Reconceiving Client Surveys, Part 2: Open-Ended Questions Yield More Useful Feedback

Your client satisfaction survey is comprised of closed-ended questions with a limited number of response options. Respondents are asked to rate various performance factors on a 1-5 numerical scale. Your most important client rated you a “4” in overall satisfaction. In fact, all of the responses were 3s or 4s. They’re not unhappy, but they’re not thrilled. Not ready to leave, but not necessarily willing to give you additional matters or provide recommendation and referrals.

What actionable information has that survey given you? As discussed in the previous post, the law firm client satisfaction survey should be a research and marketing exercise, not a popularity poll. In a relationship-driven profession, the most effective survey instrument for collecting meaningful, actionable information is a survey form or script that relies primarily on open-ended questions.

Metagora makes the case succinctly:

  • Open-ended questions allow respondents to include more information, including feelings, attitudes and understanding of the subject. This allows researchers to better access the respondents’ true feelings on an issue. Closed-ended questions, because of the simplicity and limit of the answers, may not offer the respondents choices that actually reflect their real feelings. Closed-ended questions also do not allow the respondents to explain that they do not understand the question or do not have an opinion on the issue.
  • Open-ended questions cut down on two types of response error: respondents are not likely to forget the answers they have to choose from if they are given the chance to respond freely; and open-ended questions simply do not allow respondentsto disregard reading the questions and just “fill in” the survey with all the same answers (such as filling in the “no” box on every question).
  • Research has shown that open-ended questions are better for eliciting sensitive information than closed-ended questions.

Granted, the narratives generated by open-ended surveys require more work (read: time and expense) to compile and clearly present, but the depth and breadth of insight you gain will more than compensate. Most importantly, your clients will notice — and think of you more positively.

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