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August 09, 2006

How to turn legal clients into raving fans – Part 1 of 5

Whenever I give a speech to a group of lawyers, I ask how many think their top clients are satisfied. Almost everyone thinks they are.

But for the last few years, BTI Consulting has been conducting surveys that show most legal clients are not satisfied. In fact, this year’s data reported “An unprecedented drop in client satisfaction with law firms… Just 30.7% of large and Fortune 1000 companies recommend their primary law firms….an astonishing 53.7% of clients ousted their primary law firms in the past 18 months. More than 50% of clients also reported they plan to try at least one new law firm for substantive matters in 2006.”

Why the gap?

The truth is, most lawyers overestimate satisfaction. So do other service providers. The reason is simple: clients generally keep complaints to themselves. In 1995, Thomas Jones and W. Earl Sasser wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review on “Why customers defect” and noted (p. 95) that “Regardless of how they feel, customers of companies with reasonably good product or service quality find it difficult to respond negatively.”

In any case, the critical question is not whether your clients are satisfied. It is whether they are raving fans.

According to Harry Mills in The Rainmaker’s Toolkit “between 60% and 80% of all lost customers report that they are satisfied prior to defection.” Some other lawyer comes along who is new and exciting, or maybe just different, and your client is gone. So if you want to protect your revenue, your goal must be to turn your clients into raving fans who rate satisfaction as 10 out of 10, or maybe even 11.

Then after you start scoring 11 out of 10, you must dig deeper, because, as Jones and Sasser note (p. 91) while “customer satisfaction surveys are an important indicator of the health of the business, relying solely on them can be fatal.” You need to track client complaints, the questions clients ask, feedback from frontline personnel, and much more, because clients need “numerous opportunities to express their dissatisfaction.” (p. 96).

When a client complains, it is human nature to try to resolve the situation before anyone else hears about it. In other industries, quality measurement systems have therefore been designed to insure that they can not be biased by interest groups within the company, and that everyone has easy access to information on individual customers.

This may be especially difficult at law firms, given the independence that lawyers are accustomed to. That simply makes it even more urgent that law firm management constantly strives to create a transparent, open atmosphere, where complaints cannot be hidden.

I recently exchanged emails with several consultants about the complaints they hear most often about lawyers. According to Bob Denney “not returning phone calls is usually the number one complaint.” Other frequent complaints center around not being kept informed on the status of the case or matter, who to call when the responsible attorney is away, what to expect in invoices, and discussing litigation strategies and recommendations.

Unreturned calls are also at the top of John Remsen Jr.’s list of common complaints. “In this age of Blackberries and cell phones, clients simply will not excuse inaccessibility.” His list also includes missed deadlines, surprise bills, and “‘over-lawyering’ - too many lawyers working on files or running up an outrageous bill over a relatively small matter.”

Over the next few weeks, I’ll talk about what to do about it and how to turn clients into raving fans.

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This material was adapted from the book Legal Business Development: A Step by Step Guide.

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» The Lake Wobegon Effect--Some Empirical Data from In Search of Perfect Client Service
A couple of weeks ago, drawing on some material from Harry Beckwith,I wrote about Overcoming The Lake Wobegon Effect, the phenomenon by which law firms always overestimate the degree to which their clients are satisfied. Now comes a nice po... [Read More]

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