Larry Bodine's blog and Law.com reported today that Ballard Spahr has done something that I think is just plain brilliant. They have brought on board a person whose full-time job is to simply interview clients, and report her findings to the firm. This is sheer genius.
Client surveys are complex, expensive, and often don't really get at the qualitative issues. Having partners interview clients often doesn't work because a) they're not skilled in interviewing; b) the client is often uncomfortable telling the attorney that his firm has done a mediocre job.
Also, a client interview is not simply a way to receive information. It's also a way to communicate to the client, loud and clear, that you care about their experience, and you take their responses seriously. By hiring someone to do this full-time, Ballard has put their money where their mouth is. This is just plain smart, and an elegant solution to what's often a nasty problem.
One suggestion: if the firm is going to solicit client feedback, it has to put systems in place to actually act on what they learn. In other words, simply getting the feedback isn't enough. It has to make a difference. They have to take the information and do something with it. Receiving feedback and then being perceived as ignoring it is far worse than not asking for it at all.
With that caveat, this is a wonderful idea.