In legal marketing circles, there’s an ongoing discussion about client satisfaction surveys – who should conduct them, what form should they take, how frequently should they be administered, etc.  The problem is that the focus of these surveys is entirely wrong.

[R]arely do customer satisfaction surveys even ask for information about the particular needs and wants of whoever fills them out.  Rather, they invariably ask buyers to rate how well the company or its personnel performed on a series of predefined categories.  Managers gain precious little insight into what buyers truly want and need, as evidenced by what seems to be the most common theme of such surveys: How are we doing?

These words, first published by B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore in their 1999 book The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater and Every Business a Stage, are equally as poignant some 15 years later.  Think of a client who is asked by two of its outside firms to participate in identically phrased satisfaction surveys.  Assuming that the client answers both sets of questions exactly the same, does that mean that the client received equal value from both firms?  More important, what has either firm really learned about the client from its survey?

Pine and Gilmore offer an alternative to customer satisfaction.  Instead, they recommend that a business determine what a client sacrifices – the gap between what a client settles for and what the client wants exactly.

Simply delivering what the client expects – the norm – relegates the law firm’s service to an indistinguishable commodity.  The client settles for the norm because that is what it’s used to and has been conditioned to anticipate.  Now consider a firm that pinpoints and satisfies a client’s exact and unique needs, addresses other needs the client may not know it had, and demonstrates a level of attention and commitment far superior than the norm.  That firm earns a deeper trust and fosters a stronger relationship by delivering a truly personalized client experience.

So if you’re assessing or reassessing the client satisfaction piece of your marketing plan, remember – it’s not about you.