I just caught up with Dan Hull's post on What About Clients? about Polling the Real Jury. The subject is conducting personal interviews to gauge service and there is discussion on a few blogs about it. I've sounded off with a comment to Dan's post.
This is a slightly tidied up version:
I respectfully disagree with the point about having someone from the firm present when conducting a personal satisfaction survey. Send in a neutral third party if you want the truth. Period. (I'm not saying that to get people to hire me to do it, either. Quite frankly, it is not my favorite thing to do.)
I've done in-person surveys many times -- sometimes with a non-service team partner and more often without. When the managing partner or a senior partner is involved, the client will not spill as much. I guarantee it. If you want candor, leave all the partners out of the meeting.
Also, if there is any reason to suspect even a hint of a service issue, for goodness sake, don't be in there conducting a general service survey in the first place. Get the managing partner in there to specifically ask about and discuss the problem with resolution front of mind. The MP is the person to handle an issue especially if a seems to be a communication or relationship problem with some or all of the current service team.
Lastly, I absolutely oppose the approach Jim Hassett endorses of asking at the end of the survey about who else might need your services. Please! Asking that question completely undermines the purpose of your meeting. When the marketing starts (WIIFTF: What's In It For The Firm), it is quite clear that you're not just there out of sincere interest in the customer's feelings, you're also there to make more money.
Never, ever, mix caring for the customer with something so self-serving. Think this builds trust?
It'd be like feigning interest in my husband's day before asking if he minds my going away with the girls for the weekend. It's not sincere. It's manipulative.
Think clients can't see through that? Think again.
There is a time and a place to ask your client directly for a referral and it is NOT during a satisfaction survey.
Reserve a referral request for when your customer provides you with an unsolicited compliment on your job well done!