Responding to online reviews is more important than ever, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has told law firms.
It also urged solicitors not to be afraid of negative reviews. In guidance  issued yesterday, it said: “Consumers find it more authentic when they can see a company had made mistakes but made attempts to address them.
“Customers spend more than five times as long on site when they interact with bad reviews, trust the reviews they see far more and convert nearly 85% more often.”
The regulator said engaging with online reviews can help “maintain, develop and protect your firm’s reputation”, stressing that legal professional privilege and client confidentiality obligations should not prevent solicitors responding to them.
“It is okay to comment if you are not disclosing confidential or privileged information. If a client in a review does this, you can acknowledge the review and contact the client directly.”
The SRA cited a series of statistics to show the business benefits: 45% of consumers are more likely to visit a business if it responds to negative reviews; 80% of consumers believe that a business cares more about them when its management responds to their reviews; and good complaints handling can improve profitability by 2-3%.
The guidance stressed the need for firms to respond quickly: over 53% of customers expect businesses to respond to their online review within seven days, it said.
“Think about future clients when writing your response. People thinking of instructing your firm are likely to be reading online reviews and your response to them.”
It said each response was an opportunity to “highlight the characteristics of your business that may not be fully disclosed on your website or evident at first sight for new customers”, and also include key search terms that would help the firm appear in more review searches.
The SRA urged firms to “be authentic in your responses… Showing that your firm has a human face is your responses is more likely to appeal to potential clients”.
It also reassured lawyers that responding to online reviews did not require significant resources.
“Monitoring and responding to on line reviews may appear daunting if you do not have the expertise, time or resources. The amount of work involved is likely to reflect the number of transactions you carry out.
“It may be worth thinking whether the monitoring and responding to online reviews can be included in an existing role or whether a small amount of time can be spent on a daily or weekly basis to check reviews.”
When it came to bad reviews, the guidance advised never leaving one unanswered.
“Responding to a negative review is your opportunity to clarify, correct and learn more about how consumers perceive the service you deliver.
“Acknowledging and thanking a client for raising their concern and setting out how you will address the issue reassures existing and future clients that you value their experience seriously.”
It added: “Avoid getting personal or defensive in your responses. Telling a client publicly that they are wrong or dismissing their concern signals to existing and future clients that you are not client focused.
“A better option is to show that you understand their concerns and working to resolve their problem.”