Show, Don’t Tell Apply an old creative writing tool to new client feedback

If an important client rated her satisfaction with your firm’s service quality as a “five” on a scale from one to seven, would you know how to improve her opinion? Would you be comfortable explaining why it matters?

Presented with this scenario, you might be tempted to do one of two things:

1. Breathe a sigh of relief that they weren’t ranked at four or lower.
2. Say “Hmmm…. interesting.” and file the results, never to be seen or spoken of again.

You have other – and better- options. Most of those options involve using the feedback to improve service delivery in a way that increases your esteem and trustworthy reputation among clients. This, presumably, was the original intent of your feedback request anyway. Right? Right.

Data points can fit neatly into bar-graphs, but they can also be useless when one of your lawyers keeps doing something that irks her client.

The old creative writing maxim “Show, don’t tell” could help you frame client comments in a way that illustrates context and resonates with people inside your firm.

How it works

Say, for example, your client rates her lawyer’s communication efforts as “satisfactory”. Here are a few ways you could aid interpretation and act accordingly:

  • Ask the client to describe the context surrounding her comments. Dig for specifics, if not facts.
    • Why is a certain process working/not working well? How often does it happen? How does it impact on your client, her organization and her objectives?
    • Your report could describe the setting the client works in or the back story – experiences, facts, etc. – that helps readers understand what the client really means.
    • You could also mention secondary characters adjacent or influential to what’s happening or foreshadow a future development, such as your client’s CEO, competition or investors.
  • Identify actions that lawyer needs to update and the effort it would require.
    • The client might say that she’d appreciate a monthly work-in-progress status report that she can use in meetings with stakeholders because she doesn’t have the time or resources to do this on her own.
    • You could help the relationship lead at your firm create the report template. Are you willing to assist with this or find alternate resources? Would the investment result in a closer, more trustworthy relationship with the client? Would it differentiate (and improve) your service model? Could the template be used for other clients?
  • Identify behaviours that the client appreciates or that need to change. Billing procedures, responsiveness and communication often fall into this category.
    • Improving satisfaction might require a change to career-long habits and ingrained or efficient processes. Unfortunately, this means dealing with personalities.
    • The results are often best for your firm, but temporarily painful for your people. A thoughtful change-management strategy would alleviate friction and equip you with firm-sanctioned language that persuades colleagues of the value of the exercise.
  • Include dialogue if you are quoting from an interview. Direct feedback helps readers hear what the client is saying and how she is saying it.
    • Sometimes, what the client doesn’t say is actually more useful. Does she gloss over or refuse to comment on certain aspects of your services? Does her description of “value” align with yours?

Why it matters

Word of mouth referrals from friends, family and professional experts are still viewed as the most trustworthy sources of information and business. But trust in organizations and their leaders fell to record lows in Canada this year and creativity thrives in workplaces where people aren’t afraid to share ideas.

I’m not advising you to extrapolate feedback to the nth degree or make rash assumptions (which would be downright dangerous). But by applying some creativity, your feedback efforts could do more than evaluate satisfaction or lawyer performance – they could spur the type of innovation that distinguishes your services, brings you closer to your clients and keeps your firm in business for a very long time.