Adding structure to open ended feedback
When you have any volume of client feedback, a common challenge to resolve is what to do with all the many and varied comments across a series of interviews, so that you can easily remember the themes and what was said, and report on it.
In-depth interviews are great – the open ended discourse provides a wealth of insight into clients’ needs, perceptions, experiences, the problems they may be facing and the solutions that they need. However the volume of insight can become overwhelming, and difficult to comprehend, particularly when you are seeking to summarise the common themes across a number of interviews, or you are trying to find that particular quote to emphasise your pitch but you can’t quite remember who said it. It becomes more complex when the information needs to be recut into different views (e.g. by market, sector, service line, lawyer, etc.).
Borrowing from the market research toolbox, the answer is simple, you need to categorise (or code) important open ended questions into themes and store them in a spreadsheet or database. The outputs can then easily be summarised and reported on, however, the process can be time-consuming to categorise a large volume of historical client feedback – it’s best to do it frequently.
What’s the difference between Coding and Tagging?
At Acuigen we use 2 terms ‘Coding’ and ‘Tagging’ to get content organised. The difference between the 2 similar processes is easy to understand
Coding is the process of reading many responses to the same question, and when you have enough answers you code the answers into groups (or buckets as they are sometimes referred). For example, if you ask the question “Why did you recommend us” [Question number 1234] you could get 10 or more different reasons in, say 75 interviews - each type of response would be coded to one or more of these buckets (e.g. Great people, Great service, Other). The rule of thumb is that you will have a random bucket called “Other” containing comments that you can’t simply code, and if the ‘other’ comment list makes up more than 10% of the total responses, then the coding frame (the list of codes/buckets) needs to be recategorised so that the list of others drops below 10%. Often a verbatim comment will have more than one code associated with a response, and so it’s helpful to make a note on any report “Multiple responses to Question 1234, 75 interviews, 95 coded comments”.
Tagging is the term that we use to describe an applied process that uses different information sources or knowledge to add intelligence to an interview. It’s similar to coding but has a different more commercial purpose. For example, if you ask the question “Why did you recommend us” and the answer is “John is an excellent lawyer, pivotal to our relationship and the great service we receive” it could be coded as both ’Great people’ and ‘Great service’. However, if it is also known the John is about to retire, the tagging process would potentially also flag the comment as a ‘Risk’ (can we retain the client after John retires?) or an ‘Opportunity’ (could John could introduce new lawyers to the relationship before his retirement). A verbatim comment may have one or more tags associated with it.
By using a mixture of coding and tagging it is possible to gain a really good understanding of the meaning of verbatim feedback and the associated commercial intelligence within it, making it easier to present and report upon a series of interviews.
When reporting feedback make it clear to the reader if a question’s code frame can have only one or more than one associated codes
Regularly check code frames to ensure that they are up to date, and do not have a catch-all bucket of ‘other’ comments of more than 10%. If a code frame changes, be prepared to recategorise prior interviews
Keep a diary and narrative of when and why code frames were updated or changed
Explain to readers the difference between coding and tagging
Continue the discussion
If you’re interested in understanding the process of client feedback to a greater extent or are interested in initiating or scaling up a client feedback programme in your firm, get in touch with our team who be happy to talk further to assist you and to share our experiences.