April 06, 2021 Feature

How to Use Bad Reviews to Attract Good Clients

Patrick Palace
Feedback from customers is just another chance to improve your game.

Feedback from customers is just another chance to improve your game.

HAKINMHAN/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Who likes bad client reviews? Bad reviews are hard to read. They can feel slanderous, can be completely false, or have facts blown out of proportion. Although it is often said that we are our own worst critic, every time we see a bad review, it feels so unjustified, so unfair. Who says those things?

Bad reviews feel like a megaphone announcing to the whole world that we “suck!”

We spend all these years to become a lawyer, we work long hours to make things right for clients, and we are really good at what we do. Yet, there it is. A review for everyone to see blaming you for everything that went wrong.

So, what do we do? Often, we know the client and his personality, and so perhaps we say to ourselves, “That guy is just a whiner—you just can never make him happy.” Then we do nothing. We may also reflect on all the clients who are really happy. Remember that one letter you got from the happiest client in the world calling you “amazing”? So, we say, “I don’t need to listen to that idiot! What does he know?” Again, we do nothing.

Maybe as we read the bad review, we start writing a response in our head right on the spot, tearing the reviewer apart for his stupid insults. Oh, there are so many things we could say.

Let’s be honest, we have a million reasons why the bad review is wrong, unfair, biased, and not credible. So, we better do something, right? It’s time to put the facts straight for everyone to see. But, before you do, let’s look at this a little bit closer.

So far, we have let the ego make all the responses for us here. Egos rarely make the best decision, especially those that have been kicked. So, let’s consider another way to address bad reviews.

First, let’s toss out the word “bad.” It starts us off on the wrong foot. It’s just a review.

Second, rethink how you see the reviewer. Imagine if you were a start-up tech company and you were about to release your first product to the public. In preparation, you send the product out to a select group and ask them to beta test it. In exchange for getting a cool new product for free, you ask everyone to give you suggestions, feedback, and comments. No response is bad. All are welcome because they are helping you find problems and build a better product. This is how you should regard reviewers.

Third, reviews are your best tool to succeed. When your beta testers start giving you feedback and suggestions, look for comments that you can use to make a better product or give better customer service. Assume that there is truth in every piece of feedback and that you can use it to make more customers happy. But you need to look for it. If you start with the idea that your product is perfect, then you look for reasons to reject feedback. If, instead, you start with the idea that you need help, ideas, and solutions to create this amazing product, then, when you get feedback, it’s all valuable. Assume everyone is chipping in to help you. Find the “help” in the feedback.

Put another way, feedback from a customer is just another chance to improve your game.

Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll has a unique way of looking at this. He has coined the phrase “always compete.” In his book Win Forever: Live, Work, and Play Like a Champion (Portfolio, 2010), he explains that “always compete” to him “is not about beating your opponent. It is about doing your best; it is about striving to reach your potential; and it is about being in relentless pursuit of a competitive advantage in everything you do.”

Always competing means that you learn from those around you. Consider the value of seeing your clients as teachers. Value their feedback as a tool for you to offer better customer service and create a more consumer-centric law firm.

Fourth, more reviews are better. Put away the idea that reviews are an “us versus them” construct and see them instead as an opportunity for you to fill your cornucopia to the brim with ways to improve and grow. Every piece of feedback has value, and the more you get, the more you know. Everyone understands that a large survey sample has more valuable information than a small sample does. Get as many reviews as you can and then sort, prioritize, find commonalities, and make changes. And, hey, if you get more good reviews, then you are building your high star rating.

Fifth, fail fast and then succeed faster. Try to avoid the mentality that everything your law firm does is perfect and shouldn’t be changed. “We have always done it this way, and it’s always worked out.” Times are changing, and reviews are a tool to drive your firm into the new legal marketplace. But you can’t get there unless you take some chances. Don’t be scared to fail. Don’t be scared to recognize that something isn’t working or isn’t working anymore. Don’t let your ego convince you that just because you did it, and it worked before, that it’s the best way or the only way. Instead, listen to your reviews and change what isn’t working. The sooner you realize something isn’t working, the sooner you will find what does work.

Building a Review Flywheel

The premise of the flywheel is simple. In the words of author Jeff Haden, “A flywheel is an incredibly heavy wheel that takes huge effort to push. Keep pushing and the flywheel builds momentum. Keep pushing and eventually it starts to help turn itself and generate its own momentum—and that’s when a company goes from good to great.” (Jeff Haden, “Best from the Brightest: Jim Collins’s Flywheel, a Classic Business Concept Revisited,” INC. Magazine, January 21, 2014.)

