The challenge of the always-on consumer

Posted by Helen Hamilton-Shaw, director of services at Legal Futures Associate LawNet

We’ve seen a hint of sunshine but summer still feels a long way off, so like many wanting something to look forward too, we booked our summer holiday last weekend.

Like most people, we’re time-poor, so after some online research in the evenings and the start of the weekend, we narrowed down our options and sent out e-mail enquiries to various accommodation providers in the location we had chosen.

I sent six e-mails out on the Saturday, received two replies over the weekend, and after a few e-mails backwards and forwards, we made a decision and it was all booked and sorted by Sunday night. By the time the other four companies got back to work on Monday morning it was too late, the sales opportunity was gone.

Now maybe we’re quick decision makers and obviously I’m not saying booking a holiday is the same as choosing a solicitor, but it did bring home to me how the world has changed and how the challenge of the ‘always-on’ consumer is ignored at your peril.

Monday-Friday, 9-5, is not how the world works anymore. Nowadays customers are driving the interactions they have with businesses, demanding information when and where they want it, on their timescales and in a way that works for them, not in a way that is convenient for the business who wants to deal with them.

And, of course, there are ever-expanding channels through which they are interacting. Today’s customers are empowered, informed and looking for seamless experiences across multiple channels that match their expectations and timeframes. How many sales opportunities are lost because a client doesn’t get the response they are seeking, in the time frame they think reasonable?

Alongside this, customer expectations of acceptable response times are changing. Research by Forrester found that 41% of consumers expected a response to an e-mail within six hours of sending it. And the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) recently predicted that customer expectations of speed of response and service will only continue to rise as people feel more time-poor than ever before.

This trend prediction by the ICS takes into account over 60,000 unique responses from consumers during the last year about the service they received from a range of different businesses.

Whilst the ICS doesn’t specifically measure customer satisfaction in the legal profession, it is still useful to consider the key trends coming out of consumers’ interactions with other sectors. After all, your clients are also clients of other businesses and their wider service experiences will shape their expectations.

The ICS also reports that consumers are recording ever-lower levels of satisfaction with the ‘speed of service’ and ‘speed of response’ that they’re experiencing from organisations they deal with.

This prediction matches one of the key learning points we’ve seen from the LawNet Excellence Mark programme, where more than 25,000 completed client satisfaction surveys show that ‘speed of response’ is an area of concern for clients and one that law firms should look to address, a topic we pick up in our white paper on this subject.

In today’s world of instant communication and replies, with next or even same day deliveries, is it any wonder that clients are no longer willing to wait a week for a response to a query? It’s vital to have a firm-wide policy on acceptable response times to queries. It’s important to acknowledge receipt of an e-mail or message as quickly as possible, even if you can’t go back to them with the full answer straight away. The client will be reassured that you’re working on their issue and usually happy to wait a bit longer for a full answer.

What’s clear is that expectations are evolving fast and bringing an even greater emphasis on personalisation and speed/ease of service, raising the risk of a widening gap between business performance and client expectations. So, it’s crucial to continually monitor, analyse, innovate and improve.

Key questions to ask:

  • Do you have firm-wide policies in place about acceptable response times for e-mails and phone calls? These should apply to everyone in the firm. Make people accountable;
  • Do you acknowledge client messages as soon as possible, even if you can’t give a full response to their query straight away?
  • How easy is your firm to do business with? Do your internal processes cause delays?
  • Are your processes designed to make things as simple as possible for your clients?
  • How available are you for clients to do business with?
  • Does your website encourage interaction even outside of traditional office hours?
  • Can clients reach you through multiple channels?
  • Can you use IT solutions to facilitate dealing with the always-on consumer?

    Readers Comments

  • Brett Davies says:

    This is why the online legal documents market will continue to grow. They want it now. They don’t want to put on a suit and tie and visit the law firm.

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