As discussed in the first post of this series, conducting client satisfaction surveys is as much marketing as it is client service. The frequency of surveys, their method of delivery, the breadth and depth of topics covered, and even the way the questions are structured all tell clients a story about your firm.
Frequency – In a professional services environment predicated on deep personal connections with clients, fielding a client satisfaction survey only once a year seems perfunctory. Even if you have informal channels and tools for gathering client feedback throughout the year, an official outreach on a quarterly or semi-annual basis telegraphs active interest and engagement — that you don’t take them for granted.
Method of Delivery – If someone can make a persuasive argument as to why mailing/e-mailing law firm client satisfaction survey forms constitutes better client service, please do so in the comment section below. A printed form should be hand-delivered to the intended recipient, accompanied by 1) a statement of appreciation for the client’s business and 2) a spoken, personal invitation to complete the survey candidly. In the case of an e-mail survey, make sure the message doesn’t end up in your client’s inbox without a personal heads-up — by phone or in person — to expect it. Steps 1 & 2 above obtain in this scenario as well.
Breadth and Depth of Topics Covered – Typical surveys take a “kitchen sink” approach, with questions ranging from the make-or-break (“How likely are you to recommend our firm to a friend or colleague?”) to the mundane (“Returns phone calls as promptly as I wish”). This approach inevitably results in questionnaires that are too long, which causes respondents to race through later questions. This is a particularly serious shortcoming when you have open-ended questions at the end of a long survey, because respondents are much less likely to provide thoughtful, detailed comments.
Instead of one long annual survey, consider fielding several smaller ones focused on a single client service category (e.g. core capabilities, responsiveness and collaboration, cost management/value, technology utilization, privacy/data security). In addition to operationalizing client service conversations, you’ll obtain higher quality feedback.
Question Structure – Open-ended questions yield more useful feedback. If, however, you choose a closed-ended format, take special care in how you structure and word the questions and pre-populated response options (if you’re not using some sort of number or letter rating scale). The worst thing you can do is frame responses in such a way that it appears you’re trying to put words in the respondent’s mouth. Like this actual Big Law firm example [firm’s name is redacted]:
A – Exceptional Performance, rarely equaled by other law firms. XYZ LLC is the firm I hire for my legal needs.
B – Above Average. Exceeds my expectations frequently. I usually call XYZ LLC first.
C – Average. Satisfactorily meets my standards. XYZ LLC isn’t my first choice.
D – Below Average. Failed to meet my standards in a material way. I am seeking other counsel.
F – Unacceptable. Without a significant and sustained effort by XYZ LLC to improve, I will discontinue using the firm.
As they say on TV lawyer shows, “Objection. Leading the witness.” Also, doesn’t “D” sound worse than “F”? And would clients experiencing “D”- or “F”-level service even bother filling out a survey form?