We all know client feedback surveys can offer valuable information. If you've been holding off-perhaps because you don't want to bother your clients-don't. The good news is that more than 70 percent of Fortune 500® GCs understand that such surveys are "important" or even "critical" to good lawyer-client relationships, according to a recent Altman Weil Pensa survey. (How fitting that we have this information thanks to a survey.)
Even if your firm isn't advising the Fortune 500, your clients will likely appreciate that your firm values its relationship with them enough to conduct a survey. And if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. So here are 15 best practices that can help you avoid bad data and provide value to your clients through the survey experience.
1. IDENTIFY A GOAL FOR THE SURVEY
There are any number of reasons a firm may want to conduct a survey of its clients: to understand how its quality of service is perceived; its clients' price sensitivities; what practice areas to invest in; or how the firm can differentiate itself from its peers. Whatever the reason, it's a good idea for your firm to have a specific one (or two) in mind when creating survey questions. Those reasons shouldn't be too broad, either. You aren't going to be able to evaluate every attorney in the firm in one survey, for instance.
2. TAILOR THE SURVEY TO YOUR CLIENT BASE
In designing your survey, think about what kind of clients you have. A firm with a stable base of business clients should be asking different questions than a volume personal injury practice. The former might ask clients how it can gain more business from them, which would not be as appropriate for the latter.
3. DON'T HASSLE CLIENTS FOR A RESPONSE
Today, many client surveys go out via email. It's perfectly fine to send an email invitation to your survey, preferably with some explanation of why the firm is conducting it. In fact, it's probably welcome. But if the client doesn't respond, don't pester. No one wants to be chased down to fill out a survey.
4. BE RESPECTFUL OF YOUR CLIENTS' TIME
If the survey can't be completed in 10 minutes, start cutting or simplifying the questions.
5. ASK FOR AN OVERALL RATING FIRST
The time to ask about your clients' overall satisfaction with your firm is at the top, before they have been influenced by more detailed questions.
6. USE A SMALL NUMBER OF STANDARD ANSWERS (AND MAKE THEM CONSISTENT)
It's easier on the survey-taker when the survey gives them a small number of multiple-choice options. In asking about your lawyers' responsiveness, for instance, it's better to give respondents a few options (Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor) than to ask them to rate the firm on a scale of 1 - 10. If you can repeat those same options for all questions, even better.
7. THERE SHOULD BE SOME LOGIC TO THE TIMING OF THE SURVEY
You might ask your clients to complete a survey at the end of an engagement, at the end of the year, or once every few years. Whatever the case, there should be some logic to the timing of the survey.
8. AVOID "DOUBLE-BARRELED" QUESTIONS
Leave the laundry lists to your contract clauses. Each question should pertain to a single, specific subject. As the experts at SurveyMonkey® note, you don't want to ask "double-barreled" questions, for instance: "How would you rate the firm's technology and conference amenities?"
9. DON'T ASK LEADING QUESTIONS
The judge will scold you for this in the courtroom, and leading questions are just as worthless in a survey (even when you're dealing with hostile witnesses).
10. INQUIRE ABOUT YOUR FIRM'S COMMUNICATIONS PRACTICES
This is a consistent trouble spot in lawyer-client relationships, so it's worth finding out if your firm needs to improve in this area.
11. ASK SENSITIVE (AND DEMOGRAPHIC) QUESTIONS LAST
Social scientists have determined that asking demographic questions at the beginning of a survey affects the responses that come next. So if you are asking such questions, put them last. For similar reasons, any sensitive questions should appear at the end of the survey.
12. FOCUS-GROUP YOUR SURVEY
Before blasting the survey out to your clients, have a group of lawyers within the firm take a look first.
13. INCLUDE A FREE-FORM FIELD
Following your multiple-choice questions, it's a good idea to include a small number of open-ended questions. Two good ones: what are the strengths of the firm, and what are its weaknesses. It's also advisable to include one field that is open to any feedback the client wants to give.
14. RESPOND TO NEGATIVE FEEDBACK
Clients that offer negative feedback are offering the firm a valuable gift: they are flagging a troubled relationship and giving you a chance to fix it. Respond to them quickly and in person to see if you can get on better footing.
15. USE THE SURVEY AS A BONDING OPPORTUNITY
Client feedback surveys are not just a way for law firms to gain information. Ideally, they can and should be used to strengthen a firm's relationships with its clients. That probably won't happen if clients simply tick a few boxes on an email survey and shoot it back. Instead, law firms can frame the survey invite as the first step in a process that will include a follow-up call or in-person visit with the client. When that follow-up meeting occurs, the law firm can gain deeper insight from the client on their survey responses, possibly discover opportunities for more work, and, most importantly, deepen the existing bond between the law firm and client.
This white paper is presented by LexisNexis on behalf of the author. The opinions may not represent the opinions of LexisNexis. This document is for educational purposes only.