Kerry Underwood

CLIENT CARE SILVER SERVICE

with 2 comments


This piece first appeared in the Law Society: Managing for Success newsletter.

Solicitors’ client care levels are far better than they were when I started work 43 years ago.

Speed of service, clarity of communication and transparency concerning costs and the attitude towards complaints are now all taken seriously by most firms. That was not always the case.

All the evidence is that in any field consumers or customers look for value for money rather than just price and are prepared to pay more for higher quality. Clients with a one off purchase in a “high ticket” matter of great importance to them will be guided by matters other than price.

Clearly there are different models appropriate for different firms. If you just want to make as much profit as possible out of referred conveyancing or personal injury work where you never see the client then you are probably not reading this anyway. However if you wish to build up a firm with a good reputation which other lawyers wish to join, and in due course take over, read on.

None of the ideas here is expensive or difficult to implement but they do require a culture that every member of the firm buys into, especially the decision makers and senior lawyers.

Lead by Example

Do not expect junior staff to have service levels which the decision makers are not prepared to observe. For example I never managed to time record centrally and properly so we have scrapped it.

Clarity of Objectives

Have clear, objectively measurable standards which mean something to clients and which they, as well as all staff, understand. Concepts such as whether a matter has been progressed satisfactorily have their place, but are open to subjective interpretation.

Core Promises

We have four core promises which appear in a single page opening letter as well as in the much longer client care letter:-

“1. We will see you within 5 minutes of your appointment time or your arrival in the office, whichever is later.

 

  1. We will contact you each calendar month to tell you how your case is progressing.

 

  1. If you telephone us before 3.00pm we will return your call within 3 hours.

 

  1. Any email received from you by 3.00pm will be answered the same day.”

 

These are easily measurable by clients and by the firm through its audit process.

We pay £100.00 each and every time any of these four core promises are not met.

Mean It

Many firms have “SLAs” – meaningless jargons to most non-business clients (Service Level Agreements) but pay little attention to them unless there is a complaint.

Do the senior people in your organisation spend as much time and energy on core quality standards as they do on billing targets? If not why not? They are far more important. Give a consistently high quality service at an affordable price and the work will follow.

Do you pay bonuses on client service levels rather than on, or as well as, billing?

Transparency

Consider publishing the audit results on your website. We audit 10 files a month per lawyer on specific measureable items. If you get 100% you get a bottle of champagne or equivalent. This has become a matter of pride, not policing, for our lawyers and again it is important that all senior people are included in the audit and are performing.

Little Things Matter

All of us are capable of finding excuses not to do things we are worried about. Recognise that many clients would rather go to the dentist than see a lawyer. Here are some ideas as to make the process less painful:-

  • inform new clients about parking arrangements;

 

  • send clients an AA or Google directions from their home to your office;

 

  • give details of public transport from their home to your office;

 

  • offer to pay for a taxi from the railway station to the office;

 

  • offer to pick them up

 

I prefer to see clients at our office rather than at their home with their dog peeing over me and the TV on etc. so I am surprised at how many firms offer home visits but will not spend far less effort in enabling clients to come to the office, for example by offering to pick them up from the station.

Reception

Visit any doctor’s surgery and then do exactly the opposite.

The receptionist is a key person and should be warm, smiling, welcoming and reassuring. Have the best coffee in town and have the coffee maker in reception. Have nice clean cups, pastries, biscuits, paper napkins, fruit juice, water etc.

No out of date newspapers, magazines etc.

Think very carefully about how the reception is decorated. Nothing is less welcoming than a gloomy poorly lit untidy reception area with hard chairs. Light colours, plenty of light, comfortable sofas and the smell of coffee creates a very different impression. We have framed Buddhist posters, one of which has the message “Quiet in the land”. The reception should be a warm and welcoming haven of peace for people likely to be nervous and dealing with a matter of utmost importance to them.

The Meeting

Ensure that the meeting room is warm – literally – and welcoming. If you have space then have two types of meeting room – an across the table type one and a sofas and no table one.

Take as long as it takes! Time recording bean counters will tell you that this is inefficient. Rubbish. There is nothing efficient about having to pay or advertise for work because you cannot get it in on reputation.

Those two or three hours with a new client building their loyalty and that of their family and friends is the most valuable time you have ever spent.

