Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : May 2006

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 SOLO/SMALL FIRM PRACTITIONER

BY PAT YEVICS  

Client Surveys Easier Than Ever

Many years ago, I wrote a column about the importance of using client surveys as a marketing tool. (To read the original article, visit www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/marketing/mktgsurveys.htm.)

As I indicated in that earlier article, there are two reasons to survey clients. The first is to determine whether or not the client was happy with the service received, and the second is to determine if the client knows what other services you provide. Information obtained through client surveys can also be used to determine:

  • the level of satisfaction the client has with the work that has been performed
  • the client's perception of you and your staff
  • whether the client would refer you other clients
  • whether the client would use your services again
  • what suggestions the client would offer for improving the level of service
  • what criteria the client used in selecting you
  • the client's needs for future legal services
  • whether the client is aware of all the types of legal services that you provide

I still believe that using client surveys to see "how you did" is a good way to maintain solid relationships and ensure that you are in line to receive referrals from satisfied clients. However, my guess is that few (if any) solos who read the article four years ago actually surveyed their clients – not because they were not interested, but because it was time-consuming to send surveys and then tabulate the results. It would also be too expensive to hire an outside consultant to survey clients.

Some solo and small firm practitioners may have sent a quick "survey" at the end of a matter, but more than likely little was done with the information unless the problem was glaring.

Technology now makes it much easier and more cost-effective to survey your clients quickly and often. Using online surveys, you can now tailor a variety of surveys for specific clients or to ask specific questions.

I recently developed a survey for the MSBA Litigation Section using Zoomerang (www.zoomerang.com) and found it so easy that I knew this was a tool that could help solo and small firm practitioners. (Zoomerang is not the only online survey out there; others include Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com) and Question Pro (www.question pro.com).

Zoomerang and others provide free and basic services, but I do not recommend this level of service. Although expenses are always an issue for firms, you are a business and should expect to spend some money for professional-level services. The Basic Free service allows you to create surveys of fewer than 30 questions, view data online (results available 10 days after survey launch) and collect fewer than 100 responses per survey. However, for $199 per year, you can create much more advanced surveys, which will also allow you to "brand" your survey with your own information and look and even link to your own website, if you have one. (Note: I just discovered, while checking my account information, that you will automatically be renewed for the next year unless you change "Automatic Renewal" to No under Account Information.)

Zoomerang allows you to send your survey. The first step is to provide your e-mail list to Zoomerang, and they will send the survey. For many reasons which I will not list in this article, I do not think that this is the way to go. Collected e-mail addresses should be kept private and not given to outside vendors. (You are collecting e-mail addresses on your client intake form, aren't you?)

The second way to send the survey is for you to send the actual survey electronically to your clients via e-mail. This is a good option under certain circumstances, as it allows you to send the survey to one client at a time following the completion of a matter. You know the client who will receive the survey, and you are comfortable that they would be willing to complete an online survey. You can also send an online survey to a limited number of clients for whom you performed a certain type of matter or recently completed work. I would not recommend sending an online survey to a large number of clients. When you send this type of survey directly to be completed and returned online, the results are not confidential. You will know who sent the responses.

The third way to send a survey is to provide a link which the client can follow to complete the survey. This type of survey is completely confidential and can be done on a larger scale. You can send an e-mail to clients explaining that you have survey online, provide the link to the survey and ask them to complete it. You will need to have a website or blog to host this survey.

Zoomerang will also tabulate all the results as the surveys are taken and create a report. You can even allow some of the results to be shared with respondents to the survey.

As I have often said in other articles, technology is usually not the problem, and these online surveys are no different. It is very easy to create the survey using Zoomerang. They have all the tools necessary for creating your online survey, and it really is very easy. (The hard part is creating the actual survey.)

In preparing for this article, I did some research on creating an online survey and there was some information (which I will quote), but much of the information was about creating a good survey regardless of whether or not it is sent by postal mail or e-mail. This is especially true for the type of survey that solo and small firm practitioners will send. Since you will send surveys to people that you already know, many of the issues that were addressed in some of these articles do not apply because they are talking about sending surveys to the general public.

In an article entitled "Web-Based Surveys: Changing the Survey Process" , author Holly Gunn offered detailed discussion on the concerns and advantages of web-based surveys. There were also some interesting items on designing a survey. According to the article, "many of the same principles that govern other surveys apply to Web surveys." Some of the tips offered by the article include:

  1. keep the questionnaire brief and concise
  2. place confidential or personal questions at the end of the questionnaire
  3. have response categories in progressive order, usually from lower to highest
  4. combine categories such as "seldom" and "never" together.
  5. "that the first question was the most critical on the questionnaire and should be tied to the survey's purpose."
  6. writing an introduction to explain the survey.
  7. letting people know how long the survey will take and reporting on their progress
  8. not forcing people to answer a question before moving onto the next one.
  9. allowing people an alternative if they wish to print it and mail it.
  10. reassuring people about confidentiality and privacy.

In quoting another article, it also offered some tips concerning what to avoid:

  1. open-ended questions
  2. the response category of "other" that prevented respondents from selecting a provided category for a trivial reason
  3. response scale proliferation, i.e., using a six- or seven-point scale when a four- or five-point scale would be sufficient and more distinguishable
  4. asking participants to rank responses since research has shown respondents experience difficulty with ranking, especially with a list of more than six items.

In the past, it was time-consuming to create, send and tabulate client surveys. Technology has now made it easier and more cost-effective. This may be a good time to try a simple survey for a limited number of clients. After all, what you don't know can hurt you. Besides, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you hear.

To see an example of a client survey created in Zoomerang, visit www.msba.org/sec_comm/sections/solo/ and click on Sample Survey.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: May 2006

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