Can improving complaint handling increase law firm profitability?
Nobody likes complaints, or at least no one that I’ve yet met. They take up chargeable time and they challenge our reputation, we would like them to go away as quickly as possible but are we are missing a trick?
Well, that would seem to be the view of the Legal Ombudsman, based on the findings of an Economic Insight Report they commissioned entitled The Business Case for good complaints handling in Legal Services. The research estimates that good complaint handling could generate net benefits of between £53m and £80m to the industry over a ten year period. Specifically, it could mean an increase in operating profits of 2-3% for your firm, which surely can’t be sniffed at in these competitive times.
So if it’s that important what do we need to think about for good complaint handling? In my view it involves having a formal process that covers seven key steps.
- Tell clients how your complaints procedure works, how they should contact you if they are not happy with the service you provide and how quickly you will respond at the outset of doing business with them. They will appreciate your openness.
- Make sure all your staff know what is expected of them when receiving a complaint and what they need to do about it.
- Record every complaint thoroughly, whether it is received through the designated channel or informally via partners and associates. Make it available and known to everybody who has a right and need to know, to avoid potentially awkward situations.
- Be as meticulous with your complaints files as you are with your matter files. Keep everything in one place including a copy of the procedure, your complaint check list, when you have to respond, who to escalate matters to, who is responsible and details of all the actions and conversations that happen. Make sure you adhere to the time limits and, most importantly, keep the client informed of progress.
- Inform the client of the result, and agree the actions that will be taken in the future.
- Perhaps most importantly spend some time analysing the complaints you receive and their underlying causes. Complaint analysis can help you identify weak spots, procedural inefficiencies, training gaps and ineffective practices which, when addressed, will help you continuously improve the service you provide and can have a positive impact on your indemnity insurance.
- Consider using a legal case management system like Lexis® Visualfiles™ to manage complaints. Legal case management systems let you quickly and efficiently record all activities, documents and communications relating to a complaint in a single electronic file, schedule tasks and easily share information with all those who need it. In addition, they enable you to rapidly run reports and analyse information across case files, giving you greater insights into the causes of complaints. They also enable you to take pre-emptive action to make sure key dates are not missed and key issues are escalated.
In the legal profession reputation is everything, so protecting your brand value is vitally important. If you can do that, reduce indemnity premiums, find better process and increase profits perhaps complaints aren’t so bad after all?
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