When I planned this mini-series on client satisfaction, I was supposed to stop after Part 3. But then other bloggers got me started again…
The day after Part 3 appeared, Dan Hull wrote about it in his blog What About Clients. (My favorite part was when he described my series as “great work… comprehensive, well written, practical.”) I had written: “To assure objectivity and openness, it’s better if the interview is conducted by a senior partner who does not manage the relationship.” Dan, himself a litigator and lobbyist, favors using outside consultants for satisfaction surveys. “Using third parties known by the client not to be employees of the firm, while more expensive, is likely to get better (i.e., more honest) results.”
The day after that, Patrick Lamb, a partner in a Chicago litigation firm, revisited the issue in his blog In Search of Perfect Client Service. He started out by saying “I have always believed that the senior members of firm leadership should do the surveys since their presence underscores the importance of the process.” But then he went on to talk about a BTI presentation which supported Dan’s view “that outsiders can more effectively get at the client's real feelings.”
Dan’s blog is ranked number three on www.blawg.org’s list of the most popular legal blogs of all time, and Patick’s is number one. So it’s not surprising that their comments led to further discussions in other blogs.
The first result of all this discussion was that my blog set a new personal record for the most hits in a week, almost doubling my previous high point. (That record was broken again the next week, when Patrick Lamb wrote about a different posting in my blog, but that’s another story.) The second result was that I went back to the book shelf and Google to read more about interviewing techniques.
There are lots of opinions, and conflicting views everywhere about the best interviewers. When all my reading was done, I decided that my answer is… it depends. But when in doubt, I’m sticking with my original recommendation: satisfaction interviews should be conducted by a senior partner.
My reasoning is based on the goals that lawyers have when they conduct client satisfaction reviews in the first place:
1) To protect current revenues with the interviewed client.
2) To increase revenues with the interviewed client.
3) To get referrals to other clients.
Now I don’t want to sound too cynical, but note that getting honest answers is not on this list. As Huthwaite sales training guru Tom Snyder likes to say, “This is marketing, not a science experiment.”
(Others might put referrals higher on the goals list, but given the current competition in the legal marketplace, I’d focus first on protecting what I have. I agree with Troy Waugh that “some clients are just more likely to give referrals than others… [some clients may] like you just as much but aren’t in the habit of giving referrals.” For more on this, see Waugh’s book 101 Marketing Strategies for Accounting, Law, Consulting, and Professional Services Firms, p. 193.)
Getting candid and forthright feedback may contribute to these three goals, which is why I suggested that the partner who conducts the interview should be different from the person who manages the relationship. But the primary goal is to generate more business, and I believe that having a senior partner shows the firm’s commitment to satisfaction and is usually the best way to accomplish this.
Maybe it’s my academic background, but my emphasis in the last sentence is on the word usually. The decision of who is the best person to conduct a satisfaction interview in a particular case should be based on the individuals who are involved, and the fundamental marketing question: what will make this particular client happy? A law firm surveying 10 clients could therefore decide to use partners with 5 clients and outside consultants with the rest.
And if all this talk has put you in the mood to survey your own clients’ satisfaction, be sure to see Peter Johnson’s excellent article “12 Steps to a Successful Client Interview Program” from the October 2005 edition of Marketing the Law Firm.