Client service fuels the legal industry. Even so, some researchers point out that few attorneys make concerted, quantitative efforts to keep customers happy. This is unfortunate, they add, because strategies that include client satisfaction assessments and a few basic people skills clearly can keep a practice in business.
Client Feedback: The Secret's in the Questions
Recent studies show that many law professionals routinely fail to measure client satisfaction. As in any other business, getting performance feedback from your consumers or clients on what you do well – and not so well – helps improve future consumer or client experiences. It also keeps business coming through the door, as clients who feel “listened to” will probably be more likely to recommend your services to friends and family. The following customer relations strategies are a starting point to get the client feedback you need.
- Client satisfaction interview. Typically in an hour-long formal, structured meeting, the client is apprised of its primary purpose – to improve service – right up front. Human resource strategists cite these benefits for the practice: demonstration of the firm's concern for its clients; identification of clients in danger of terminating services; acquisition of new or additional business; and gathering of fresh, innovative ideas.
All discussions should address what the client likes – or hates – about your firm; ways to improve; overall satisfaction with your services; and a summary of the client's future needs. Depending on the size and nature of the practice, some attorneys add customized questions speaking to their clients' perceptions of the firm's central policies, such as accessibility, client education, fiscal responsibility and more.
- Client satisfaction survey. This is a valuable tool for gathering information on generic topics. But, while convenient, many legal experts suggest that major clients may view a mailed (or Internet) form as cold or impersonal – especially in lieu of a face-to-face meeting. If you do decide to go this route, keep questionnaires short and send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to increase the response rate.
Questions should speak to the same issues covered in one-on-one client satisfaction interviews; among them, staff proficiency, service turnaround time, communication systems, billing methods and best practices. Generally, written surveys employ a combination of rated responses (for example, on a scale of one to five) and essay questions.
People skills: Up Close and Personal
A quick surf of the Net will turn up scores of articles and studies about the attorney-client bond. What's striking is, despite the proliferation of CRM (customer relationship management) solutions, the secret to client happiness seems to lie in old-fashioned courtesy and a generous dash of common sense.
The guidelines below come from a variety of legal and human resource information sources. According to the experts, attorneys should:
- Listen. This means remaining open to ongoing dialogue with clients – even when it falls outside legal matters.
- Know the client's business. In other words, do your homework. Gather direct information about what he or she does from newspapers, trade publications, business reports and official biographies.
- Standardize communication procedures. Decide what information you need to impart on a regular or as-needed basis, and when and how you will do so (email, telephone or letter). When a legal process is lengthy or ongoing, keep clients apprised of progress in a regular fashion.
- Implement service protocols. Make a list of client-service rules and stick to them. Some examples: Respond to emails and phone calls by day's end; invite clients to important team meetings; and make sure your clients always reach a live person – not a machine – when they telephone the office.
- Be patient. Keep in mind that what is routine to you may be entirely new territory for your client. To this end, answer all questions about billing, court dates or legal processes promptly and thoroughly. If you cannot do so personally, appoint a well-informed staffer to speak in your stead.
- Run a friendly practice. Instruct staff and associates to use good telephone manners and to be upbeat and courteous to clients visiting the office. Remember, persons seeking legal services frequently are under significant stress. Rudeness or indifference may well drive them to a competitor's door.