By Legal Futures Associate Moneypenny
2023 has been a year of challenges. Rising interest rates and the cost-of-living crisis continue to impact every sector, including legal. Coupled with a global talent shortage and the climate emergency driving widespread and rapid environmental improvements in organisations of all sizes – it’s been a testing year.
But there have been some significant and positive lessons learned during this time, too – here we set out five business-affirming lessons from 2023.
1. 24/7 business is here to stay
Even for sectors that might have struggled ever to imagine it, business is now firmly 24/7. Remote working and the Covid legacy have helped the legal industry to embrace a different way of working. Since the pandemic, there’s been a marked increase in live chats and calls being made outside of traditional office hours as client behaviours change. This wasn’t just a kneejerk response to Covid either – it’s been a consistent change since 2020.
Bernadette Bennett, head of the legal sector at Moneypenny, said: “This is a tremendous opportunity for legal firms. While no one expects solicitors and lawyers to be accessible 24/7, firms must prioritise making it easy and possible for people to get in touch at all times of day and night. Often, there won’t be anyone in-house at that time to respond, but outsourced support can be used to triage calls or answer live chats by logging enquiries and booking callbacks and appointments. Firms need to show themselves to be accessible and relevant.”
2. Human touch is vital
When HMRC closed its self-assessment helpline temporarily, it caused considerable backlash as businesses and advisors felt they were being left without support when they needed it most. Such was the outrage it even prompted discussion in parliament.
The widespread criticism of HMRC’s decision highlights how crucial the human touch is when people need help. Data from Moneypenny’s Customer Communications Trend Report for 2023 shows that the phone is still in the top two preferred channels to contact a business (alongside email). It also reveals that 64% of people spend longer on the phone with companies than they did three years ago – which is significant given the number was just 45% in 2022.
Bernadette said: “This increase can be explained by clients picking up the phone when they have urgent, complicated, or sensitive queries. When this happens, people want help and the human touch. When they don’t get that, it costs legal firms business – calls not being answered frustrates 35% of callers and will make 38% of them take their business elsewhere.”
Findings from Moneypenny’s study of legal websites earlier this year found that legal firms still need to do more to improve their customer friendliness and accessibility online – both of which are crucial to conveying the human touch in the digital arena. Over half ranked average or less for contactability, and almost two-thirds don’t rate highly for customer friendliness.
3. Staff burnouts are a real threat
In May, new figures from ONS revealed a record increase in those not working due to long-term sickness and a rise in employee mental health issues was cited as part of the cause. Staff burnout is a real threat, and employers must now navigate the challenges of improving health and wellbeing while managing productivity and the realities of remote working.
Bernadette said: “Earlier this year, we released data which showed that front-of-house and receptionist staff are increasingly moving into other roles within organisations. While it’s recognition of the skills and the contribution they make, it’s also a sign of the times as organisations are trying to fill gaps in their workforce by repurposing staff and expanding their roles.”
With staff burnout real genuine business consideration and front-of-house teams increasingly being asked to handle other tasks – legal firms need to make sure they have the right people in the right place and that workloads are manageable. Bernadette added: “It’s really making the case for more outsourced support. Whether it’s a fully outsourced switchboard, overflow call handling during busy periods like the holiday season, or handling live chat 247 – firms can’t afford to let these vital customer communications tools fall by the wayside when their teams get busy or pulled into other tasks. Reputation and client experience is everything.”
4. AI technology and software are mainstream business tools
There’s no escaping the conversation around AI and how it can streamline business processes, saving time and efficiency. A survey in April found that 51% of law firms surveyed thought ChatGPT should be used to support law firm work.
AI has real value to offer for client care, but not at the cost of the human touch, says Bernadette. She added: “The legal sector has a lot of wrangling to do with AI as it determines where best to use the technology without undermining the value of people. There are some great examples of where it can add value – not just with process efficiency and time-saving in the example of using AI to research case law, but also in improving customer care.”
AI-powered chatbots can provide a brilliant way to steer people to ‘frequently asked questions’ and provide essential support such as triaging incoming leads, capturing data, and gathering feedback for example – but it’s not the best tool when people have more complicated needs that go ‘off script’. That’s where the human touch comes in. Legal firms’ success with AI will come from them applying it in the right places.
Bernadette added: “Technology and AI are crucial enablers and a means to deliver greater accessibility, immediacy and efficiency for legal firms, but it doesn’t change just how important the human touch is in business. At Moneypenny, we’ve made it our business to combine brilliant people with leading-edge technology because we know the future of customer care needs both. Legal firms need to do the same.”
5. Stress requires empathy
The challenges of 2023 so far have created stress for families and business owners alike – all of which will be felt by legal firms as people approach divorce, child arrangements, business sales and more.
Bernadette concluded: “2023 has reaffirmed how crucial empathy is in business. When legal firms show patience and understanding, make themselves accessible, actively listen to clients and offer true help and support they deliver significant business benefits. This means all those channels that provide the first point of contact for clients and prospects – such as the phone, the website or social media – should be handled by people who are trained properly and can approach the task with the right sensitivity and care. Get it right, and happy clients will speak highly of your firm, drive repeat business and referrals, and earn you a standout reputation.”