Many attorneys are uncomfortable soliciting referrals from clients — and downright adverse to the idea of asking for testimonials. Firms can easily hide behind ethical concerns and bar regulations when cataloguing reasons not to ask for testimonials. And attorneys must, of course, take care to adhere to state bar guidelines regarding client feedback. But your firm can request testimonials ethically and within the purview of bar guidelines. Not only is this possible, it is a necessary element of doing business in a world dominated by online word-of-mouth engagement.
Reviews are one of the most powerful forms of social proof available to attorneys. Reviews are more influential than case studies or peer review rewards because reviews come directly from people who have had experience with your firm. From an outsider's perspective, hearing from a client is more impactful than hearing from the firm, due to the obvious self-interest implicit in law firm marketing materials.
According to a 2015 BrightLocal study, 92 percent of consumers read online reviews. Overall a business' star rating is the top factor used by consumers when judging that business. Excuses aside, if other firms are receiving reviews and yours is not, you are at a disadvantage.
People are influenced by both positive and negative reviews. According to the same study, only 13 percent of individuals would consider using a business that has a one or two star rating. Negative emotions are far more powerful in creating memories and driving behavior than positive ones. When left to their own devices, people tend to write unsolicited reviews only after a negative experience. Your firm should have a proactive plan to combat this phenomenon.
According to business development consultant, Eric Dewey, people do not write testimonials for three reasons: they do not have time, they are not committed, or they don't know what to say. Since you are asking people to interrupt their days to support your firm, it is important to acknowledge these barriers and make the process of writing a testimonial as easy as possible. Here are five tips to help convince clients to write reviews for your firm.
1. Integrate feedback into your business model.
Business development can no longer be separated from the day-to-day process of running a law firm. To create a consistent influx of potential new clients, firms must have a steady strategy for outreach, networking and marketing.
When you incorporate small tasks into a daily routine, you will be able to reach larger goals more quickly. And, having a steady stream of feedback seems more natural than random bursts of activity followed by long silences.
Receiving testimonials regularly, rather than sporadically, will help you avoid invoking the suspicion of directories and review sites. Some sites, like Yelp, have a policy that explicitly prohibits businesses from asking for reviews. If these sites see no activity then a sudden influx of reviews, they are more likely to question the legitimacy of the reviews.
And, people give more weight to new reviews over older reviews. Forty-four percent of participants in the BrightLocal study said that a review must have been written within the past month to be relevant.
Try to make asking for client evaluations a part of your firm's culture. Have feedback forms available at your office and as a part of printed information about your firm. This allows you to receive testimonials that you can filter and post to your own website.
Let people know up front that asking for feedback is part of your client service procedures. If you tell people about your feedback practice during the client intake process, then it will not come as a surprise when you do ask. When people are prepared for the question they will be more comfortable answering.
You may also send clients to a simple feedback form on your website. With a two-step form, you can determine the likelihood someone is going to provide positive feedback, then direct him or her accordingly. For example, the first step of the form could ask how likely a client is to refer your firm to others or to rate his or her experience. People who rate the experience highly or say they are very likely to refer you can be directed to a page that contains links to your directory profiles so that they can provide a review. Those who answer less favorably can be directed to a second step that asks what about the experience they would change. With this method, you can receive valuable negative feedback without having grievances aired on public directory sites.
2. Tell people how their review will help others.
While people assume that others are generally driven by self-interest, research shows that the opposite is actually true. People are more likely to act if they understand how their actions help others.
According to Adam Grant, a Wharton professor and leading thinker in management and psychology, “A sense of being of service to others is a greater motivator than self-interest and actually makes people more productive.”
As an example, Grant discusses a study of call center workers making fundraising calls to alumni of a university.
In one instance, telling the callers how doing their jobs well would advance their own interests monetarily or in terms of reward or career advancement did not increase the callers' performance.
However, explaining to the callers that the money they were raising was being used to provide scholarships and showing how their work was helping others dramatically boosted fundraising performance.
Hearing form one recipient for five minutes about how the scholarship made a difference in that person's life increased time on phone by 142 percent and weekly revenue by 171 percent. Having someone come in to the call center who had received a scholarship and was deeply appreciative affected the callers even more, raising revenues by up to 400 percent per week.
Showing people how their actions will help others can work as a powerful call to action. Express to clients how their reviews will support others who need legal services.
3. Automate the process, but make it as personal as possible.
Ideally, all attorneys soliciting testimonials would write personal notes to their clients. However, writing this many emails is not always achievable.
Since one barrier to writing a testimonial is time, people need to be reached in the right moment — when they do have time — in order for them to follow through with feedback. The moment a client is free to write may not be the same moment an attorney is free to ask.
Automating the feedback process allows firms to send a series of timed emails to each client, which increases the chance that one of them will reach the client at a time he or she is available to write a review. The requests can be set up weeks in advance and will eliminate the chance that a busy attorney will forget to send the notes.
Automation, however, should not mean a lack of personalization. People are more likely to respond to a personal request than a generic mass email. If you are using an email list management service, include a note and thank you from the attorney in each email. Email automation processes are very sophisticated and will allow you to customize each message in a series with a unique comment. And when sending bulk emails, always use a mail merge so that each individual email begins with the client's name, not a collective greeting.
4. Provide guidance.
When people do not know what to write, they may revert to formal business speak, making the review seem less authentic, or they may not write anything at all. Asking a few simple questions to spark a client's memory and give them an idea of what types of information a review should contain. You may ask if the client had any initial concerns about working with the firm and how those concerns were resolved. You may ask how the firm solved a particular challenge. To encourage authenticity, you may ask how the client would describe to a close friend or family member what it was like to work with you.
When sending email requests, you may also provide links to your firm's social profiles and a set of directions detailing how to write reviews on those platforms. Again, be cognizant of your language. You may ask people to review you on Google, for example, but can only direct people to your Yelp profile in an indirect appeal.
5. Acknowledge the client's time investment.
An important part of personalizing a request is acknowledging the effort you are asking the client to invest on your behalf. Consider seriously how long you think the process should take and include that estimate in your message. You may even say something like, “Providing a testimonial should only take about 3-5 minutes of your time.”
Reviews are a social phenomenon and should be treated as such. Thank people for their efforts. Claim your directory listings so that you can reply publicly to testimonials. Sometimes interaction with the unhappy client and a sincere recognition of an issue is in itself enough to prompt people to revise a negative review — or write a positive one.