By Tara Weintritt
Most attorneys view client feedback as a specific window into what’s working and not working in a client relationship. While that’s an important part of it, those attorneys may be missing out on the bigger picture. Feedback is also a full-contact sport that should touch almost every aspect of firm life — from diversity, associate retention and firm culture to strategy, billing and client team initiatives.
The core of feedback is to make sure your clients are happy and to learn what matters most to them. However, some firms are also taking the knowledge gleaned from feedback and using it to differentiate services, pilot initiatives, redirect internal policies and create data-driven strategies. Those are the firms positioning themselves for success in an ever-changing and increasingly competitive industry.
Relationship Drivers and What They Tell Us
When we conduct client feedback interviews, we most often receive insights related to the following relationship drivers:
- Understanding the client and business
- Managing expectations
- Proactive communication
- Adding value
- Billing and budgets
- Team approach
- Proactive insights
- Industry focus
These topics generally cover what’s most important to clients and how they grade the success of firms in solving their problems and making their lives easier. Some of these topics are typically viewed as baseline expectations (i.e. communication and responsiveness) and others are the differentiators that can set firms apart (i.e. proactive insights and industry focus on value).
It’s important to remember that feedback can be given and received in different ways and can then be used to inform most areas of the firm.
From Pricing to Firm Culture (and Everything In Between)
Below are several examples we have observed and participated in that demonstrate how firms are using client feedback for much more than just client-specific improvements. While these examples only cover a fraction of the areas feedback can inform, they give perspective regarding how feedback is used to successfully impact firmwide policies and strategies.
Pricing Strategies: We are seeing more firms use client feedback around billing, rates and value to inform firmwide pricing and fee strategies with clients. While one client’s feedback tells you how that client views the expense, analyzing a large pool of feedback tells a firm more specifically where it lands in relation to competitors, how willing clients are to pay its fees, and whether clients care more about management of expectations and meeting projected budgets or the overall price tag. Clients are relentless in their desire for more transparency, trust, value and predictability with billing. Specific feedback around their pricing and billing expectations helps align goals, avoid frustrations and deepen relationships.
Associate Retention: One major challenge facing the legal industry now is associate retention. We have seen firms using client feedback (coupled with internal associate feedback) to address associate needs, demonstrate associate value to the firm, determine the feasibility of remote work based on the client perspective and offer associates personalized training to improve skill development.
Strategic Growth: Far too many firms create strategic plans and visions for growth without direction or feedback from clients. Leading firms making meaningful progress seek feedback from clients on their strategic plans, growth, geographic expansion, industry focus and lateral acquisitions to ensure alignment and support with clients.
Diversity: Another commonly discussed area of client feedback is diversity. While different clients will have varying expectations around firm diversity, feedback taken together is being used to drive new firm strategies and goals. We are seeing firms partner with clients (and groups of clients) to create mentoring and diversity programs, learn from one another and strengthen cross-team relationships further.
Client and Industry Team Initiatives: We encourage firms to utilize client feedback as much as possible when creating client and industry team initiatives. Feedback is the only way to ensure the team being built will meet client demands and provide the added value to justify the time and effort. Aligning team initiatives with feedback allows for clarity of roles, implementation, alignment with client goals and longevity of team success.
Alumni Programs: Firm alumni are an often overlooked and highly important source of feedback. Firm attorneys often leave to go in-house with a client and maintain close and valued relationships with their former firms. While those relationships are usually positive, alumni often have a greater understanding of firms’ weaknesses and challenges. In addition to tapping those alumni for candid feedback, we also see firms using the feedback to retool alumni programs, tailoring them to what alumni most need (training, networking, industry insights, etc.), and building stronger relationships with them in the process.
Firm Culture and Happiness: Hand in hand with associate retention, we are seeing more firms focus on improving their overall cultures and happiness of the attorneys, while aligning with clients’ needs, priorities and growth. Client feedback offers an outsider’s perspective on how enjoyable the attorneys are to work with and the perceived culture of the firm. Clients rave about lawyers who love what they do and often share very specific examples of how the culture and character of the lawyers impact their decision to hire or stay with the firm.
Attorney Training: One feedback interview will reveal perceived weaknesses of the team working with the client. But more broadly, common themes among feedback show firms where their attorneys fall short and how to tailor internal training that will have the most impact. Aligning your business development, client service and professional development training with the expectations and needs of the client allows for greater lawyer engagement and return on investment for the firm.
Feedback can be highly impactful at firms when used to its fullest. It can also be viewed as the ultimate collaboration with clients. Every firm is looking to increase stickiness with clients. Full-contact feedback is a very effective way for firms to make client relationships stickier while improving service, creating data-driven strategies and building client loyalty.
Wicker Park Group
Tara Weintritt is a partner with Wicker Park Group. Conducting over 3000+ client interviews on behalf of the legal industry, Weintritt and her partners are dedicated to helping law firms strengthen and deepen their relationships with in-house counsel and executives through client feedback, business development training and other client engagement programs.