Law firms “getting even worse” at handling telephone enquiries, says mystery shopper

Cooper: counterproductive behaviour

Cooper: counterproductive behaviour

The way law firms handle telephone enquiries from prospective clients is so bad that “it’s as if every managing partner in the land met up at a secret location and agreed the worst way possible to deal with them”, a leading consultant has claimed.

Some 18 months on from his mystery shopping research that indicated a “nationwide epidemic of missed opportunities” due to flawed approaches to telephone enquiries, Professor Ian Cooper said that, if anything, the situation was getting even worse.

“There’s a complete failure to recognise that what’s going on is a two-way process,” he told Legal Futures. “Firms are totally focused on risk assessment, case assessment and whether they want the client, and ignoring whether the client wants them.”

This led to “counterproductive” behaviour, he continued, although it is different depending on the area of practice.

In personal injury (PI), for example, there is a move towards two-tier systems where a first responder/screener initially takes the call, and at the end says they need to pass it on to a solicitor. But he said firms are looking at this as an administrative, rather than sales, task – thinking that comes down from the boardroom and leads to a lack of training in dealing with calls.

As a result, the process can be slow and very rigid. “If someone has had an accident, they’re angry and anxious, and the reason they’ve called a firm of solicitors is that they want to talk to a solicitor about their case. People are most likely to buy at the peak of the anxiety or desire curve.”

He recounted calling a major PI firm at its own request – it was only after 12 minutes that the screener (who did not explain her role) asked what the injury was, and it was 29 minutes before he was told that he would have to talk to someone else. But there was no call back the following day as agreed, and no response to the five chasing calls he then made.

“If a lawyer’s too lazy to pick up the phone and talking to someone who’s injured and might give them the business, then they don’t deserve it in the first place,” Professor Cooper said. “Many firms have moved a long way from basic client values – there is a corporate arrogance that believes that if someone has rung them, they will automatically be instructed.”

But a two-tier process can work if done correctly, he added. He talked about one firm where the first responder explained that she would take his basic information and then pass it to a colleague who would respond within an hour. “I got a call within five minutes from a partner – it made me feel like my accident mattered,” he said.

By contrast, Professor Cooper said that in family law too many firms offer free consultations within 30 seconds of the call starting. “The evidence I’ve seen is that this doesn’t work, he said, highlighting one firm he consulted with that provided 560 free divorce appointments in a year, of which just 13% turned into business. When he helped the firm move to a structured call instead, the conversion rate rose steadily to 82%.

“There is still a fixation in certain areas that bringing people in will translate into cases,” he said.

He also warned that failing to ‘sell’ over the telephone left clients with no way of choosing a firm other than on price.

But Professor Cooper concluded: “The good news is that converting telephone enquiries into business is the easiest, quickest, cheapest and most guaranteed way of generating massive additional revenue.”

    Readers Comments

  • mickc says:

    Who is “Professor Cooper”?

    With whom is he “a leading consultant”?

    The legal profession has been destroyed by “experts”, such as academics, judges, politicians, quangoites, all of whom had never been working members of the profession but “knew” how it should be “improved”. Clementi and Woolf were the biggest and stupidest vandals, despite being lauded by the great and good.

    And they were all very well paid for their “expertise”!

  • Customer Experience is a powerful way to differentiate yourself in a competitive and crowded industry. The landscape and channels used for buying services is always changing and so are the expectations of clients. As a company that partners many firms in the legal sector, helping them to implement more client centric call handling solutions, we frequently see the substantial positive impact to both customer satisfaction and operational efficiency, that come as a result of making improvements in this area.

  • I agree with Scott Armstrong. We too partner with many firms in the legal sector and provide these firms with a remote call handling solution. Our services enable them to not only ensure their client experience is positive but they maximise their ROI for marketing spend by capturing every new enquiry whether it be by phone or email 24/7/365. For anybody wishing to explore this avenue we offer a complimentary trial.

  • The law firms that we work with use mystery shopping as part of a strategy of continuous improvement – so that where weaknesses have been identified, they can be addressed with trading, coaching and tweaking processes.
    It works best when the firm’s leadership affirms the ‘continuous improvement’ strategy and marketing and HR work together on practical steps to improve the client experience.
    We offer a free guide on Mystery Shopping for Legal Services.

  • Tim Bishop says:

    Ian Cooper is spot-on. As a law firm owner, rather than a supplier of services, I’ve seen over the last 20 years, the increasing importance of handling initial enquiries properly. The days are long gone when any solicitor could simply put up a brass name plaque and guarantee a cosy retirement. Law firms already have plenty of marketing and selling savvy competitors – we can no longer just rely on clients automatically instructing us. Any sensible law firm that wants to survive the 21st-century need to make sure that we respond to all client enquiries in a prompt, sympathetic and efficient fashion – or risk them going somewhere else.

  • Karen Thurley says:

    Tim’s practice was one of the first to recognize the importance of ensuring callers feel as valued as the people walking through the door. If the in-house Receptionist is busy greeting clients, then calls are not answered. A Virtual Receptionist who has respect for confidentiality, is mature and dependable and understands the requirements of the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority, can help keep a busy Law Firm compliant.

  • Paul Taylor says:

    The continuous improvement mentality is clearly the only way forward. Complacency is common, but dangerous.

    The world is becoming more competitive and the legal profession and legal services industry are no exceptions to this.

    The genuine experiences of clients, and the effect of this on the reputation of any business, is fast becoming as important or more important than traditional marketing.

    Firms can’t just tell potential clients how good they are, members of the public tell each other.. the truth as they see it.

    We also help firms to improve the experience their clients and prospective clients receive, focusing on the initial stages that make all the difference to conversions from enquiries to instructions. I think Ian talks a lot of sense and his examples are sall too common.

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