Reconceiving Client Surveys, Part 1: Remind Them Why They Like You

Why do so many client satisfaction survey introductions begin with some variation of “In order to better serve you and improve our overall relationship….”? At best it’s an expression of low self esteem, and at worst it’s an invitation to find fault. Despite their empirical trappings, surveys are as much marketing as they are client service. Wouldn’t the surveys be more valuable to both you and your clients if you used them as the beginning of a discussion about what’s going right in your relationships, and how to leverage those strengths into other areas?

How You and Your Clients Can Get the Most Out of Your Satisfaction Survey

  • Structure your survey as an inverted pyramid — The level of thoughtfulness and detail in responses falls off rapidly in surveys, so pose questions in descending order of importance. For example, don’t start off by asking the respondent to rate you on whether their phone calls are answered as promptly as they’d like. (That comes from an actual Big Law survey form.)
  • Don’t dither. Start with THE question — In a profession where firms live or die by the quantity and quality of referrals they receive, there is only one survey question that matters in determining client satisfaction: “How likely are you to recommend our firm to a friend or colleague?”
  • Use the main body of the survey to elicit context and tease out details behind your “net promoter” score —  Regardless of whether they are fans, neutrals or detractors, there are reasons why the respondents are still clients. Ask them to identify what they value most about working with you. Detractors will have an opportunity to vent later on in the survey. Causing them to consider and identify positive attributes in addition to criticisms will give you more to work with when you start developing your remediation plans.
  • End the survey with a promise — Assure respondents that you will develop and share with them an action plan based on their feedback — then do it.
Part 2: Open-Ended Questions Yield More Useful Feedback


  1. kirstenhodgson says:

    Good post. Agree that you need to ask the most important questions up front and ideally as a face-to-face initiative rather than online as that allows you to drill down and get to the crux of issues. One thing I’ve always wondered is whether it would be better to ask ‘Have you recommended our firm to a friend or colleague?’ and, then if the answer is no ask the ‘how likely…’ question as a follow-up? That way you can find out whether they have taken any action in the past rather than the hypothetical ‘would they’. Keen to find out your (and others) thoughts on this.

    • jaypinkert says:

      Thanks for your kind response. Great comments.

      I’m glad you brought up in-person meetings, because the way firms collect feedback is as — or more — important than the data collection method. I’m going to discuss that at greater length in Part 3 later this week.

      I think it’s more productive to begin by asking about the client’s current state of mind because it provides a cleaner and more direct path to consideration of how to achieve the mutually desired future state. Let’s say that you open by asking whether they’ve recommended your firm in the past, and the respondent replies “no,” which requires a follow-up “why” question. The reason could be something as benign as they’re new to the company, or they would be happy to provide a referral but hadn’t been asked. At that point you’d be two questions into the survey without learning anything useful.

      There’s absolutely a place for that line of inquiry, I just don’t think it would be a good opener.

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