Good client feedback programs provide a structured format for firms to learn the best way to provide service to their clients. Many firms participate in traditional feedback and retention efforts such as client interviews. However, these programs often involve small groups of attorneys and don’t engage the firm’s full partnership or staff. Every member of a firm can benefit by having some involvement in the client feedback effort, as every member of the firm is engaged in client service.
Traditional client feedback programs often begin with a client interview, which is typically conducted by the chairman of the firm, department head or office managing partner. The interviewer will meet with the general counsel, as well as any other attorneys or executives who have contact with the firm. Marketing and business development professionals sometimes take part in these meetings to make sure all of the feedback is captured. In some cases, a firm will hire a consultant to conduct the interview. However the interview is conducted, the information gained from the process is returned to the firm and shared with the relationship partner and attorneys who serve the client.
The client interview can provide a great starting point for a client team, although it is not always necessary to conduct the interview first. Client teams are typically led by the relationship partner for the client and include critical timekeepers as well as attorneys who are in practice areas that could service the client in the future. The client team meets with regular frequency to discuss items such as current open matters, service offerings (current and potential), entertainment and outreach opportunities. Over time, members of the client team can change, but usually not significantly.
Although client teams may involve a larger number of participants than the client interviews, the overall number of participants in each program as compared to the size of the firm is small in most cases. Many of these programs occur in a bubble with little understanding from the greater firm of how they operate and what is learned. Everyone at every level of a firm should have a sense of responsibility to serve the client.
While client interviews and teams serve a critical function, firm-wide client feedback programs can be fun and innovative and involve firm members at almost every level. How can you make this happen? Here are a few ideas:
Tap into your attorneys’ competitive nature
Let’s face it — most attorneys are overachievers and competitive by nature. Why not turn their competitive instincts into a healthy rivalry. Award points for various types of client contact. Set parameters, create guidelines and make your mission clear. It becomes all about client outreach and encouraging attorneys to connect to their clients. Everyone can get involved in the fun by supporting these efforts. Secretaries can assist with the reporting of points and ensuring that attorneys submit their activities. All levels of support staff can assist in suggesting opportunities for client outreach. Finally, teams can compete against one another by department, practice, office or any sort of delineation that makes sense. The winner of the competition would be recognized by firm leadership, and prizes should be awarded!
Showcase your program
Talk about your competition or even traditional programs (client interviews and client teams) on your firm’s intranet or internal communications. While keeping proprietary information secure, you can still share information that would be helpful to the firm, such as how clients prefer to be communicated with and firsthand feedback on what your clients are thinking. Providing excerpts from interviews or progress of client teams will engender a sense of responsibility to the client from all members of the firm.
The benefits of wider involvement in the client feedback effort are immense. When a wider cross section of the firm takes ownership of their part in the client feedback process, clients in turn get better service.
Tips for Structuring a Program
Your innovative program essentially highlights what your attorneys do every day. The beauty is that it facilitates and encourages communication with the marketing and business development team, which is what we want to happen throughout the year.
- Make it fun.
- If the program is not fun, no one will want to participate, and the purpose is defeated. Create a theme. Get your creative team involved. Send periodic updates to the firm regarding the status.
- Make sure it is organized.
- The rules of the program need to be clear in order to avoid any confusion. The goal is to facilitate client outreach. Clients will sense if outreach is contrived or uncomfortable.
- Set a beginning and end.
- It is no fun to have a program drag on and on. People will lose interest. Setting a clear beginning and end provides a structured period of time and maintains enthusiasm.
- Work in teams.
- This is the critical part. Get as many people involved as you can that make sense. Everyone can have a role in it, and the fun part is allowing everyone to have a voice in the process. This is how great ideas are born.
- Declare a winner and award prizes.
- Everyone likes to be recognized for their efforts. Showcase the winner and share success stories.
Toni Wells is the associate director of business development at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. She is a member of the LMA Capital Chapter. Wells can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.