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Powerful Client Surveys

Clients will tell you the most interesting information about yourself and your firm, assuming you’re prepared to hear it. Client surveys, when done well, are a powerful tool in your data gathering arsenal.

I smile to myself when I hear partners say they know how their clients feel about them, so a survey isn’t necessary. It’s important to realize that, while you may have a grasp of what a handful of clients think about some aspect of you, you probably don’t know everything they think about the total package that is you and your firm.

In my experience, clients usually do have opinions about your timeliness, responsiveness, billing methods, innovation, technology, initiative, your support team’s client service skill, the usefulness and eye appeal of the documents you provide, your communication skill, and your firm’s reputation. Many clients are also interested in helping you get better at what you do, because that is in their best interests. But you will never know what they think if you don’t ask.

How you ask the questions is important. Plenty of firms include brief surveys in their bills or attached to a deliverable, or perhaps on-line at the firm’s web site. The surveys will often ask clients to numerically rate certain aspects of the firm’s or a professional’s behavior (very often, responsiveness and timeliness are included). Sometimes, there’s a little space at the bottom of the survey for signatures and comments.

While this is not a bad method, it only gives you part of the client’s story. A more useful and more interesting approach is to survey your best clients (because you’d like more clients in this category), either in person or by phone, whichever is more convenient for the client. Ask them closed- and open-ended questions so you get both hard and soft data. Open-ended questions can be as simple as What should our firm start doing? and What should we stop doing?, or Why did you choose our firm? and Why do you stay with us? The answers to questions like these will give you plenty of actionable information from the best possible source.

Your marketing director or an outside consultant should handle this kind of survey. Experience has shown me that strangers or relatively unknown employees can get more and better information from clients. In this scenario, there is no danger of hurting the surveyor’s feelings or damaging a long-standing relationship like they might have with your professionals.

The great beauty of a well thought out and executed client survey is that the results are inarguable among your partners. While partners will often argue incessantly about the meaning or value of internally generated data, they simply cannot do that with client-driven data. The only thing they can do is digest the information (much of which is far more laudatory than most partners fear) and then, if they're smart, act on it.

© Melinda Guillemette 2009