Client listening programs can offer law firms a big advantage in finding out what their clients think about pricing, service, and much more
Only 27% of law firm clients are asked for formal client feedback by their firms, according to research from Thomson Reuters Market Insights. This means that law firms may be missing a tremendous opportunity to learn from their clients about legal service delivery, pricing, and client satisfaction. Further, the challenge law firms now face is how to establish a client listening program to harness and communicate the true value of the clients’ insights they collect and drive further engagement across the firm.
As part of our ongoing series on client listening best practices, we recently spoke to a senior client development manager at an Am Law 100 law firm who initiated an incredibly effective and now global client listening program at their firm. Their insight into what made the program a success demonstrates some of the best practices for those law firm leaders just getting started in this area.
We’re often told by those firms that attempt to establish such client listening or feedback programs that one of the most common barriers is of course buy-in across the firm. In fact, the client development manager to whom we spoke said her firm had exactly that problem to overcome — some partners and key account managers simply didn’t want to participate.
So, the manager attempted to solve this problem by starting small. First, the client development manager created pilot initiatives with those colleagues who were more capable of seeing the value from the outset in order to “build up some familiarity around the firm of doing formal client feedback and also build a great set of data that we could benchmark ourselves against in the future.” The team’s pilot initiatives spanned different offices and practice groups across the firm with key clients that were interviewed by the marketing & business development team, which had already undergone professional interview training with our consulting team.
To ensure further buy-in and engagement with stakeholders at the firm there were many more steps involved to this firm’s success, the manger noted. Here are some of the key ones:
“What we really tried to do at the outset was first and foremost raise awareness of the program. We started out by giving the program its own name, [and] we talked about it at our practice meetings, partner conferences, and regional meetings.”
The firm ensured that everyone was unified, through clear and consistent communication around the purpose of the client feedback program, what it would deliver, and the positive impact it would have across the firm. When partners care about and believe in an initiative, they are understandably more motivated to want to participate.
“We also really tried to identify, in that pilot process, early success stories, so that we could showcase them around the firm and build-up lawyers who were champions of why we were doing this and the value that we get out of doing independent client feedback.”
By weaving in early success stories into their communications with partners, the firm encouraged good behavior through engagement and solidified the program’s credibility with return-on-investment examples. Openly sharing these successes can also help everyone visualize what is involved and combat some of the pushback questions that client feedback teams might receive.
“Pilots allowed us to really use those as opportunities to build up partner champions… partner champions that could be advocates for the value of doing feedback.”
If done well, partner champions offer client feedback programs multiple benefits from engaging, motivating, and inspiring people around them to participate “to connecting different teams and departments and bringing the whole firm together.” Ultimately, these champions will help influence the client listening policies and goals and build trust around the program.
“We focused on talking about the results and what we were getting out of the feedback around the firm, what should we be doing to respond on an individual client relationship level, but also looking at the aggregated results of the many hundreds of interviews. What are clients telling us and how can we address areas for improvement more efficiently? And [how can we] make clear recommendations to our lawyers on how to act on that feedback.”
Gathering effective client feedback is one thing, but closing the feedback loop and converting results into action is another skill entirely. By developing an effective assessment process, the firm allowed for concentration on timely customer pain points, and developed a strategy focused on improving the client journey. Ultimately, this is what allowed the team to expand their research at a firmwide-level, beyond the pilot initiatives.
“We really tried to help all our stakeholders see the value, [and] we worked with our regional heads and practice heads to build it into their strategic plans. We didn’t want this to be a forced top-down thing — having leadership buy-in, having it tied to broader strategic goals as a firm, and talking about it regularly were keys to getting this feedback.”
Client listening should be a strategic priority and managed as a strategic initiative with full and visible support from leadership. Developing synergy between programs and strategies from the outset will help achieve this.
Done well, client feedback interviews generate reliable, tangible data that can enable strategic business decisions to be made with greater confidence. But clear and consistent communication, across all levels of the firm — especially around the investment needed to stimulate change and further strengthen client relationships — is critical to the success of client listening programs.
You can learn how to help your firm better determine strategy and demonstrate its value through the use of client listening programs here.