Consumer law firms increasingly consider that customer service is just as important as resolving a legal matter satisfactorily, partly with an eye to online reviews, according to research published yesterday.
More than half of the 100 law firms surveyed by First4Lawyers – split between personal injury (PI) and general consumer practices – were signed up to review and comparison websites, but the report noted a “disconnect” among those that said they relied on their reputation for new clients but were then wary of client reviews.
The report, Making your customers happy , found no one clear trend when interviewees were asked about their firm’s attitude to customer service. But the largest group (41%) took the view that customer service was just as important as resolving a legal matter satisfactorily.
Some 34% said customers just want their legal matter resolved, while the remaining quarter considered customer service important but not as important as resolving a legal matter satisfactorily.
First4Lawyers managing director Qamar Anwar said: “The single most important role of the solicitor is, of course, to do the work properly. But that doesn’t mean customer service should take a back seat.
“Clients will usually be unable to assess the quality of your legal work, but they can judge the service they receive and are increasingly happy to write about it online. This means customer service needs to be of equal importance.
“Getting new work without a strong online reputation, which is heavily influenced by service quality, is only going to get harder.”
The vast majority (86%) of the firms polled required fee-earners to adhere to service standards, but only two-thirds provided them with customer training.
A little over half (56%) said their firms understood the customer journey and have mapped out all their interactions with the customer, with a communications plan for each stage – behaviour First4Lawyers said would have been “foreign” to almost all just five years ago and showed how far the profession had come.
But there were areas for improvement, such as in agreeing costs from the start – done by 61% of PI firms but only 46% of general consumer firms – and nominating an agreed point of contact from the off (only 53% did this).
Half of all law firms said contact details were taken in a consistent manner, but all other elements of the customer journey – such as agreeing the format for communication and the frequency of contact – were only mentioned by a minority of firms.
The survey found that PI firms in particular were responding to demands for out-of-hours opening, with 52% offering services both in the evenings and weekends, while 48% tracked how often follow-ups converted into business, compared to just 28% of other firms.
Mr Anwar said it was no surprise to see PI firms “a little ahead” of general practices in their focus on customer service. “The cost of doing business in PI is already so high and is continuing to rise. You have to fight for every customer as much as possible.”
Review and comparison sites were used by 55% of law firms in the survey, although only 47% actually encourage their clients to post a review. A third of firms use both general sites and law-specific sites.
Fewer than a quarter (24%) of firms responded to every review. The largest group (31% of all firms) only responded to selected reviews on an ad hoc basis. There were 13% of firms that only respond to positive reviews and the same percentage only responded to negative reviews.
Mr Anwar said: “The issue of customer service and feedback is only going to get bigger – there’s no point closing your eyes and hoping it will go away.
“Law firm marketing has rapidly become digital first and you need to take control of what is being said about your firm online. There are practical consequences too – not responding to reviews can affect your website’s page rankings.
“There is a disconnect between firms that say they rely on their reputation to bring in work but are then wary of client reviews.
“Equally, word of mouth now is going online. In our report, we urge law firms to prioritise customer service and invest in training, and not to be afraid of reviews. You need to create and continually review the customer experience. It is now part and parcel of being a lawyer.”
Neil Bayton, head of partnerships at Trustpilot, added: “Competition amongst law firms has never been more fierce. Whilst competing on price may not always be an option, providing an excellent customer experience can be a differentiator that really sets a business apart.
“Those who aren’t listening, responding to and using consumer’s feedback to improve, risk being left behind. Independent consumer review sites, like Trustpilot, that allow consumers to share their experiences openly and instantly, are an excellent way for law firms to earn greater trust by showing they truly care about their customers.”
Legal Futures and First4Lawyers ran a webinar yesterday to discuss the findings of the report. You can watch it on demand here .