Should your conveyancer answer the phone? According to Bernadette Bennett, head of legal at Moneypenny and Clare Yates, consultant and conveyancing founder of CY Training Works, the answer is unequivocally no.
“Technical conveyancing skills and client handling skills are two very separate things, yet many practices still expect their conveyancers to be on the front line of call handling.” says Bernadette, who heads a 95 strong team of receptionists handling thousands of calls and live chats for more than 1,000 UK law firms each year.
After one of the busiest periods on record for UK conveyancers and June experiencing a 20% increase in calls due to the rush to meet the stamp duty deadline, the industry has been under tremendous pressure. The Law Society even put out a public plea to under-pressure conveyancers to ‘stay civil’ in the face of these challenges.
All of this has highlighted that conveyancing clients require more than just technical expertise – they also need empathy, reassurance and regular communication so that they feel informed and supported – but the latter doesn’t need to always come from the conveyancers themselves, according to conveyancing consultant Clare.
She said: “Constant interruption is no one’s friend and it can make it difficult to feel in charge of your workload. If you’re expected to answer inbound calls when you’ve got focused technical work to do, it’s not surprising that customer care might be compromised. How can a conveyancer be reassuring and patient if you’ve got 150 cases to contend with and your focus is being continually broken? Conveyancers need to be afforded the freedom to excel at what they do best.”
Moneypenny’s Bernadette Bennett believes that conveyancers should never be expected to pitch in with the call handling. Instead she advocates for appropriate resource and a call management strategy to protect conveyancers’ productivity and wellbeing – as well as the customer experience.
Bernadette said: “The optimum solution is to have dedicated resource for all call handling – be that in-house or via an outsourced partner. Taking the time to develop a clear call management strategy is a crucial part of this so that you have clarity about roles, responsibilities and the level of care and accessibility you want to offer.
“Firstly, you need the right resource in place so that incoming calls don’t disturb fee earners needlessly. If there aren’t enough people available, use overflow support from an outsourced provider to take the pressure off. If your office-based team is taking responsibility – be clear about who is expected to answer the phone (and what’s required of them) and who isn’t.
“The second part of this is to understand the nature of your calls – there’ll be a significant proportion wanting quotes for pending house moves, lots wanting updates on their cases and then calls from surveyors, lenders and estate agents as part of live cases too. Not all of these require immediate access to a conveyancer. Perhaps a request for a case update could result in a diary appointment for a call back, instead of a ping pong effect of missed calls and messages. Or perhaps the admin team could be shown how to calculate quotes so they can take responsibility for the task.”
Some of Bernie’s recommended solutions include ensuring that those answering the phone can: take accurate and detailed messages; establish whether call backs are really necessary and if so when they’ll be made (i.e. within 24 hours); deal with onboarding queries; relay case information as required; signpost people to online resources and manage expectations. Together, these tactics will free conveyancers from a continually ringing phone or list of messages.
Clare adds: “The phone remains one of the most important channels for customers so it’s vital that call handling is given the attention and focus it deserves. It’s a specialist skill in its own right so firms would do well to really think about the first impressions they’re projecting.”
There are also strategies to keep high volumes away from the phone so there are fewer calls to deal with. Bernadette added: “We’ve all been spending a lot more time online over the last year so digital channels should be maximised. Making websites more informative and interactive can add tremendous value – not just to the client experience but internal processes too. The addition of quote calculators, portals to upload information for new instructions and live chat to answer FAQs and queries in real time, can all help to handle enquiries 247, without the need for a call.”
The case for greater use of outsourced support and technology by the conveyancing profession is compelling. Onboarding portals could shave an average of 3 weeks from the transaction process and a live chat operator can manage three chats in the time it would take to manage one call.
Clare concluded: “Interruptions take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to recover from – even if the distraction is only a minute, so it’s easy to see how damaging they can be to productivity. After such a busy period, it’s time for conveyancers to take a fresh look at their call handling strategies, embrace new technology where they can and put the resource in place to ensure the best customer experience possible.”
Bernadette said: “UK conveyancers have done a tremendous job over the last 18 months but it’s time to take stock. The question I’d encourage firms to ask themselves is, can they say with certainty that recent clients would recommend them to others. or use them again? If there’s any hesitation, it’s time to take a fresh look at customer care, starting with the all-important first impressions.”