Although the legal profession provides a service, we are a long way from taking service measurement seriously compared to other business sectors.

Given the marketing maxim “under-promise and over-deliver”, it was a brave move for the new national network Quality Solicitors to brand themselves as such. I shall be intrigued to see how they address quality assurance amongst a large group of independent firms, when many practices struggle to introduce consistent standards of client service amongst a few partners.

In this article, we look at the different types of client satisfaction measurement services and tools available. Off-line tools include face-to-face or telephone interviews and postal questionnaires. Online tools include electronic surveys and comparison websites.

Client service measurement techniques vary according to the cost-per-contact which broadly correlates with a trade-off between quality of information and quantity.

Interviews

At the “quality” end of the spectrum there is the face-to-face client interview. A number of larger firms employ client service managers who undertake the interviews and process the feedback. Alternatively the interview might be undertaken by the managing partner or an external consultancy such as ourselves (Berners Marketing) or Size 10½ Boots who offer face-to-face and telephone interviews. They offer a fixed-price service for 20 interviews followed up with a feedback workshop where they provide firms with the insight and themes from all the interviews.

“You can obtain very detailed, high quality information via the face to face interviews,” explains Bernard Savage, director of Size 10½ Boots, “However with budgets being tight we have seen an increase in the demand for telephone interviews as a more affordable alternative. It also enables firms to interview a wider portfolio.”

Like most businesses, an 80:20 analysis will probably reveal that 80 per cent of profit is derived from the top 20 per cent of your clients. Depending on your budget you might consider interviews for your top clients, but what about the rest? The remaining 80 per cent may be less important in terms of value, but they are important in terms of volume and referral power – particularly when you consider the statistics.

According to Richard Morrey, director of Service Science, a company specialising in every aspect of customer service improvement, “Statistics suggest that for every complaint, there are likely to be on average another 24 people who have had a similar experience. So the complaint is the tip of the iceberg, the bit you are lucky enough to be able to see and learn from. Below the surface of the water (the dangerous bit) are another 24 people who not only will not return, but will also have told on average 9 others instead of you. So that’s a further 216 negative messages further below the waterline. On average these people each told 5, so that’s a further 1,080 even further down, hidden from you.”

Postal v electronic surveys

Traditionally, firms have used a postal questionnaire with most firms having one generic set of questions for all clients, whilst some firms have developed different types of questionnaires for different matters.

Sending out the questionnaires is easy but few firms seem to have a good system for recording responses, analysing trends and results and reporting. This is where an electronic survey, such as the one we use with clients as part of their email marketing programme (clientcaresurveys.com), can pay dividends.

Firstly, there are savings to be made by sending out an online questionnaire in terms of postage and envelopes. If a client does not respond within a certain period, it is possible to send a reminder with minimal effort.

Electronic survey tools, such as Enablermail give you the facility to create you own questionnaires, so you can add or remove your own questions and incorporate business development research for cross selling. They also capture and analyse the results automatically, so there is no need for someone to spend time manually inputting responses and then analysing the results. Reporting tools usually allow you to pull off the consolidated results for any period that you wish – last week, last month or last year.

If you do not have an email marketing system with a survey creation facility, then a popular online tool is surveymonkey.com.

Survey creation software is fairly easy to use, although research questionnaire design is an art in itself and it is important to test any questions to ensure they are easy to answer and provide robust results.

For firms without anyone in-house to manage the research programme IRN Research offer a fixed-price service which includes online surveys for the legal profession.

Comparison or review websites

Whilst certain service sectors have had independent comparison or review websites for a few years, the concept is new to the legal profession. Many readers will be familiar with web sites such as tripadviser.com where you can find out what others say about a destination before you visit. Now there are a growing number of websites that offer this facility across all services such as touchlocal.com which describes itself as “local businesses reviewed by you”. Anyone can go onto such a site and review their lawyer, plumber, hairdresser or local restaurant.

Earlier this year we assisted a law firm in having a negative review removed from such a site. It was interesting to note that Touch Local agreed to remove the negative review only because an individual member of staff had been mentioned. If the review had only referred to the firm, the negative comment (which was the only online comment about this firm) would have stayed online.

This year, an online review website has been launched specifically for the legal profession – legallybetter.com. The first of its kind, it describes itself as bringing “independent consumer reviews and ratings of solicitors from around the UK together in one place to enable other law firm users to compare solicitors and select their legal advisers with confidence”. Users provide comments on the service they received and also rate the law firm using a “Legal Stars” rating system covering 5 key service criteria:

  • Quality of Advice
  • Speed of Service
  • Value for Money
  • Helpfulness and Friendliness
  • Communications with Client

These sites are a relatively new phenomenon and it will be interesting to see how they develop and what sort of impact they have.

Mystery shopping

A forward-thinking firm will want to ensure that service standards remain high and negative experiences are not allowed to get to the point where they are publicised on a web site. Taking another technique from the travel industry, some professional firms are even using mystery shopping as a way of obtaining an independent evaluation of the customer experience.

Richard Morrey of Service Science explains, “We often work with HR departments as much as marketing and business development staff, as all service issues are closely related to personal performance. It works best where it is linked to clear strategic objectives such as ”˜developing a competitive edge through excellent client service’ and is often used in tandem with other forms of research such as reviews and surveys.

Usually we would work with the firm to set a series of service standards which they realistically aspire to achieve. Mystery shopping is then used to test actual performance against these standards and the results provide guidance that will inform the business and personal development needs of the firm and input to a training plan.”

Further information about this is available in an interview with Richard Morrey on our website at.

The future?

At the moment, the balance is firmly offline with electronic methods just having their toe in the door. However, I think we will see big changes in this in the future.

Sue Bramall is Director of Berners Marketing which works exclusively with the legal profession, providing email marketing software, support and services.

Email sue.bramall@bernersmarketing.com.

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