THERE SHOULD BE NO SURPRISES

Nancy Myrland All Posts, Client Satisfaction Interviews 10 Comments


Gift BoxesToday I saw an interesting discussion fly by on Twitter.  Social Media Consultant Adrian Dayton and Law Practice Management Consultant Ron Friedmann were discussing Adrian’s recent article on Law.com titled Which Law Firm Owns The Most Digital Real Estate.

In his post, Adrian wrote about BigLaw being behind in the creation of digital real estate via blogs compared to smaller firms.

As part of this discussion on Twitter, Ron asked Adrian if there’s any evidence of BigLaw losing market share based on being behind in blogging.

After watching the discussion for a while, I added my perspective, which is that law firms aren’t always good at asking clients why business was lost.  Some are, but many are not.  Ron agreed by adding:

“Firms barely understand why business was won, much less lost, and that perhaps the lesson is to talk to prospects, clients and ex’s more.”

Absolutely Ron.

It goes even deeper, and farther back than finding out what happened after discovering a matter has been lost to another firm.  Law firms, and every service- and product-based firm needs to understand what clients are thinking at every stage of their relationship.

Similar to the often-dreaded employee performance review, when employees sometimes receive performance notices, or are put on probation, or are complimented, it should rarely be the first time they hear their manager’s perspective.  Performance should be discussed regularly.  There should be no surprises.

This is the same for clients.  Client satisfaction is too important to our livelihood to leave to chance and assumption.  I’ve heard and read many comments about lawyers and other professionals assuming everything is fine, only to find out some piece of business has been lost.  There should be no surprises.

Formal client interviews should be conducted on an ongoing basis.  They should be considered as important as any other marketing or business activity.  Without satisfied clients, what kind of business do we have?

What stands in the way of conducting client satisfaction interviews at various stages of the relationship?  Many factors, but here are a few.

  1. I know what my clients think of me.
  2. I don’t want to bother them as they are too busy.
  3. They will tell me if they aren’t happy.
  4. We can’t figure out who should conduct the interviews.
  5. It’s too expensive to conduct these interviews.
  6. I’m not prepared to hear negative reviews.
  7. We don’t have what it takes to implement the change we discover.

When conducting these interviews, it becomes obvious many clients have never been visited by anyone to interview them about their satisfaction.  I was first exposed to these interviews when in-house at Baker & Daniels in the 90s.  Our  Managing Partner chose to conduct these interviews.  It was common to have clients express surprise and gratitude when he interviewed them.  General Counsel from businesses of all sizes had rarely or never been asked what they think.

One of my favorite experiences as an interviewer was a few years back when I was hired to conduct them for an architectural firm.  I asked a school administrator a question that revolved around what she thought made the firm unique.  She said:

“The fact that you’re here!  No one has ever sent anyone out to ask me what I think of them!”

It made me smile inside as I was proud of my client for devoting resources to not only nurture their relationship with this client, but to find out if anything was good, bad, in between, and to, in this case, wow this client.

How should we conduct them?  A few thoughts for you:

  1. Decide you’re going to build a Client Satisfaction Interview Program.
  2. Interview those clients that represent the majority of your business.
  3. Don’t forget those clients that are in the middle and bottom of the pack in terms of revenue, but that hold promise for the future.  Nurturing relationships is critical to retention and growth.
  4. Send someone who the client perceives will be an impartial 3rd party, otherwise they might not open up as freely as you’d like.
  5. Visit them in person to conduct these interviews.  Nothing compares to being with clients face-to-face with a warm handshake.
  6. Don’t let the billing, or primary, professional conduct these interviews.  Yes, they should be discussing performance with clients all year, but these interviews are different.
  7. Prepare a set of questions that are crafted to help the client feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and emotions.
  8. Make sure the interviewer is able to suppress surprise, distaste, encouragement of only positive comments or any other reaction that could skew responses.
  9. Make sure your interviewer is strategic and alert enough to understand when to follow up on a comment to uncover additional thoughts and suggestions.
  10. Make sure you have a Communications Process and Plan for every interview that includes multiple immediate and eventual follow-up points with clients to provide feedback and appreciation.
  11. Be serious, passionate and committed about implementing change because of what your clients share, and make sure they know about their role in these changes.

If you would like to learn more about Client Satisfaction Interviews, I’ve written more in these posts.

There is more to know about conducting these interviews, but I hope I’ve given you a taste of why they are important, and how to think about them.  I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about conducting these interviews.  They are too important to leave out of your 2011 Marketing and Business Plans.  My contact info is here.

Please share any comments below that you have about conducting these interviews, and what you think of their importance.

Thank you very much to banjo ari for the use of his colorful gift box image used above.

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10 comments
Ann Penners Bergen
Ann Penners Bergen

Excellent blog. Thanks for sharing this! On the flip side, there should be no surprises for clients either. In particular, a client should not be surprised by a very high fee statement. That's one reason why flat fee projects or monthly membership programs for clients are so important. Nor should a client be surprised by bad news. We owe it to our clients when we are going to fight for them to let them know about the up side and the potential down side.

Carolyn Elefant
Carolyn Elefant

It is shocking that lawyers still need to be told how to deal with and interact with clients, but it is true. Hopefully, your tips will help make the process second nature.

Shirley Niedzwiecki
Shirley Niedzwiecki

Nancy:

Thank you for sharing this wonderful blog. Being in member services this gives me a few ideas about how to connect with our members. Communication is always the key to any situation and understanding the other parties point of view, as well as why they feel or react a certain way in situations and conversations. I can't wait utilize your suggestions.

Cindy Ratzlaff
Cindy Ratzlaff

Great article Nancy. This is an issue not just for law firms, but something that every service-based business should be considering. In fact, I want to thank you because I'm going to do an audit of my 2010 clients now, so that I can better serve them in 2011.

Adrian Dayton
Adrian Dayton

Nicely done Nancy, really enjoyed the article.

Listening and asking good questions are not just skills for effective social media use.

Nancy Myrland
Nancy Myrland

Ann, I couldn't have said it any better! Thank you for stopping by, and for sharing your thoughts with all of us!

Nancy Myrland
Nancy Myrland

Hi Carolyn...Yes, it is shocking, isn't it? I have to remind myself all the time that basic information is still necessary as I tend to think everyone already knows what I know. Thanks for stopping by.

Nancy Myrland
Nancy Myrland

Shirley, I can't wait to hear what you plan to do with these ideas!

Nancy Myrland
Nancy Myrland

Hi Cindy! Thanks for sharing my post with your Facebook community! I'm glad to hear it caused you to think about your audits! Let me know how they go, okay? Thanks for stopping by...hope to see you again!

Nancy Myrland
Nancy Myrland

Thanks for providing the initial conversation that inspired this post Adrian. Yes, without listening skills that then lead to change, we are missing a large part of conducting business. Thanks for stopping by!