Brad Stone describes an early version of Amazon’s flywheel in The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (Little, Brown and Company, 2013):

Bezos and his lieutenants sketched their own virtuous cycle, which they believed powered their business. It went something like this: lower prices led to more customer visits. More customers increased the volume of sales and attracted more commission-paying third-party sellers to the site. That allowed Amazon to get more out of fixed costs like the fulfillment centers and the servers needed to run the website. This greater efficiency then enabled it to lower prices further. Feed any part of this flywheel, they reasoned, and it should accelerate the loop.

It’s important to visualize reviews as a flywheel. A review-fueled flywheel collects client reviews and feedback, which are used to improve firm systems, which increase customer service and satisfaction, which generate more good reviews, which are seen by more potential clients resulting in more client calls, more converted new clients, and more feedback and improvements. In other words, reviews drive new clients to your firm—if you know how to build the proper flywheel.

Ten Tips to Build Your Flywheel

1. Invite reviews. You can’t catch fish unless you get your line wet. If you want reviews, you had better ask for them. Ask for reviews, make it easy to give a review, make sure that others can see the review.

Companies such as Amazon have made product reviews part of the consumer buying process. Today, most people read the reviews before they buy. At a minimum, consumers look at the stars to see if others like the product (closer to five stars) or hate the product (closer to one star). In minutes we can decide if we should buy the product or call the law firm depending on what others say. The stronger the consensus among reviewers, the more outcomes are driven.

So, if your firm wants to harness the power to the five-star rating and have a raving “helpful” review posted to the top of the reviews for everyone to see on Google, AVVO, Facebook, etc., then you need to start asking your clients to review your firm.

Although firms can have different strategies as to when they ask their clients for a review, I have found that the purpose and desired outcome of the reviews decide the timing. For example, the best time for a high-star review is when clients are happy with you and your firm. Ask them for a review when you win the case, resolve the case, give them a settlement, charge less than they expected, or any other favorable moment that may get a good review.

On the other hand, if your goal is to get feedback to be used internally, then asking clients randomly during the course of their case is the best time to get their comments, feedback, concerns, and recommendations. Net Promoter Score (NPS) is often used in these situations to see how likely your clients will refer others to your firm. If you are not familiar with NPS, it is a score used to measure customer experience. The score is measured by a single-question survey. The survey question is typically something like “How likely are you to refer friends and family to [YOUR LAW FIRM NAME]?” Reviewers then rate their response on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 to 6 being a “detractor,” 7 to 8 “neutral,” and 9 to 10 a “ promoter.” Scoring yields a result from -100 to +100. Companies such as Amazon and Netflix have very high scores at 70, while industries such as Internet carriers average 16. Lawyers as an industry average an NPS of 25. We clearly have work to do!

So, next, make the review process easy. Send your clients an e-mail and a link to the place you would like their public review to be posted. Providing your client a link to Google or another cite makes the likelihood of getting the review that much better. There are also companies you can pay to do this for you.

2. Respond immediately. Regardless of whether a review was asked for or not, you should respond immediately. Many sites track how long it takes for a response and post that time for all to see. The faster your response time, the better. Clients like to know they are being heard, and potential clients like to know that you aren’t too busy and that clients get fast, personal responses.

3. Responding to a good review. Good reviews deserve a response, too. Don’t simply ignore them. Your client took her time to go to the site and write a review. Honor her time and efforts. Be thankful and recognize the client as valued. Even if you have stock responses, it’s best if you can personalize your response. For example, try not to sign the response “Customer Service Team,” but instead make it from the attorney who handled the case, the managing partner, or the CEO. Clients like it when their nice comments are recognized by the person they wanted to read the review.

4. Responding to a “bad” review. First, there is no such thing as a “bad” review. Recognize the value that the review offers. Look for the opportunities to improve your firm. Focus on being client-centric.

Timely responses are even more important for negative reviews. Don’t let a negative review sit without a response. Readers may adopt it if you don’t respond. Your response should be targeted to the readers of the review. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you are responding for the sole purpose of answering the reviewer’s challenges. Your response should take the higher ground and give value to all readers. Never suggest that the reviewer is unreasonable or wrong. In fact, give the reviewer full deference and grace. Thank the reviewer for bringing these issues to your attention. Taking the higher ground is always the best method. For example, by answering in a positive manner, you aren’t seen as aggressive, defensive, and angry. By inviting the reviewer to contact you personally to discuss the problems and look for a solution, you show your reasonableness and willingness to hear your client’s problems. Your response tells readers that you are ready and willing to fix their problems. You convey that your clients/customers are not just numbers, that profit is not your only goal, and that customer service is your priority. By answering quickly, you tell everyone that you are responsive and that reviews are important to you. In the end, remember to be empathetic. Be real. Use the review as an opportunity to gain other readers’ trust.

