solicitors.
A systematic client satisfaction survey, i.e. with all clients asked for their feedback at the end of a matter, with a full analysis of all results and actions taken where necessary, will improve your firm’s performance and accountability.
Put simply, client surveys enable law firms to understand what their clients want and how they can improve their services. They can highlight strengths and weaknesses, identify areas where change and improvements are needed, identify areas where you are performing well, and enable businesses to benchmark their performance over time.
The latter point is particularly important as regular client feedback results allow a law firm to compare how it is doing in say the latest year compared to the previous year.
In the past there has been a “no one knows our clients better than we do” attitude of some law firms on choosing to ignore the need for getting good client feedback. Aside from non-compliance in the future, paying lip service to client satisfaction creates a false impression and does not measure progress.
Source: Client Feedback for Law Firms, Why Do It?, 2011. www.corelegal.net.
Using Client Survey Results for Business Development and Marketing
Sell More to Existing Clients
Successful brands have realised that it is much easier to sell more services to existing clients than it is to try and sell cold to potential new clients. Research over the years has also shown that most customers only know around 40-50% about the products and services that their suppliers offer. So, a client survey can be used to check on awareness of your range of legal services and may identify opportunities to cross-sell to existing clients.
Why not ask a question in the client feedback survey to see if they are interested in other services? If you keep your client databases up to date then you should also be contacting existing clients at regular intervals to check their need for legal advice.
Increase Awareness and Build your Reputation with Potential Clients
There are also marketing opportunities. A relatively cost-effective and useful way to spread the word about your services is to use feedback from satisfied clients.
Using one of your strongest assets – your existing client knowledge base – can help to increase awareness of your firm, reputation, and potentially generate more business.
Word of mouth marketing is likely to become increasingly important in the legal services sector where for most of the population the need for a solicitor is not a regular one, but, when required, is frequently a “distress” purchase. In these circumstances, the experiences of others are vital and good feedback from an existing client is priceless.
Use good comments and feedback on your website, in your advertising and promotional material, and on social media if you use it.
Directly Generate Business Leads
Satisfied clients may have friends or relatives who are looking for legal advice and they may be willing to recommend potential clients to you (with the permission of the potential client).
If you ask them in the client feedback survey for names of anyone they think might be interested in your service then you have some ready-made warm leads to follow up.
When 2,000plus adults were asked how they would choose a solicitor for a legal matter, 67% said recommendations from friends, relatives, colleagues. This is the only option mentioned by a majority. Source: IRN Research Survey, 2011
Client Satisfaction Surveys – Some Dos and Don’ts
Try for 100% of clients but, if not possible, select a representative sample and make sure each important business area, client type is covered.
Select particular clients and ignore those who may have had a bad experience. Don’t be subjective.
Take care in preparing survey questions – it’s not just about satisfaction with current services but exploring interest in other services. Test out the questions first.
Try and undertake internally if you cannot commit resources/time to it. Concentrate on what you do best and outsource to a research specialist.
Ensure that questions are meaningful and that quantification of the responses can lead to action.
Include questions that would be “nice to know” or cannot be used for tracking.
Let clients know early on in your meetings or correspondence that you would like their feedback and that their input is important. Enthusiasm for it will prompt more responses and probably more thoughtful ones. Make it easy for them to provide feedback, e.g. quick link if online, add postage-paid self-addressed envelopes to printed surveys.
Pick out the results that confirm what you want to hear and ignore the rest.
Communicate details of the survey and key results to all staff – it is a reminder that marketing matters and good client relationships are important.
Leave the survey results to gather dust.
Act on any issues raised regarding a specific issue immediately.
Just present the cold facts from the survey – offer an analysis and recommendations for action.
If you have the in-house expertise to run the survey and analyse results, make sure you allocate enough resources and time to complete the job, and keep the survey going.
Use any non-confidential positive client feedback to spread the word about your services.
Only 2 (1.2%) out of 160 smaller firms surveyed in 2012 had any readily accessible client feedback facility on their website. Source: Legallybetter survey, October 2012.
In-house versus Outsourcing
There is always the temptation to try and run your client surveys yourselves but I would caution against this. As a market researcher for the last 20 years, you will not be surprised to hear that I would recommend that law firms outsource their client surveys to specialists.
Outsourcing need not be expensive and the benefits of outsourcing are:
- First, very few law firms have the range of internal expertise to cover all areas, e.g. designing the survey, formulating the questions, setting up the system for inputting and outputting of results, following up to boost reply numbers, providing a full analysis of the results. Inevitably, when internal resources are under pressure then something will get put off or abandoned altogether and survey results gather dust and no action is taken.
- Secondly, using an external research resource offers a completely independent view which can be reassuring to both the clients and the firm.
- Thirdly, if you are concerned about client confidentiality and passing on client details to an outside agency, then choose an agency that is part of the Market Research Society (MRS) and abides by its Code of Conduct and look for additional safeguards. For example, my business IRN Research is also registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and is governed by the Data Protection Act. Or ask for testimonials from existing law firm clients of the agency for reassurance.
- Alternatively, you could adopt a hybrid approach where you contact the client initially and collects all the results and you just use the agency for advice on setting up the survey, and dealing with final results and analysis.
The number and type of questions you ask is up to you but remember that, for most private clients in particular, if you ask them too many questions then they may be put off and not respond at all, or not finish the survey.
Generally, private client legal matters are less complicated than corporate clients so it is much better to keep the survey simple, and include a combination of questions: have some “coded” questions where the respondent just chooses one option as the answer; have a few questions which require more detailed comments. Results for the former questions can be used to benchmark results over time, while client comments and positive reviews can be used for marketing and PR.
Here is a link to a relatively simple client questionnaire example from our market research partner IRN Research:
This formed the basis of an online survey used by a law firm working in specific practice areas and the link to the survey (or a printed version) is included in all correspondence, emails sent out and is also on their website.
One question added to this standard template for selected practice areas is whether they would have a need for any other services offered by the law firm.
Survey Costs and ROI
Technological developments, led by improved online survey techniques and more efficient analysis of results, have brought the costs of many surveys down.
At Legallybetter, we are offering to set up an email-based client feedback survey using standard questions for FREE. We can offer a printed version with pre-paid post envelopes for £500 (plus VAT). As well as regular internal management reports for you , it also includes other services:
- Wider web presence, with good client reviews automatically added to various websites, including your own.
- Real business leads from recommendations automatically passed to you.
- Good reviews added to social media.
- Benchmarking of your results against the market
So for a relatively low annual fee, the service offers robust client feedback and also gives the wider marketing and sales opportunities described earlier in this briefing.
If client feedback results are used in the broadest sense then there can be a relatively quick return on investment (ROI). For example, our experience suggests that a business receiving 50 client feedback responses will have around 4 or 5 that also include a recommendation suggesting a friend or relative might be interested in using your firm. If only 1 or of these is converted into clients then the relatively low annual investment has probably paid for itself and more.