Matthew E. Eilers 2017-10-19 03:54:00
Focus on Feedback Client surveys provide valuable legal intelligence. Do you know what clients think of your firm? Are you so preoccupied with your ever-present next hearing or meeting that you fail to take the time to find out? Or maybe you would rather not know as long as the clients pay their bills and keep the money-wheel turning. Knowing how your clients perceive your law practice is valuable legal intelligence that can get you out of your bubble, improve the quality of your legal service, and limit your firm’s exposure to malpractice liability. Reasons for Conducting Client Surveys Understanding needs and concerns. A client may identify specific issues or worries in a survey that she cannot communicate openly. A client may prefer to offer criticism indirectly in the context of a questionnaire rather than telling her potentially intimidating attorney face-to-face. Enhancing client engagement. Requesting feedback demonstrates a commitment to listening, establishes mutual trust, and increases the probability that a client retains the firm for the duration of the matter. A client asked to provide opinions feels valued and more like a part of her own legal team, leading to referrals and repeat business. Managing the client. If feedback after the initial consultation reveals that a client requires daily updates or other unrealistic expectations, the firm can calibrate expectations. Surveys can help recognize a discontented client and prevent the relationship from deteriorating. Alternatively, you may need to cut ties with an inordinately difficult client—learning as soon as possible helps you withdraw in a timely manner. Providing opportunity to vent. If a client is frustrated, a survey offers an avenue for the client to let off steam before frustrations boil over and become explosive or damaging. Recognizing merit or remedying staff issues. A survey may highlight deserving persons for praise or reward: an associate, an assistant, or maybe the cleaning service. Similarly, a survey may identify areas of concern otherwise concealed from management, such as a rude receptionist. Limiting malpractice and disciplinary exposure. Client surveys can help you identify problems facing your practice, empowering your firm to take timely action to mitigate or cure existing issues and thereby limit malpractice risk. A less obvious aspect: if a client does not respond to a survey with specific concerns, this could cast doubt if the client later raises them in a demand letter or grievance proceeding. Tips for Preparing and Conducting Client Surveys Customize. Print out the survey with the client’s name to make the client feel special. Tailor the language of the questionnaire to the specific type of legal matter. You can target questions for particular areas of interest or malpractice avoidance, for example: • Did you review the attorney’s blog on our firm’s website? • Our firm’s handling of escrow funds (rate 1 to 5) Keep it concise. Make the survey easy for a client to complete, preferably taking less than five minutes. A questionnaire should not become a chore adding unpleasantness to counsel interaction. A hastily completed survey also attenuates the value of the feedback. Determine the best approach. If a client has a single matter (such as a family case), consider conducting a survey three times over the course of representation: after the initial consultation, during the pendency of the matter, and upon conclusion. If you represent a client on an ongoing basis (such as corporate counsel), consider soliciting client input on an annual basis. Follow up. If a problem requires attention—whether to remedy a legitimate issue or to correct a client’s misperception— confer with appropriate staff members and formulate an action plan to deal with the problem with the appropriate level of urgency. Employ consistently. Make it a routine practice for all legal matters and clients. Systematically obtaining client feedback also helps the firm compile aggregate data for deeper analysis. Client surveys can be a crucial component in tracking your firm’s key performance indicators, or KPIs, and progress toward achieving its goals.1 Review periodically. Set a date every year to look at the surveys (and other items such as fee agreements, the framework for measuring KPIs) to re-evaluate their content and how your office employs them. Don’t take it personally. Even if a client attacks you in bad faith, try to view the issue from the client’s perspective. Look for ways to de-escalate the problem or improve the relationship. Legal service providers should adopt the lessons of other service industries and learn client concerns and perceptions. For sample client surveys, see goo.gl/bgCtMs. As an alternative to paper forms, consider taking advantage of online survey tools such as SurveyMonkey or SurveyGizmo. Notes 1) Debra L. Bruce, “Keys to Success: How Monitoring Certain Performance Indicators Can Help Firms Achieve Goals,” 80 Tex. B.J. 320 (2017). MATTHEW E. EILERS is a principal attorney editor for Practical Law (a Thomson Reuters company) and was formerly managing partner of Tuck & Eilers in Austin and new product manager for ProDoc. He is in his third term of service for the State Bar of Texas Law Practice Management Committee.
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