In our fast changing, responsive world, how does a modern law firm balance a digital solution with excellent customer service?
After rapid growth in the Manchester and London regions, PLS Solicitors has found themselves on a customer service journey like no other.
“Our customers have one thing in common – life got faster” expresses Aash Dhand, co-founder of PLS Solicitors. “With over 900 transactions a month, where 90% of business is done over the phone or through PLS’ 24/7 Portal, keeping clients happy has to be the number one factor in taking our firm to another level”.
Ten years ago, PLS started out employing just two people, it has now grown into a national conveyancing firm with over 140 staff and offices in two of the UKs major cities, Manchester and London. After this decade of expansion, PLS reflects back on what has made their business successful; how digital solutions have changed the way we see conveyancing and the importance of excellent client service.
Excellent customer service requires innovation and tip top communication skills
When co-founders Aash Dhand and Rob Thomas asked their staff what they could do better to service their customers nationally, there was a clear answer – “find ways to deliver excellent customer service consistently”.
“PLS’ vision is to be the country’s favourite conveyancer, and one day the country’s favourite conveyancing app.” says co-founder Rob Thomas “That’s why in 2016 we introduced a quicker and more efficient way for customers to buy or sell their new homes through our 24/7 Portal – taking the stress out of house buying by helping our clients feel in control”.
Estate agents and conveyancers across the UK have been changing the way we buy or sell our homes, with a focus on providing the service from anywhere, so customers aren’t even required to leave the house. But is this really enough?
How do we balance a digital solution with human interaction and the need for reassurance?
“This year we will be launching our 24/7 app. In today’s world of mobile first, our customers want a fast, efficient and accessible service when buying or selling their home – to sign, upload documents and track their case anytime, anywhere but this does bring challenges when customers feel they need to see a face.” Says Thomas
With a focus on growth and innovation, great reviews weren’t as regular as PLS would have liked so they embarked on a new approach. By using this qualitative information to think about how to eliminate poor reviews and provide consistent client delight, they came to the decision to appoint a Client Service Manager. And so, in August last year, PLS welcomed Karishma Mohindra on board with one sole task – to manage and eliminate negative comments by improving customer service.
“For some time, we had a really good run of five-star reviews but last year, we noticed that the negative client feedback was trickling through and it was all around communications and managing clients’ expectations” expressed Dhand
“It’s a brave decision to encourage clients to express their views. We could see the good work that was being done in the office, but the bad reviews really knocked the teams. We needed to appoint someone with great people skills to figure out how we could eliminate these negative reviews, and that person was Karishma. Her new role as Client Service Manager will fit into the client journey ensuring that no customer or staff voice goes unheard.”
How did the appointment of Karishma affect the teams at PLS?
As Karishma is the first Client Service Manager at PLS, naturally some of the staff were unsure of her remit. Was she going to discipline if they had a bad review? Luckily, Karishma is more focussed on the positive. She says, “I wanted to encourage great relationships, so if there’s someone who has a tricky client or I hear someone who wants to talk to a manager, I am there for both the customer and the staff member. I made sure the team had the skills to take a more active approach listening to complaints and I positioned myself where I could always be on hand if things became more complicated. This way our staff felt empowered to address the issue responsively.”
Karishma restructured the new business and legal teams to enable them to address the most common complaints efficiently and a resolution that would exceed customer’s expectations. Like many organisations, building relationships over the phone, timeliness, communication skills when handling objections and responsiveness to potentially difficult discussions require a system and soft skills to manage them well.
In autumn last year, PLS also introduced its Client Journey training programme to give every single member of staff the opportunity to develop their soft skills and ‘put themselves in their clients’ shoes’. With the absence of regular face to face communication, a focus on developing soft skills and the right tone of voice over the phone, as well as excellent written communication were paramount.
To get staff motivated, it must come from the top!
It wasn’t really that hard to get staff motivated at PLS, particularly as this was a board decision. Karishma adds “Having our staff meet people from the board was a revelation, they really felt empowered and that people were listening to them. In busy organisations, management can sometimes be feared by having Aash and Rob at the consultation sessions really helped break down the barriers.”
One of the major challenges for staff in any professional services firm is managing conflict, which can affect staff motivation. PLS’ Customer Journey programme certainly recognises this. “Handling objections or just building relationships over the phone is a challenge for anyone but with our programme, we teach our teams how to put themselves in the clients’ shoes and understand how they feel” says Karishma. “This is the only way to delight our customers – by knowing how they feel.”
For Karishma, the biggest problem she found was that people simply did not know how to escalate issues or who to go to with questions about customer service. This role has resulted in Karishma being visible to all. She is the point of contact and someone to go to. “People are always dropping me emails and calls now”, she says. This has made a real difference to the teams’ confidence and the way PLS handles complaints and concerns from clients. Indeed as soon as Karishma hears the inkling of a complaint she is straight there to offer her help, chatting with the team members to see what next steps they would prefer to take.”
On a positive note, Karishma adds “If a review comes in that praises a team or particular staff member, I make sure to let them know. In fact, we let the whole firm know. We also highlight our great comments more on social media to shout about our fab teams. It is really love to see the comments rolling in right now.”
Why is it important to encourage customer feedback so openly?
Forget stuffy officers and scary legal eagles, new technology puts the customer in control and takes out the formality. With tools like Trustpilot and Google, customers can very easily select their firm of choice or not as the case may be.
“If you don’t ask, you really don’t know” says Thomas. “It is easy to hide behind the technology, emails and even the phone but our aim is to try to eliminate those 1- and 2-star reviews by being better communicators”.
By the end of 2019 Karishma’s goal is to have zero 1 or 2* reviews, and only 4 or 5* reviews if she can help it. Over the past six months, PLS continues to increase its star rating which is currently five stars on Trustpilot for almost 380 reviews and 4.1 star on Google with 300+ reviews. These are staggering amounts but a brave decision for PLS.
“Exposure to the good and bad is a risk but one that has paid off” says Rob Thomas. “Now that all the teams are trained on their soft skills, our online systems and the portal, PLS is moving away from one- and two-star reviews.