Do not tell clients what they want. It’s sage advice for all businesses, but especially for legal services as it reiterates the importance of really listening to clients in order to understand their wants, needs and expectations – rather than presuming to know. After all, how can you expect to impress, let alone satisfy, if you don’t know their needs or the criteria you’re being judged against?
It’s one of the reasons why the Law Firm Marketing Club’s What Clients Want research is so valuable to the profession – not only does it lift the lid on shifting client expectations after a very turbulent few years – but it also offers firms the insights they need to keep evolving and ensure they are modern, future-focused and client-orientated, rather than outdated and hubristic.
What stands front and centre in this What Clients Want research is the strategic important of phone calls for clients. Our own data supports this too and shows that the phone is still king. Call handling and accessibility are crucial when it comes to choosing a legal service provider and telephone calls deliver the best first impressions for 63% of those surveyed, which is on a par with meeting in person.
In fact, 53% of those surveyed said that legal firms answer calls quickly and professionally. While this may appear to be cause for praise, the remaining 47% felt differently. Calls took too long to be answered, message taking was poor, there were voicemail frustrations and clients didn’t like curt call handlers. These criticisms (and more) also appeared in the Global Customer Call Trends Report we published earlier this year so it’s a proven, universal truth that clients want to feel valued, expect responsive customer care and do not like to be kept waiting.
Right now, it’s essentially 50/50 whether clients get a positive first impression or not – that can’t be good enough for a profession that takes pride in its standards, integrity and reputability? It has to be a catalyst for change.
Clients’ digital wants inform this picture too. It’s not surprising that 69% of people expect firms to have a strong website/profiles of their people, or that 53% expect there to be live chat. After the pandemic experiences of the last few years, we’ve become less constrained by the 9-5, more self-sufficient and more expectant of answers on our terms, in real time.
In an age where choice is at our fingertips, legal firms are faced with a time critical need to overhaul their communication habits – starting with website experience. Today’s most effective and successful websites are more than static shop windows. They actively help visitors to find answers, they engage in real time chat, they offer positive and compelling experiences, and they turn enquiries into leads. The encouraging news is that we’ve seen a marked increase in the uptake of legal live chat since the start of 2020 – proof that digital change is well underway in the sector.
There’s a digital phone cross over that has to be considered too. The What Clients Want data reveals people’s desire to see direct contact details for their solicitors and their support staff online - yet still we hear of many firms omitting phone numbers from their websites in the mistaken belief it helps them to ‘manage demand’. All this does is frustrate and alienate those you want business from.
Understanding emotion and displaying empathy are both central to giving clients what they want. The reasons for needing legal services are often inherently emotional – so clients could be frustrated, anxious, nervous, angry or upset and this can govern and shape their expectations too. All of this highlights why firms must remove the factors that could heighten clients’ worries – such as the long waits for calls to be answered, struggling to get case updates, endlessly reaching voicemail, poor message taking or suffering annoying hold music cited in the survey.
Improved communication is a top priority
Clients give clear communication (35%) the same level of importance as price and being kept informed of progress (and hot on the heels of expertise and understanding - 38%) which shows that clients want rounded experiences from their legal professionals. While they of course want professional expertise and good value – they also want responsive and accessible service.
Looking ahead, the What Clients Want research provides the perfect board-level conversation-starter about client-centric change and acts as a useful checklist against which to re-evaluate client experience. How does the website perform? How easy is it to reach your solicitor? What are your call handling practices? How quickly are quotes issued? How informative is your website? Can people get in touch 24/7? How communicative are your team once a case is underway?
The answers to these questions will almost certainly identify where you need third party support – perhaps marketers to revisit service proposition, web designers to overhaul the digital experience or outsourced call and live chat handlers to ensure exceptional client care around the clock.
The legal services profession is already evolving - it’s changing because clients are more expecting and demanding than ever before. It’s changing because clients have voice and crucially, the power too!
About the author Bernadette Bennett heads up the legal sector at Moneypenny, which handles more than 2 million calls and chats each year for more than 1,000 law firms in the UK, including 75 of the Top 200, thanks to its dedicated team of legal receptionists. Established in 2000, Moneypenny is the world's market leader for Telephone Answering, Live Chat, Outsourced Switchboard, and customer contact solutions. More than 21,000 businesses globally benefit from Moneypenny’s mix of extraordinary people and ground-breaking technology. For more information about how Moneypenny supports the legal sector, visit: https://www.moneypenny.com/uk/legal-answering-services/