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Legal Practice Management

Building client feedback programs that lawyers love: What CMOs say

Jen Dezso  Director of Client Relations / Thomson Reuters

· 6 minute read

Jen Dezso  Director of Client Relations / Thomson Reuters

· 6 minute read

Formal client feedback programs have been shown to greatly aid law firms gain more business from clients while better understanding their needs. So, why do so relatively few firms use them?

Law firms that conduct formal client feedback programs can earn nearly twice the share of a client’s external legal spend than a firm not engaging in feedback, according to Thomson Reuters Market Insights research. Yet in 2023, only 27% of clients were asked to participate in a client feedback program by their outside law firms.

To find out more about how these feedback programs can work to the advantage of firms, the Thomson Reuters Institute recently hosted law firm Chief Marketing Officers from around the world to explore the biggest challenges CMOs face when it comes to getting a successful client feedback programs off the ground — and more importantly, talk through the solutions the CMOs who participated have found to best overcome those challenges.

Given its background in client feedback programs, the Thomson Reuters Institute’s research team has heard a lot about what keeps firms from launching a formal client feedback program. The most frequent reason cited is getting lawyer buy-in to the initiative. Yet our recent research (conducted with more than 2,500 law firm lawyers) throws this assumption into question.

Clearly, lawyers are open to the concept of obtaining feedback from clients and see the advantages in continuing efforts to do so.

For example, 92% of lawyers we surveyed who are not currently involved in a client feedback program at their firm say they would be somewhat to very interested in having their clients participate in one. And an astonishing 97% of lawyers who already have their clients in a formal feedback program are interested in getting even more feedback.

Clearly, lawyers are open to the concept of obtaining feedback from clients and see the advantages in continuing efforts to do so.

How to scale the real hurdles

Of course, there are real barriers to setting up a formal client feedback program within a law firm, including:

Demonstrating tangible (and intangible) ROI

Let’s tackle the biggest issue first. Most law firm leaders are willing to make investments when a clear, positive outcome (usually financial) is present. Yet, it’s difficult for CMOs to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) of a client feedback program that their firm hasn’t yet conducted.

This is a circular logic loop one needs to escape, and fortunately, there are ways to do this as some CMOs participating in our roundtable discussed.

Always be communicating — While CMOs live and breathe the fundamentals of business development, most lawyers have learned this skill on the job. This means, many of the studies that measure the impact of client feedback programs are unknown to the lawyers themselves.

A few CMOs shared their experience hosting client feedback roadshows — educational sessions presented to lawyers across different offices at their firm that articulate the tangible and intangible benefits of client feedback. In addition to being able to teach lawyers about the impact client feedback can have on the firm’s relationships and business, these sessions help identify those lawyers who are willing (or need less convincing) to have their clients participate in a feedback session.

Starting small and measuring outcomes — Few firms jump headfirst into a large-scale client feedback programs. Most start with a smaller pilot program that is easier on budgets and calendars. Coincidentally, these pilot programs are a great way to keep engagement up among the group of willing partners identified during the feedback roadshows.

Nearly all the CMOs say they collect client feedback through executive visits, but that’s where many of their programs stalled out: Failing to scale client feedback past a small pilot program. Yet, these smaller pilot programs are a unique opportunity to collect firm-specific data to ultimately drive a larger-scale program.

Nearly all the CMOs say they collect client feedback through executive visits, but that’s where many of their programs stalled out.

One CMO shared their results from tracking the annual revenue of clients who had participated in the firm’s client feedback program. In year one, the firm saw an increase of 16% in received legal spend from those clients, and in year two, revenue grew by 24%. These are powerful numbers that keep the lawyers and leadership committed to these feedback programs.

Addressing the unstated concerns

Understanding what lawyers and law firm leaders leave unsaid is critical to why many CMOs experience pushback when it comes to formal client feedback programs.

One unspoken barrier to getting more enthusiastic buy-in to client feedback is the fear that the results of a client feedback interview will be used to scrutinize individual lawyers. Despite CMOs reiterating to their lawyers that client feedback is used to improve the firm’s overall performance and build stronger client relationships, lawyers remain skeptical.

Again, several roundtable CMOs shared how they dealt with this challenge as well.

Leadership monkey see, monkey do — One CMO recounted an anecdote in which their Managing Partner had a client participate in a feedback interview that uncovered areas in which the client said there could be improvements. Until then, the Managing Partner thought the relationship was running smoothly, but the client’s insight allowed the Managing Partner to bring back to the firm the idea that “in every instance, we find something that we didn’t know. Sometimes we learn about opportunities, not just ways you could do better.”

Feedback by design, not consensus — One CMO spoke about how they overcame another common challenge firms face: avoiding project inertia. Instead of asking lawyers to select the clients to be chosen in a client feedback program — a process that can delay a client feedback program for months — this firm identifies the clients it wants to interview, and leadership asks the lawyers to make the introduction.

Bringing the voice of the client into an organization is a well-known best practice across any industry sector. Feedback helps improve client loyalty and identify new business opportunities; however, before a law firm can get a formal client feedback program underway, there’s the unavoidable step of overcoming concerns to make sure leadership and lawyers are on-board with these critical initiatives.

You can access the Thomson Reuters Institute’s latest study on Client Feedback as part of your next discussion around client feedback within your law firm here.

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