The single greatest truth in any client feedback effort is simple: If you are not prepared to act on the feedback, don’t ask for it.
In every client feedback program—whether we are conducting the interviews ourselves or training the firm on how to conduct them—managing the clients’ expectations is critical to the program’s success. We repeat ourselves over and over that a promise is being made when you take the time to talk to a client and ask how the firm can add more value to the relationship. That promise is that the firm will act on the feedback.
Over the years, we have had dramatic experiences when a firm heard feedback and invested significant resources to address a client need but made the mistake of forgetting to let the client know the firm was working on that identified need. A firm must not only be prepared to act on the feedback but also create that ever important feedback loop in order to share the plan with the client and set the expectations appropriately.
Some of the best tips for acting on client feedback include:
- Clearly identify the follow-up actions for every client feedback interview.
- Identify who will be responsible for keeping the client up to date on the firm’s progress on completing those actions.
- Define the roles the lawyers will play. Whether it is the relationship partner or someone more junior to the client relationship, everyone serving the client can impact the client experience.
- Create an accountability plan. Set deadlines, identify next steps, clarify roles and adapt as circumstances change.
- Define the roles marketing, business development and client service professionals will play. A hallmark of the most successful client feedback programs is having someone own the initiative that is not in the client relationship and who can keep people accountable. By centralizing and standardizing the follow up on feedback, there is a much greater likelihood that the feedback will be acted on.
- Share the follow-up actions across the firm. When clients share feedback, often that feedback applies to many client relationships. Create a mechanism at the firm to share the best practices and client value adds and market those successes internally.
- Hold a follow-up agenda meeting with the client. Some feedback, in fact most feedback, creates opportunities to add value to the relationship and can be acted on quickly. After getting feedback from a client, let the client know what the firm heard as the next steps. Often the client will add further feedback to that agenda.
- Go back often and ask again. Things change much more quickly in the business world than in law firms. People change, strategies evolve and priorities are constantly reassessed. In your most important client relationships, make sure you stay constantly aware of the changes happening at your clients and use those changes as reasons to go back and get more feedback.
The last essential point is how to deal with difficult feedback. In every firm we work with, we make sure we have the support of senior leadership. In the rare instance that feedback is negative and difficult to deliver, we rely on the support of leadership in delivering that news. But the best strategy in delivering difficult feedback is to offer a solution and stick to it. The most confident managing partners and relationship partners put their clients’ needs ahead of the lawyers’ egos. They are prepared to act quickly with authority.
The vast majority of client feedback is both positive and productive. Clients tend not to continue working with firms and lawyers they don’t like, and truly negative feedback is not news to the relationship partners and lawyers who serve the client. Be prepared to act on the feedback, and the time spent on feedback efforts will be hugely valuable to not only the specific client relationships but the entire firm.