In the last couple of weeks I have been working with a firm of conveyancers where some things weren’t going as well as they might be. The firm is very proud of its customer service track record and was bitterly disappointed that there was background level of negative comments they were having difficulty eliminating.
The customer feedback suggested that a small number of clients felt that the firm lacked responsiveness and proactive communication.
To address the issues Fee earners were encouraged to phone clients more regularly. Measurements showed that the fee earners were calling clients regularly but the background dissatisfaction continued.
After a little time we were able to identify that the issue was nothing to do with the way in which the fee earners behaved.
The firm in question was large enough to have created a file opening team of junior staff. Not a large team but a couple of juniors just over minimum wage. We discovered that the file opening team was really left to get on with its own devices and not effectively managed.
The quality of file opening was not always great, specifically:-
1) Some files had spelling errors in names or addresses this resulted in clients not receiving post and getting off on the wrong foot with the clients and subsequent complaints.
2) There was an inconsistency of what happened within the firms processes when a file was opened so the fee earners that largely operated on an electronic case management basis were not always told by their system that the client care letter had been returned and the case was good to proceed.
3) Files in this firm were largely electronic but the paper file was filed under fee earners names. Some files were not physically filed under the correct fee earners name. This resulted in wasted time where fee earners who couldn’t find a file would spend time rooting around in other peoples cabinets.
4) Some client paperwork was filed in the wrong files. Which meant that clients were told papers had not arrived when they had.
These issues were few and far between but caused considerable delay and client dissatisfaction in a small minority of cases.
When I interviewed the file openers it was clear that:-
1) The system of file opening was not recorded or agreed. Whilst small firms might get away with word of mouth for processes larger firms need some documentation to maintain consistent standards.
2) Management did not spend much time with the junior staff and the junior staff did not feel that their role was important or understand the impact of their mistakes on the overall process.
3) A “tell” approach from the management had assumed that that problem largely related to fee earners rather than elsewhere.
So I hope you can pass this article to whomever opens files in your team and remind them that their role is important and why you are grateful when they get it right.
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