It is a rare gift for a lawyer who has spent an entire career solving clients’ problems to be able to sit down with a client, truly listen to the client’s assessment of the relationship, get feedback and—most importantly—act on the feedback.
As a consequence, law firms often confuse client feedback interviews with “thank you” visits from leadership. The two types of client interaction are both valuable as client experience exercises and, while different, both essential to protect client relationships, grow client relationships and deepen client loyalty.
We often say that client feedback is 85% listening and 15% talking. It is an opportunity for clients at all levels of the relationship to share what they value not only from the work and relationship they have with the firm but also share competitive intelligence about what other firms are doing, how those firms are selected and how different firms add value—the kind of value that does not show up on a bill. The outcome of true client feedback is essentially a bullet-point action plan for greater client service and an outline for what the firm must do to protect the client relationship from competitor firms.
This differs from a thank you visit in one fundamental way. Clients typically know virtually nothing about the firm beyond the narrow set of interactions they have with one individual (or small group). In a hypercompetitive marketplace, one that is defined by a scarcity of resources on the client side, the client does not have time or opportunity to invest in learning about the firm in a broader context.
That is where the leadership visit comes in and supports client feedback efforts. While a leadership visit, like a client feedback interview, should never be positioned as a bait and switch (selling opportunity), it is an important opportunity for firm leadership to engage valued clients in conversations about the firm strategy, marketplace observations and investments in greater service to clients.
Fundamentally, clients need their law firms to succeed. The cost for a company to replace outside counsel is massive. Every client wants efficiency, and that efficiency always comes from working with the best lawyer at the right level with a strong history of working for the client. But clients want more. Clients want law firms that are coming up with innovative ways to offer solutions for the assigned work and to proactively tackle potential challenges. While a thank you visit is primarily for expressing the firm’s appreciation of the work from the client, it is even more important for leadership to expressly share how the firm is striving to make the client’s life easier.
Don’t discount the importance of either the client feedback visit or the thank you visit, which both allow for invaluable opportunities to strengthen the client relationship. But don’t confuse them either. They’ll only be truly valuable if they are kept as distinct client experiences—one for listening and one for talking.
This post originally appeared on Bloomberg BNA’s Big Law Business website on October 21.