Ensure that each 45 minutes or so someone pops in to see if any more tea or coffee is needed. If the meeting takes places around lunchtime offer to buy sandwiches.

Toilets

Clean, with soap and clean towels please! The only rooms your clients will normally see are reception, the toilet and the meeting room, often in that order. Make an effort with each of them.

Play area

If possible have a play area for children and someone who can supervise children while the parent is in a meeting.

Attire

Smart and professional.  Many lawyers complain about lack of respect from clients yet dress sloppily and have untidy and unwelcoming offices where the client seem to be an unnecessary distraction and intrusion, rather than the lifeblood of the business. I once threw our (former) accountant out for coming in to my office looking like a tramp. For him it was dress down Friday – for me it was an embarrassment if any of my clients or staff saw him. He lost our business as a result.

Difficult clients

Difficult cases I love; difficult clients I do not. They are never worth it. Each client is spoken to first by a solicitor on the phone to try and judge what the client will be like.

Red Alerts

  • Getting our name from an internet search without looking at our website

 

  • Asking for a free first interview

 

  • Querying price

 

  • Already got solicitors

 

  • Close to limitation period

 

  • Suggesting that the case will raise our profile

 

  • “Do this one well and we will have other work for you.”

 

Accessibility and Availability

  • 24/7 phone line

 

  • Evening opening

 

  • Saturday morning opening

 

Easy, cheap and productive, but few firms have these facilities.

Newsletters

No one, but no one, is interested in your ground-breaking case on the White Fish and Ancillary Matters Regulations, not even the client you are acting for.

Prize draws, social events, auctions etc. catch clients’ imaginations. Consider having a prize draw in every newsletter, for example, press the reply button and automatically get entered into a draw for dinner for two at a local restaurant or whatever.

That gets the newsletter read and you can get across something about the firm, for example evening and Saturday opening.

Costs

Lawyers are expensive and should be. Do not apologise and do not go down market – leave that to the failing ABSs. Explain to the client the fully comprehensive insurance that they are getting –that is why unbundling is mad.

Reassurance and certainty about costs are important.  For example in litigation everything is moving towards fixed costs and contingency fees. That introduces certainty, which clients like, and should mean that firms compete on quality rather than price.

The ethical danger is the temptation to under-settle and thus get out early for a quick fee for little work.

Thus a claim of £5,000.00 is being done on a 25% contingency fee and if it goes the distance will take 30 hours. Settling for £4,000.00 after 10 hours’ work is far better for the solicitor than earning another £250.00 – 25% of £1,000.00 – for another 20 hours’ work.

In fact most clients prefer to settle early for less but reassurance is critical.

At Underwoods Solicitors we have had for 18 years an appeal process for clients in any contingency or fixed fee case whereby they can appeal, at our expense, to a named QC and we will abide by his or her decision. Thus if we have settled for £4,000.00 and the QC thinks that the case is worth £5,000.00 we pay the extra £1,000.00 plus the QC’s costs.

Communication

The telephone is the best tool in the office. More can be got out of one phone call than an exchange of 20 emails. When you do write make sure that it is in language that is easy for any client to understand. Few lawyers now deliberately use jargon to show how clever they are; happily that is a thing of the past. Nevertheless an email that a client has trouble understanding is upsetting and demoralising for that client.

It is very easy to see how clear a written communication is. Just copy and pastethe whole piece into the Flesch-Kincaid Test accessible at https://readability-score.com/ and it will give you a score. We aim always to have a score of 60 or over which means that it can be understood by a normal 13 to 15 year old.

The key things to avoid are long sentences and paragraphs with semi-colons and brackets in sections and sub-clauses etc.

Short punchy paragraphs with no jargon always score well.

Cost

All of the ideas here we have implemented successfully and the common factor is that they do not involve spending tens of thousands of pounds on software systems etc.

Tea, coffee and taxis are worth far more.

Knowing a bit about the law also helps, but clients are rarely able to judge you on that. They can judge you on all of these other things.

This piece scored 68.4 on the Flesch-Kincaid Test.

“Sometimes things become possible if we want them bad enough.”

T.S Eliot

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Written by kerryunderwood

September 1, 2017 at 7:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Re: https://readability-score.com/ – beware sending sensitive data to a server in an unknown location. The same test is available within Word and Outlook.

    Jan Stewer

    September 12, 2017 at 9:09 am


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