A flurry of headlines and agitated comments was perhaps predictable when a draft policy paper before the Legal Services Board raised the prospect of firms being forced to sign up to online review sites.
Although it was mooted as a backstop if voluntary action was slow, it reflects the pressure on the regulator from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to tackle how consumers can assess quality of service before instructing a solicitor.
And while I can admit to some sleepless nights when I encouraged LawNet’s 70 member firms to embrace online reviews back in 2015, it does seem to me that firms who close their eyes to the rising influence of review sites are ignoring today’s reality.
As a result, they are likely to miss out on a great opportunity to reach tomorrow’s clients by showcasing the positive reviews given by today’s satisfied customers.
Where word of mouth was once limited to conversations between friends and colleagues, online channels have limitless audience reach, and research shows that over 90% of consumers reference online reviews as part of their buying journey. Firms need to take a strategic, proactive approach.
If reviews are not a priority in your current marketing mix, I challenge you to look at your own behaviour. When did you last book a restaurant without first reading reviews from previous guests, or check out the user experience on a consumer product before committing to the purchase?
As the CMA put it: “Online reviews appear to be read for one-off purchases, ‘experience’ goods (goods that the consumer cannot easily assess for quality before they buy) and/or more expensive goods or services… we estimate that £23bn a year of UK consumer spending is potentially influenced by online reviews.”
When buying professional services, the client journey is unlikely to be different to that of any other consumer or business. While a home-buyer may turn to general review sites such as Feefo or Google, a corporate client is equally likely to be looking at comments on LinkedIn, and both may be turning to industry-specific sites such as ReviewSolicitors.
Even if you try to opt out, you cannot stop information being shared online nor control the journey by which clients reach you, and, of course, not all reviews are positive.
In January, we saw damages awarded to law firm Summerfield Browne in a defamation action after a client left a review on Trustpilot.
But while the firm pointed to a “measurable decline” in the number of enquiries after the review was posted, Trustpilot said it was never contacted and that the review was not flagged through its complaints process.
This highlights why it is so important to be proactive in dealing with online commentary, rather than firefighting later, and why this has been a cornerstone of our holistic client excellence strategy for our member firms over many years.
Back in 2013, we added our audited Excellence Mark to our mandatory ISO9001 LawNet Quality Standard, because we saw client-focused service as the most important way our law firm members could add value and differentiate themselves.
Independent researchers pose as potential clients for customer service reviews, while real clients complete post-matter satisfaction surveys via a benchmarking portal, with a direct feed to the firm’s listing on ReviewSolicitors.
Firms receive feedback and in-house training to respond to findings and develop sector-leading experiences. In the case of online reviews, that included supporting firms in developing techniques to make the most of positive feedback and manage criticism effectively.
With 6,000 customer service reviews and 80,000 client surveys completed, the evidence shows this approach generates significant performance improvements. Client satisfaction in our member firms now stands at 97%, compared with 84% in the sector overall, according to the Legal Services Consumer Panel. On ReviewSolicitors, LawNet members frequently dominate the rankings.
While the routes may have changed in recent years, referral remains one of the most important drivers of new instructions, as evidenced by our own research and that of other professional sector bodies.
The opportunity to reach potential clients with positive endorsements at the start of their buying journey should be a compulsion for firms, before it becomes compulsory…