Taking the pain out of complaints handling

LegalEyeWhen it comes to dealing with complaints, 9 out of 10 firms recognise that it makes sound commercial and business sense to handle complaints quickly and efficiently. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Legal Ombudsman (LeO) jointly commissioned London Economics and YouGov to undertake independent research into the experiences and effectiveness of solicitors’ first tier complaints handling process.

Although the number of firms, just over 500, and numbers of dissatisfied users of legal services, around 2000, were low, the findings can assist firms who are struggling with complaints and looking for ways to improve the experience – both from the firm’s perspective as well as the client’s perspective.

In line with the findings published on the Legal Ombudsman’s website for 2016/2017, the research found that the most common complaints from consumers related to communication and delays, with conveyancing, family law and wills and probate being the services that received the highest number of complaints.

Other key findings include:

  • Only a third of firms provide information to clients regarding further redress to the Legal Ombudsman at the end of the first-tier complaints handling service, notwithstanding that this is a regulatory requirement;
  • Over 50% of complainants are not satisfied with the outcome of their complaint and report the matter to the SRA or Legal Ombudsman;
  • 20% of clients surveyed said that the firm did not respond to the complaint in the prescribed 8 weeks;
  • Less than half of clients who made a complaint were satisfied with the outcome and the majority were looking for an explanation, apology or for their matter to be progressed;
  • In line with findings of the CMA report last year and the SRA’s Looking to the Future Consultation, 91% of users surveyed said that access to complaints data would be useful with 36% of firms agreeing;
  • The priorities of clients were not aligned with the priorities of the firms. Clients’ top 3 priorities were regular communications (62%), costs information (60%) and information on the legal process (48%) whereas only 20% of firms believed that providing information on the legal process was important.
  • Lack of access to legal services remains a key priority risk in the SRA’s Risk Outlook 2017/2018 and is also highlighted in the CMA Report. This recent jointly commissioned research also highlights that people with disabilities are likely to be less satisfied with the outcome of first tier complaints handling.

Whilst no firm wants to receive complaints, no business is perfect; mistakes happen and it’s important that they’re dealt with efficiently. What’s more, dealing with the complaints effectively in the first instance can re-establish client confidence and thus ensure client retention, improve service delivery and minimise any potential damage to reputation.

Why do firms struggle with their complaints handling?

There are many reasons including:

  • Investigating individual complaints is time-consuming and non-chargeable and time is money.
  • The timeframe for doing so is tight – 8 weeks from start to finish.
  • The work to be done is often considerable – trawling through a voluminous file or files to determine who said what to whom and when – or not!
  • The Complaints Partner often has “many hats” with complaints being just one in a long list -all of which are equally important.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) Report concluded that not enough information is available on price and quality of service to help those (mostly individual consumers and small businesses) who need legal support to choose the best option.  To this end, Legal Ombudsman’s decisions are already published on their website with the name of the service provider, the number of decisions and any remedy required – such information remaining on the LeO’s website for a 12-month period.

As competition in the legal market increases, firms must focus on getting things right the first time and eliminating as far as possible the causes of complaints through the implementation of a robust complaints procedure.

Now, more than ever before, it is important that firms take steps to ensure that their Complaints Handling processes and procedures are not just adequate but are the best that they can be and that those responsible for dealing with complaints are proactive in doing so.

So, how can your firm improve the way it deals with complaints?

  • Effective Communication. Whilst effective communication must be paramount throughout the entirety of the service provided to the client, the key to dealing effectively with a complaint is establishing the nature of the client’s concerns. Paying attention to any dissatisfaction that the client expresses at any stage and recognising that there is a problem at an early stage can prevent it from becoming a formal complaint.
  • Managing Expectations. By setting out a clear timeline of events, updating the client if things change and explaining the process, the client’s expectations are effectively managed.
  • Clarity. As well as providing a clear explanation of the process, timeframe, when the client can next expect to hear from you, what you require from the client etc, always ask the client if they are unclear about any aspect of the service, as well as requesting their feedback throughout.
  • Individual. It is important to acknowledge your client’s individual needs and expectations when addressing their complaint. As well as showing that you’re committed to investigating and resolving their complaint, it also demonstrates that you are prioritising their interests.
  • Ensure that at the end of the first-tier complaints procedure, you provide information about the Legal Ombudsman in writing.

If you are struggling to deal effectively with complaints and would like information about how to improve your complaints handling procedure, take a look at our short video on outsourcing your complaints handling.


Associate News is provided by Legal Futures Associates.
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