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Chicago firm discovers in-person interviews can sharply increase client service and satisfaction

A Chicago law firm goes the extra mile to ensure client satisfaction, sometimes even getting on a plane to do so. Like many firms, 37-attorney firm sends out client satisfaction surveys. But unlike most firms, it gets the responses via in-person interviews held at the clients’ places of business.

The visits are limited to the largest revenue-producing clients, says the managing partner. However, the others aren’t ignored. They get the same attention via personal phone calls, and if an issue gets raised during an interview, the firm follows up with a visit.

A time and money investment

The surveys are conducted only every two or three years because they require extensive preparation plus the meetings plus the travel time. Yet it’s worth the investment, the partner says.

Seeing that the firm takes the time and spends the money to travel, clients appreciate the firm’s commitment to service. As a result, they prepare for the interviews, and their comments are serious and thoughtful.

What’s more, a personal meeting allows the attorney interviewer to pick up nuances in tone and body language and thereby get an accurate picture of what the client really thinks. More still, during the visit, the interviewer has an opportunity to talk with the in-house counsel and the staff with whom the firm works.

A stranger as interviewer

The attorneys serve as interviewers, but each visit is made by an attorney who does not work with the client. Having someone who is a stranger promotes more candid feedback. The partner notes that some firms take that further and hire an outsider to do the interviews. Either way, it’s essential that the interviewer not be doing direct work with the client’s business because if there is an issue with the relationship partner or with some other person working on the matter, the client would not feel free to bring that up.

From respect to office services

To set up an interview, the firm calls and explains that it would like to get an opinion on the work. It emphasizes that its ongoing goal is to be “the best professional service provider” that client ever works with and that the purpose of the meeting is solely to get opinions and not to drum up more business.

Then it sends a written survey to talk about at the meeting. The survey asks for a 1-to-5 rating and also for comments in these areas:

  • How well the firm understands the business – provides the right advice and knows the industry and its concerns.
  • The business relationship – whether the firm recognizes the importance of the client, listens, and values the legal business.
  • Accessibility and responsiveness – are calls returned promptly, is the communication frequent enough, is the work completed on time, and are the attorneys available?
  • The quality of the work and if the advice is clear and easy to follow.
  • The convenience of the firm’s technology, including the phone system, e-mail, data management system, and website.
  • Whether the cost accurately reflects the value of the work.

Here the firm also asks if the client is aware that the firm does not charge for copies and long-distance calls and whether that makes a difference in the attitude toward the firm. This section also asks if the rates are competitive with those of other firms.

  • The bills – whether they are clear, sent on time, provide enough information, and whether the amount has ever been unexpectedly high.
  • The attorney relationship – if the client has ever not related well with or had concern about the judgment or performance of any of the attorneys.
  • The office – the level of satisfaction with the paralegals, secretaries, receptionists, and office support.

The questionnaire also asks in what areas the client is most satisfied with the firm and where improvements need to be made.

True confessions

Each interview requires extensive preparation, which takes the form of soul-searching on the part of the attorneys.

The interviewer meets with all the attorneys working on the client’s matters to find out what issues might come up. Each attorney is asked three questions:

What work have you done for this client?

What results have you obtained for the client?

What hiccups have arisen?

That way, if somebody says “I had to write off some time, because we weren’t efficient,” the interviewer is prepared to respond should that later come up.

The reviews also help keep service at a high level, the partner notes that no one wants to be in that meeting talking about a problem of any consequence. It’s no fun to stand there and confess to poor service.

A plea for candor

The interview itself begins with a plea for candor. The interviewer explains that the firm is open to all criticisms, large and small. The interviewer also assures the client that no one will get disciplined or fired because of what’s said. From there, the conversation follows the framework of the survey questions.

Usually, the meetings are extraordinarily positive events with the interviewers having to push hard to get criticisms.

But any negative remark, no matter how off-the cuff, gets noted. One point he pays special attention to is the speed with which phone calls are returned. Most firms have a 24-hour return policy, but he maintains an unforgiving stance and says calls should be returned within 24 seconds. There’s business to be lost when a client gets impatient waiting for a callback.

Losing clients to pet peeves

Afterwards, the firm sends a summary of what was said and asks the client to correct any misinterpretations and also to add comments. The partners then meet with the attorneys working on the matter and discuss what changes need to be made in the service.

But they don’t stop there. They tell the client what changes are being made in response to the comments and ask “do you think this is the right way to deal with this situation?” The issues are many times quite small, he says, but the firm addresses them with great seriousness, because in a service profession little things set people off.

One client, for example, said the e-mail attachments were getting included in all the reply messages and were clogging up the mailbox. The technology department corrected that, and the firm notified the client. It was not a tremendous problem but it was worth addressing, because what’s one person’s pet peeve is likely another’s pet peeve as well.

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