How to review client satisfaction - Part 3
Parts 1 and 2 of this posting described how small and mid-sized firms can set up an informal client review process. Large firms need more formal processes. In this posting, I’ll discuss Akin Gump’s client service teams, one of the best known and most successful programs to date.
It all starts with commitment, and in September 2003 this 900 lawyer firm showed its commitment to client satisfaction by creating a new position for an ombudsman to serve on behalf of the firm’s clients. The goal was to add value for clients by providing better service and communications, and to become more proactive in anticipating and meeting client needs.
Akin Gump recruited Iris Jones, a litigation attorney and certified mediator, who was then serving as the first police monitor and ombudsman for the city of Austin, Texas. At that time, Akin Gump -- like most law firms – did not have a single team that conducted formal reviews of client satisfaction. Now, just over two years later, over 60 client service teams are measuring client satisfaction, and acting on the results.
As I explained last June in this blog (see “No A plus's, but lots of new business”), Akin Gump’s basic approach revolves around a formal 90 minute meeting with each client. The process is highly structured, and begins with a training program for all participants. A lawyer is appointed to lead each client service team, to manage both the Akin Gump members and the client relationship. The team leader is responsible for everything from recruiting and coaching other members to scheduling meetings, building commitment and consensus, and following up on action items that emerge from the reviews.
The process is built around a 15 step checklist starting with background research on each client, including an analysis of “missed opportunity areas” in which the client uses other law firms, when they could be using Akin Gump. A customized list of about 30 critical questions is created for each client, and sent to the client in advance so they can prepare for the meeting and know what to expect.
The team leader not only conducts the meeting, but also drafts an action plan to improve client service. Typical action items that have come out of these meetings have included:
o training lawyers to write bills to maximize transparency, and assure that clients understand what they are paying for.
o controlling cost by managing the flow of information between the client and the firm to “reduce the number of touches.”
o creating written work plans that inform the client about who will work on each legal project, what they will do, and what to expect.
o scheduling follow-up meetings between key players.
Most importantly, the team leader’s job includes following up, to make sure that all of these action items are actually completed, and that the client is not just satisfied with the results, but delighted. Because the best way to protect and increase revenue is to meet the client service team’s fundamental goal: to protect, preserve, and expand relationships.
For more about Akin Gump’s approach, see Bruce Marcus’ excellent online article “All Together Now – It’s Our Client: The Client Service Team As A Growing Phenomenon.” It explains provides significant details about how “a growing number of firms have discovered the benefits of using the client service team as an approach to dealing with larger clients, for both better service and better client relations.” As Bruce sums it up: “The client service team is a 21st century answer to the dramatic changes in the professions and the clients they serve.”
Quotations reprinted with permission from THE MARCUS LETTER ON PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MARKETING (www.marcusletter.com). Copyright Bruce W. Marcus (firstname.lastname@example.org). All rights reserved.