Review of standards in the legal sector

Legal service mystery shoppers give their views on solicitors, with shocking results.

Jonathan Winchester is Chief Executive of Shopper Anonymous, the UK’s leading customer feedback organisation, and his team of shoppers can solve the mystery of why some law firms aren’t winning on service. Shopper Anonymous has just undertaken a benchmarking exercise of 85 law firms and Jonathan shared the results with Today’s Conveyancer’s, Jane Common.

What’s the background to Shopper Anonymous, Jonathan?

“I actually started it in Perth, Australia, where I moved with my Ozzie wife after working in retail in the UK for five years – I began my career in London with a three-year management training course at Harrods and that’s served me well ever since. As part of my Harrods training I had to mystery shop in rival stores like Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, which I found fascinating, so I decided to take the idea down under and in 1998, walked into the local supermarket to conduct my own mystery shopping exercise. When I gave the manager the results he was really impressed and things went from there – within seven years Shopper Anonymous was giving customer service feedback to over 1000 companies across Australia.

“We launched in the UK in 2006 and, as well as working in the retail and service industries, moved into professional fields like law. We franchised around the country too and now have 20 regional directors across Britain and 1000 part-time employees going into businesses and making phone calls and email enquiries – mystery shopping. Overall, in the past ten years, we’ve built up a portfolio of 900 clients, from zoos to bakeries, and done 300,000 mystery shops. My personal highlight was sharing a stage with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak at a conference in 2014 for entrepreneurs and discovering we had the same message to share with attendees – that to build a great business the most important thing is customer service.”

What percentage of your clientele do law firms make up?

“At present we have 950 clients in the UK and about 150 of them are law firms, a high percentage of which are conveyancers.”

And you recently undertook some mystery shopping in law firms as an exercise in benchmarking?

“That’s right – we wanted to introduce our services to firms that hadn’t used us before and, spotting an opportunity to have a big review of standards across the legal sector, we went undercover at 85 law firms free of charge. My feeling about many lawyers is that they don’t appreciate quite how many sales opportunities they are losing through poor service so we undertook 450 experiences as we call them – that’s our mystery shoppers making enquiries – over a six-week period in April and May 2016. That included going into the firms on foot and asking questions but, in the main, approaching them by email and phone – we do 70% of our work that way as that tallies with how genuine customers tend to make approaches.”

What were the results of that exercise?

“They weren’t very flattering for law firms, unfortunately. The basic question for any business, in whatever sector, is: are the right processes in place to ensure customer satisfaction? And what we found with our 85 law firms is that the answer to that question was often no, the right processes aren’t in place. The statistic that shocked me most was that 12% of the staff at the firms we surveyed didn’t respond to web enquiries at all – that’s so much lost business! And there was so much inconsistency between staff in the same company and between customer service levels from one week to the next. Walk-in enquiries did yield better returns than emails and phone calls, however – 65% of our mystery shoppers said they would consider using the firm again after visiting the branch while only 59% felt they would after making web enquiries and 57% after a telephone call.”

How are law firms reacting to the results?

“We’re currently making contact with the 85 firms and going through their results with them. Some of the managing partners were shocked, as you’d imagine. But lawyers can’t sit on their laurels – they have to earn the right to work as the legal sector is so competitive now and conveyancing is no exception to that. We presented our findings to an audience of lawyers at the Legalex conference and emailed them out to 300 other law firms, just as an overview of what’s going on in the industry.

“Now a large proportion of the firms we mystery shopped want to work with us, which is great. Like all the other businesses we’ve signed up over ten years of operation in Britain, they will definitely see results. The great thing about our packages is that not only are they effective in themselves but they introduce a culture of good customer service across businesses that lasts forever. As well as mystery shopping we offer one-to-one and team staff training with our regional directors and we organise focus groups and customer and staff online surveys. We also personally tailor what we offer to every client, be that a high street conveyancer or a big business with 200-odd staff.”

And you’ve just launched an app? 

“Yes, it allows clients to give feedback to a firm at any point in time and that links back to the managing partner who can see centrally how each department or fee earner is performing with clients. It’s proving very popular.”

For more information about Shoppers Anonymous, log on to www.shoppersanonymous.com

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