Posted by Chris Marston, chief executive of Legal Futures Associate LawNet
The results from this year’s legal services consumer tracker survey make for interesting reading.
In its sixth year, the research finds that a firm’s reputation continues to grow in importance, holding its top slot as the number one factor influencing choice of lawyer, with price remaining a strong second, reflected in a shift towards higher numbers of fixed-fee transactions. Alongside, it reports that trust in lawyers has declined to 42%, from 47% in 2012.
It’s useful information as far as it goes, but what is the sector going to do with it? As Elisabeth Davies, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LCSP), said: “Over the last six years we’ve seen some positive improvements, but we are at a stage now where we should all expect more.”
Data without resulting action is data without purpose, and what the sector badly needs is action on how it engages with its clients. Just look at this stand-out figure: 35% of legal service users canvassed who expressed dissatisfaction did nothing about it. It may be that no one asked them if they were happy, or that they were not offered a way of expressing their dissatisfaction within their comfort zone, but what this figure demonstrates is that it is no good assuming everyone who is unhappy will tell you so. It’s a missed opportunity to resolve problems and learn for the future.
Consider that estimates put the cost of finding a new client at six to seven times the cost of retaining an existing client, plus the knock-on effect to that all-important reputation of an unhappy client, and focusing on customer experience becomes a no-brainer.
Certainly, it’s an issue we identified some years ago as being key to future competitive differentiation for our mid-size law firm members. As a result, we developed our Excellence Mark, a charter mark that is now an integral part of our ISO 9001 standard.
Independently-conducted customer research and mystery shopping were key to our charter mark, as too many unsubstantiated claims are made of ‘excellent’ or ‘quality’ service, and we were looking to create a truly differentiating accreditation. But collecting and measuring customer satisfaction feedback is not an end in itself. The core purpose of our research is to help our firms identify where they can make improvements, knowing that once changes have been made, they can measure impact in the next set of results.
By the end of the second year we had 25,000 survey responses and 1,100 mystery shops, forming the basis for last year’s LawNet White Paper on the topic, which attracted attention from across the sector for the issues it flagged up.
Another year on, and we are about to review and compare the third year results. What distinguishes our ongoing research from that of the LSCP is the discrete group involved in our research – we have nearly 70 member firms of a similar size and culture, who are obliged to take part in the mystery shopping and can feed their customer base into the online client satisfaction surveying platform.
Comparing our data with that published by the LSCP, in terms of overall customer satisfaction, our members show a generally higher satisfaction rate across the board – at some 97% compared with 80% for the users of legal services canvassed for panel.
Looking at possible reasons for this, our members are obliged to achieve and hold our ISO 9001 quality standard alongside any other chosen accreditations. As the ISO includes a structured and supported customer satisfaction standard, it’s reasonable to expect them to be recording better results than the sector at large, and that certainly seems to be the case looking at these figures.
The other difference with our research compared to the LSCP is the sheer numbers involved. YouGov have ensured their sample is representative, and includes 1,523 users of legal services in the last two years. Our firms have unrestricted access to surveying, meaning that some 40,000 surveys and 1,600 mystery shops have been undertaken to date, all available for the membership to draw on individually, as well as being allowing them to benchmark themselves against their network peers and the wider profession.
Where our 2015 stats do align with LSCP is in terms of learning points from the lowest-scoring areas – highlighting a clear need for regular communication, timeliness and keeping clients up-to-date on costs. We’ve seen our firms taking action to tackle these issues, and expect to see further improvements when the next set of results are analysed shortly.
It can be tough hearing how you have performed with a mystery shopper, or seeing what customers thought about your service, but being brave enough to face the facts can bring real value, as we’ve seen with members of the LawNet community who have implemented changes in direct response to the findings.
For example, at FBC Manby Bowdler in the West Midlands, research showed a need for improved communication skills amongst reception staff, and as a result they designed and delivered a training programme for these important front-line staff.
At Andrew & Co in Lincolnshire, feedback from customers showed they wanted to be better informed of the progress of jobs and resulting charges. In response, the firm has encouraged each team to take ownership of the way they work, with benchmarks for service delivery. It’s given the firm much improved scores in their customer feedback and encouraged more efficient working, with a reduction in time spent dealing with invoice queries, as the customer already knows what to expect.
Other process changes made by firms in response to feedback are often simple, but can bring remarkable results, such as staggering lunch breaks within departments so that that the telephones are always manned; or having reception ‘introduce’ all telephone calls to fee-earners so they can use the client’s name and don’t need to ask clients to repeat details.
This is granular detail of how firms are effecting change, but of course what is needed is a firm-wide cultural commitment, with absolute backing from senior management and business owners.
Law firms need to understand their customers, identify their needs and tailor-make services to suit. Where previously, discrete services were delivered at departmental level, now it’s about providing the right package of services for an individual client at different life/business stages.
Tomorrow’s successful firms will have already faced up to the inevitability of change and disruption in their market-place, and will now be focused on differentiation through innovation, both human and digital. They will be able to respond swiftly and will see client satisfaction as the key to success.
Culture fuels change, and organisations that that prioritise skills development and employee engagement will be the ones to reap the rewards.
According to Forrester, the international research and advisory firm, this is ‘the age of the customer’ and the next couple of years could be the watershed that determines who wins or loses.