Just under 40% of law firms conduct regular client surveys. Only 33% of firms go on to use client survey results to benchmark their legal services over time. Why is there such meagre interest in law firms about collecting, and acting upon, client survey data?
The statistics above were derived from Peppermint’s legal sector benchmark survey report 2016. The report compares the Legal, Accountancy and Management Consultancy sectors. One accountant is quoted as saying:
to be honest, once a piece of work is completed we are often too busy to maintain relationships
The report suggests that prioritising chargeable work to such an extent that other business development activity is virtually ignored is common to all three sectors.
I’m sure this is true but I’d suggest a more fundamental reason why client surveys are not done, analysed and developed into action plans more frequently.
Absence of frameworks and processes for client survey analysis
I suspect that most law firms do not have in place a framework, supported by more detailed processes, for analysing client feedback and instituting reforms to improve the client experience. Hence any client survey work that is done is haphazard, intermittent and not translated directly into improved outcomes.
Setting up such a framework may appear daunting, but surely not because of any inherent difficulty with it. I think the daunting bit comes from the realisation that, initially at least, some fee earners are going to have to spend less time earning fees as they engage in the data analysis and subsequent process improvement work.
This objection should be overcome easily when considering the obvious benefits that improving client satisfaction scores can bring. Improving client satisfaction should:
- Increase the likelihood of getting more work from existing clients and
- Make it much more likely that existing clients will happily refer the firm to other potential clients.
As we all know, it is much easier to generate revenue from existing clients than finding new ones. As is also well known, the most successful means of securing new clients is via referrals.
Looked at this way, setting up a framework to analyse and act upon client feedback should be seen as a significant revenue opportunity rather than the dead weight of non-chargeable work.
What could a client feedback framework look like?
Approaching this from a project management perspective I would expect to see a framework outlined as follows.
- A rolling programme is set-up for the purpose of creating client surveys, ensuring sufficient data is collected, analysing that data and improving client experience as a result.
- Roles and responsibilities of everyone connected with the programme are defined.
- Individual change projects within the programme are managed properly.
- The whole programme is kept under continuous review, with the focus on benefits delivered to clients and the firm.
A programme is usually defined as: a group of projects and change management activities which, taken together, are designed to achieve a discernible change in an organisation. So in the present context each significant aspect of the client survey programme – especially process improvement activity designed to improve client experience – should be run as a project. All the projects will be related and they should all be designed to deliver specific outcomes with the aim of improving the client experience in some way.
The key to being successful with a framework like this is to strike the right balance between project management activity which is light enough to be followed yet rigorous enough to ensure successful outcomes. This in turn depends upon the people involved and the working relationship they have with each other.
Roles and Responsibilities
It is vitally important that roles and responsibilities are clearly assigned. In other words, specific people are specifically tasked with various aspects of the programme. The most important aspect is responding to the client survey data properly. Inevitably, this will involve driving and facilitating change by the firm to improve the client experience.
The problem here of course is the attendant risk of failure. No-one likes to be associated with failure. This is especially true in law firms, so finding willing volunteers might be difficult.
To ease this difficulty it should be widely accepted that, ultimately, programme success will be assessed collectively across the firm. Those tasked with bringing about improvements should be viewed, and view themselves, as enablers and drivers.
Who should these people be and how should they be organised? I’d suggest the following:
The Executive Sponsor is the person responsible for ensuring the firm sees tangible business benefits from the programme. Clearly this task is not one to be taken lightly. Selecting a senior partner for this role would make sense. Acting in the role of Executive Sponsor, the partner concerned should report to the firm’s Management Board (or similar body) for the purpose of Programme delivery.
The Programme Board should have responsibility for overseeing all the projects initiated as part of the client survey programme.
At a minimum the Programme Board should be made up of representatives from throughout the firm, both fee earning and non-fee earning. A common reason for project failure is lack of buy-in throughout organisations. Reaching out, both formally and informally, to generate widespread support for any change initiatives will increase significantly the likelihood of project success.
There is also a good case for co-opting a client representative onto this Board. I’m pretty sure that all firms, especially those offering business services, have some clients who are considered particularly friendly and constructive. Hence it should be possible to ask them if they would give up a little of their time to help improve the services all clients receive from the firm.
I accept however that inviting clients in to review some things which are not done especially well would be a bold step and not without risk. Nevertheless having someone from outside the firm cast a fresh eye over some current client issues, and the means of addressing them, is invaluable. In the absence of a client, perhaps this might be a role for an independent consultant?
Someone should be appointed as project manager, with responsibility for managing projects which form part of the programme. It need not be the same person for all projects but to increase the likelihood of successful outcomes, every project should have a project manager assigned to it. The project manager should report to the Programme Board, work alongside the Executive Sponsor and have day to day responsibility for their projects.
Is it worth it?
A recent ‘mystery shopping’ exercise conducted by Shoppers Anonymous, as reported on the Legal Futures website, returns some truly appalling results for law firm efforts at following up initial enquiries from prospective clients. The Shoppers Anonymous Chief Executive, Johnathan Winchester, is quoted as saying that too few firms ‘talk about customer service at [Management] Board level’.
One benefit of setting up a framework along the lines suggested in this post is that it should help embed consideration and review of customer service within formal decision making structures in law firms.
It seems most law firms believe that seeking client feedback regards service delivery is not worth the effort. I’m assuming that even fewer firms see the point of creating a structured framework for generating, assessing and acting upon client survey data.
I really struggle to understand this point of view.
The ultimate aim of creating a client survey framework is not to improve client feedback scores per se, but to generate more work and enjoy the profits that flow from it. Surely this is worth the effort?