5. Know your RPCs. Following the rules of professional conduct (RPCs) when responding to reviews should not be a problem if you follow the suggestions above. Regardless, be smart. Don’t share client confidences or breach attorney-client privilege in your response. Don’t give away any case strategy or say anything that would harm your client’s case. Even if the review came from a former client whose case is over, apply the same rules. Always take the safe road when responding in a public forum. Remember, what goes on the Internet stays on the Internet, forever.

6. Use all reviews internally. Set up systems in your office to look at each review, particularly the reviews from unhappy clients. As a matter of course, make sure that the review goes to the attorney(s) who worked with the reviewer. Give the attorney a chance to speak to the client and try to make things right. If there are clear errors by your office, then immediately find solutions and solve the client’s problems. Tell the client about the solutions and thank them for bringing them to your attention. If the review is positive, double down. Keep doing what is working and continue to make your service even better. Thank clients for the kind review and let them know how much you value them.

7. Team reviews. Designate a small team to collect and analyze all reviews, NPS ratings, and other feedback. Begin with sorting the reviews into two types: (1) system issues and (2) personnel issues. If the reviews are repeatedly pointing to the same or similar client pain points or service problems, then it may be time to change a system that is not working. If a particular employee/attorney continues to get complaints that others are not getting, then you may have a personnel issue. If this is the case, provide fresh training to your staff to highlight the issue and the solution. Many problems can be fixed with some customer service training and/or refresher training regarding using office systems efficiently and effectively. For example, if a client is complaining about never getting calls back, then see if your staff member is following the firm policy of promptly returning calls. If she isn’t, then it’s a personnel issue. If she is, then perhaps your callback policy needs to be changed.

8. Watch for trends. Track all your reviews. Divide the complaints and praise into categories. Chart the feedback. Keep track of the top repeated issues. Identify if these issues are unique to any one person or if they are systemic. Identify if the most common issues are trending upward or downward. Take action as needed, but never let problems go without identifying them and taking steps to fix them.

NPS scores should be tracked person by person. Keep track of the people in your firm who are building a higher and higher NPS score and those whose scores are low. Using the feedback from your clients, work with staff members with low scores to show them how to improve customer service by giving clients what they need and want. Turn your top scorers into examples and trainers. Make your firm culture one of consumer-centric service.

9. Use all feedback. Assume all the reviews, feedback, and NPS scores are true and accurate. Obviously, this will not always be the case. However, if you assume accuracy, then you avoid the mistakes of the ego. For example, don’t blow off a review solely because the client is a challenging person. Ask how you could have avoided the problem and what needs to be done to avoid it in the future. Similarly, if you get a great review, share it with your team. Use it to strengthen your team culture and raise morale. Hand out kudos and congratulate those who get great reviews.

10. Use feedback to drive your flywheel. Use change to drive better feedback. By tracking your reviews and categorizing feedback, you can identify both personnel issues and systemwide issues at your firm. Use the feedback to create changes at your firm to improve the pain points your clients are telling you about. Similarly, where your reviews are praising your work, do more of those right things. Institutionalize the solutions and build on your successes. Work to build internal workflows that take feedback from your clients and use this feedback as fuel to solve problems and build on successes.

Conclusion

Coach Pete Carroll’s mantra to “always complete” means finding adversity and using it to make your law firm better. Use reviews as the basis of your client-attracting flywheel. If you invest in this process of collecting feedback, analyzing feedback, making changes based on the data, and implementing new systems and improving training, then the result will be getting more and better reviews from clients who are increasingly satisfied with your service. As your flywheel begins to turn out increasingly better reviews, you are also attracting more new clients who convert at higher rates and share their good experiences online, which then attracts more potential clients . . . and so it goes.

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Patrick Palace is an owner of Palace Law LLP, a workers’ compensation and personal injury firm. He is the past president of the Washington State Bar Association and currently serves on the Executive Council for the National Conference of Bar Presidents and on the board of the ABA Center for Innovation. Patrick often writes, presents, and podcasts about data-driven law and legal innovation. He owns Sunken Cellars, a Washington winery.