Client feedback and business development

The new Outcomes Focused Regulations (OFR), increased competition in the legal services market and the changes in the way potential clients look for legal advice are all factors that should be encouraging law firms to spend some time looking at how their client feedback works and exploring how they can act on and use this feedback to the maximum.

For compliance purposes, law firms should have systems in place to demonstrate how they comply with OFR as the onus is on the law firm to be able to prove, if required by the SRA, that they provide a proper standard of service to their clients and one that is in their best interests. This can only be substantiated by asking the client about their experience of the service and legal advice received.

Why client recommendations are important

Client feedback surveys are not just something that should be done to comply; in the new legal environment they should be seen as part of the business development and marketing processes. For example, positive reviews from satisfied clients will spread the word about how good your service is; recommendations from clients can bring in new clients and new revenue; and client suggestions can improve services.

The big legal brands, including not just obvious names like the Co-op, but large law firms with high volumes of consumer work, leading claims management companies and new entrants into the legal market, will be spending big bucks on marketing and advertising in the next few years to support their expansion plans.

Smaller law firms are not in a position to compete head on in the same way but using good client feedback as a marketing and business development tool is one relatively low cost but effective way to spread the word about your firm.

Word of mouth marketing is likely to become increasingly important in the legal services sector where for most of the population the need for a solicitor is not a regular one, but, when required, is frequently a “distress” purchase. In these circumstances, the experiences of others are vital and good feedback from an existing client is priceless.

Clients who have used you for many years are clear examples of the trust and confidence someone has been prepared to place in your expertise and service and their feedback is a clear indication of your solid reputation. The people using your law firm can be champions of your service and can help to increase awareness of your brand, reputation, and potentially generate more business.

So, use any non-confidential information from client surveys for your marketing and PR. Put good client feedback on your website, in your brochures, and advertisements and any other marketing and PR that you use. Also, as the internet becomes increasingly important as a marketing channel and a route to law firms and solicitors for potential clients, examine the options to spread the word about your services through social media.

If law firms still are not sure about the value of spreading the word via client recommendations, here are a couple of recent survey results that might persuade them.

First, a consumer survey in 2012 commissioned by the Legal Services Board’s Consumer Panel found that consumers were “starting to exert their buying power” when looking for legal services and more were “shopping around” when choosing legal representation. In 2012, 22 per cent of consumers shopped around when looking for legal advice, up from 19 per cent in 2011, while 57 per cent said that they found it easy to compare legal providers compared to only 51 per cent in 2011. These are relatively small changes over a year but, if the trend continues, independent information (ie from the client) on a law firm’s services will become increasingly important.

You can see more on this on the Legal Services Consumer Panel Site in the News section for May 2012.

Secondly, a recent YouGov consumer survey comparing solicitors with their claims management company counterparts may be of interest. One of its findings was that “traditional advisors like solicitors seem better at offering an overall good standard of service and settlement”. They may lack the “touchy feely” strengths of the claims management companies but seem to offer a better balance of services, leading to a good overall settlement of the case (YouGov SixthSense Personal Injury Report, June 2012). Again, if law firms have the evidence from clients that they like their services then they should use this evidence to compete.

Acting on client feedback can also lead directly to more business. First, you may be able to offer additional services to a satisfied client. The client may have come to you for a specific matter but may not realise that you also offer other legal services. Why not ask a question in the client feedback survey to see if they are interested in other services? If you keep your client databases up to date then you should also be contacting existing clients at regular intervals to check their need for legal advice.

Secondly, satisfied clients may have friends or relatives who are looking for legal advice and they may be willing to recommend potential clients to you (with the permission of the potential client). We are already developing client surveys for some law firms and accountants which offer contact names from satisfied clients which open up new business opportunities.

Make sure your client feedback is robust and effective

If you are using feedback from a client survey to help shape your business development and marketing, then you should make sure that your survey samples, questioning techniques and results analysis are robust. Here are some general tips to bear in mind:

  • Make sure the sample is as representative as possible and don’t pick and choose clients for the survey.
  • Take care in preparing the survey questions; don’t just ask about satisfaction with current services but explore interest in other services. Test out the questions before embarking on the full survey.
  • Set targets if you can such as “90 per cent or more of respondents should say “Yes”, or should give good ratings
  • Let clients know early on in your meetings or discussions that you would like to receive their feedback and that their input is important. Enthusiasm for it will prompt more responses, and probably more thoughtful ones.
  • Only undertake these surveys internally if you are sure you have the expertise and resources to see the process from questionnaire design and testing through to results analysis and recommendations.
  • Act on any issues raised regarding a specific matter immediately.
  • Don’t pick out the results that confirm what you want to hear and ignore the rest. Act on any issues raised which highlight a theme whether this is good or bad.
  • Communicate the details of the survey and key results to all staff internally: it is a reminder that marketing matters and good client relationships are important.
  • Use any non-confidential positive client feedback to spread the word about your services via as many channels as possible.
  • Make it easy for your clients to provide feedback.

You may think that most (other) firms do already carry out client feedback. However, the solicitor review site Legallybetter carried out a survey of over 160 smaller law firms’ websites in October 2012. The results show that only two firms (1.2 per cent) have any readily accessible online client feedback facility on their website.

As a market researcher for the last 20 years, you will not be surprised to hear that I would recommend that law firms outsource their client surveys to specialists.

David Mort is co-founder and Director of IRN Research, an independent research agency established in 1991. IRN provides services to legal services providers and other professional services companies. David is also a shareholder in Legallybetter Ltd which helps law firms set up client feedback services and grow their business.