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Virtually all top-tier professional service firms make the same boasts. "We have the best lawyers/engineers/architects/physicians, who went to the best schools and deliver the best product, service or counsel.

"And, we care the most about our clients."

Talk is cheap. How do they demonstrate, not merely assert, that they place a premium on customer service, one that sets them apart from other practices?

There are, of course, hundreds of ways, big and small, to be tangible. Businesses send out holiday cards and gifts, conduct client-bonding events, and the like.

Some even dare to systematically ask their key clients "How is our service? Are you satisfied?" Even fewer then tell these clients, prospective clients, other providers, and the world how their clients responded.

These bravest ones have discovered the risks and rewards of the client satisfaction survey. Here's how the smart ones manage.

Remember the internal clients

Surveys get your clients' attention. The process will also be closely watched by your staff. The significant investment of time and resources and the exposure the company risks in conducting a survey is a concrete reminder that marketing matters, including the quality of client relationships.

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Doug Stern (www.doug-stern.com) is a freelance business writer and marketing strategist based in Louisville, KY. Contact him at 502-599-6624 or stern.doug@gmail.com.