Practice development – Techniques and tips

November 1st, 2013
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By Louis Rood

After action, satisfaction – client feedback

When the time comes to close a file, there is one more thing to do. You have fulfilled your mandate, the litigation has run its course, the transaction has been concluded, the transfer registered. You have been paid for your services. What else remains?

It is client feedback. Take the opportunity to ask the client: What worked well? What could we have done better? Did we deliver as promised? What additional systems could improve our service?

The Chambers dictionary defines ‘feedback’ as ‘return of part of the output of the system to the input as a means towards improved quality or self-correction of error’ (William Geddie (ed) Chambers 20th Century Dictionary (W&R Chambers Ltd 1965) at 390).

The Oxford dictionary defines ‘feedback’ as ‘modification or control of a process or system by its results or effects, especially by the difference between the desired and actual results’ (GB Sykes (ed) Concise Oxford Dictionary 6ed (Claredon Press 1979) at 381).

Feedback is a widely applied mechanism used for the same purposes as a debriefing after completion of a mission, or a post-mortem discussion after the conclusion of any event, such as a game or election.

In a legal context, client feedback allows you to determine how accurate your initial (and subsequent) advice was, and to analyse the reasons for any misassessment.

Benefits of client feedback

  • Solidifying the relationship with the client.
  • Increasing client loyalty.
  • Clients appreciate this follow-up.
  • Learning from the experience.
  • Measuring your performance.
  • Gaining market research.
  • Obtaining primary and specific research on the specific client.
  • Defining required service standards and expectations.
  • Preventing loss of work.
  • Creating a platform for future work.
  • Identifying opportunities for growth.
  • Better understanding of the client’s business needs.
  • Acquiring strategic direction.
  • Turning clients into supporters, spreading the word.
  • Identifying and fixing what was wrong.
  • Getting guidelines to train your staff.
  • Assessing how profitable the job was.

A LexisNexis/WBG global survey (Terralex International Independent Law Firm Network Global Meeting, New Orleans 2013) revealed that:

  • 52% of global firms do not seek feedback.
  • 59% of firms not seeking feedback regard it as unimportant.
  • 91% of firms seeking feedback regard it as important or extremely important.
  • There is a lack of standardisation and methodology in seeking feedback.
  • There is confusion between a ‘thank you visit’, ‘sales call’, and ‘feedback’.

Practitioners need to work out which method works best for a particular client. One size does not fit all. Perhaps a personal visit, perhaps a telephone call. It may be better in certain circumstances for the person seeking the feedback not to be the person who acted in the matter. But avoid the impersonal ‘hotel chain’ questionnaire to be filled in.

The goal of client feedback is to create new conversations with clients. Client feedback is a form of competitive intelligence. It can effectively differentiate you, your approach, and your service levels from that of your competitors. Anyone who has ever conducted a candid exit interview with a departing employee knows how useful and constructive a frank disclosure of problem areas and practices can be.

But what happens if the client is not happy? Attorneys should be open to criticism, even if they might not welcome it. It enables the attorneys to identify where they should improve. If you are not talking to your clients, your competitors are.

Louis Rood BA LLB (UCT) is chairman of Fairbridges in Cape Town.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2013 (Nov) DR 19.