Client service excellence should always be at the heart of any business. It is especially the case in the conveyancing industry, which has endured extreme pressure during the pandemic while having to juggle the expectations of the client, and finely balancing the requirements of the agent, the broker, the panel manager, and other parties involved in a transaction.
The conveyancing sector has undergone unprecedented stress and strain over the past twelve months, navigating Covid-19, Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) holiday along with regulatory, political, and economic hurdles.
With the SDLT holiday deadline on the horizon at the end of September, conveyancers know they are set for more hurdles and challenges ahead. With changing client habits and high expectations, conveyancers and law firms need to keep up the pace when thinking about their customers’ experience.
Continuing to bring influencers from the industry, Minerva organised their latest webinar with key experts in the field who understand the importance of creating great customer service in conveyancing. Host, Richard Mathias of Minerva, welcomed special guest speakers Clare Yates from CY Training Works, Richard Carter from British Conveyancing Awards winning firm, Martin Tolhurst and Sarah Keegan from forward-thinking firm CS Partnership.
Opening the webinar, Richard discussed how offering unrivalled customer service in the legal landscape has never been more important than when Covid-19 struck globally 18 months ago. The discussion revolved around creating great customer service in conveyancing, while looking at challenges, solutions and top tips.
Opening the discussion, Richard Carter said;
‘The key to good customer service is “communication”. Clients are of the opinion the fee earner has vast conveyancing knowledge, and assume they know the law inside out. The professional will send out paperwork such as searches and legal title which some clients will read, and some will not as they assume the fee earner will know the law.
We have elderly clients who instruct us, and fee earners make assumptions that they want to be communicated by post, but it is important to establish how they want to be communicated to from the start. This is because all clients’ knowledge of the process is different and as part of the onboarding process you must listen to the clients to suss out what they want and their needs – this should include a “Welcome call” at the start of the process on how they wish to be communicated to during the transaction and what their expectations are. If you find out their expectations from the offset and be upfront and realistic at the beginning, the client will not have any surprises further into the process because they have not completed for example.”
Sarah Keegan aired her view on this point and said: ‘I don’t ever recall a lawyer wanting to give a bad customer service. We are in this to help people What we find is that fee earners get dragged into the specifics of certain tasks they must undertake in the process such as report on title which does not make any sense to the client. With conveyancers being busy, it has become a natural fee earner behaviour to not always review paperwork as they are not taught how to deal with clients and explaining everything to them. But “should lawyers take time out to review paperwork?” You have got to imagine talking to your loved ones and the fact that often they do not understand the jargon and process.’
Clare Yates agreed with both Richard and Sarah when reviewing law firms’ customer services. She said:
“We forget we are handling large sums of money for the buyers and sellers, and they are told they may not get the property they want, and they may well not fully understand the process, so interpersonal skills are so important”.
Sarah alluded that some lawyers have lost how to make the clients feel appreciated and welcome in law firms and said in a language they understand and feel like they have been helped - as clients can feel helpless. ‘When we feel anxious and not in control clients can perform irrationally – and some clients do walk away from a conveyancing transaction not feeling happy about how it went. ‘
Richard Mathias asked the expert panel what they think a client would expect from a transaction.
Clare said: “They are asking us to move them from one place to another place and, fee earners need to have a mindset of –‘ my job is to help them buy the house they want; this should be clear and at the forefront of their minds”
Richard Mathias continued by asking how you would measure internally whether a job is being done well.
Richard Carter confirmed that they carry out surveys and texts after an initial call to ask the clients how the call went. He pointed out that it is important to get over to the client that you are acting in their best interests and then follow up with a telephone survey at the end of the transaction.
’We also study online reviews, that said, we are aware they are not 100% accurate. However, you must look at the “bigger picture when you receive feedback, whether good or bad”. For example, if you get positive feedback about an individual employee, that particular member of staff is perfect to share their skills and knowledge with new employees to improve customer service skillset in your teams.’
The discussion around internal working practices continued and Richard Mathias wanted to know if everyone felt staff are underpaid and overworked as it starts internally to look after staff so they can deliver on client promises and expectations.
It was revealed by the panel that you need to look at the human behaviour angle. Senior staff need to look at the inner workings of their departments because if you have unhappy staff, they are not going to perform well. Employees want to feel appreciated by their employers when they are undergoing the regulatory and procedural pressure of their workload.
Richard Carter responded by saying: “There is no silver bullet, you need to keep staff trained so they are in control when facing difficult situations – plus one-off acts of kindness such as gifts, longer lunches, early finishes go a long way to employees as it makes them feel appreciated and valued.”
An example was highlighted by Clare what firms were doing right and wrong for employees. She said that law firms needed to “help people to radiate rather than drain” them as employees can feel overloaded and pressurised in their role. You need to look at how a department is operating and whether some staff are performing high above others, while others may feel drained and struggling.
The relationship between estate agents and fee earners was discussed by the panel which revealed that the pandemic has certainly not helped the working relationship but when they are united together, it becomes a successful partnership which results in the client endorsing both services.
The peaks and troughs of the SDLT holiday were debated and Sarah said during this time “poor service levels rocketed which makes managing staff levels a very difficult task, but if you rely on technology, such as Minerva, it takes away the worry”.
Managing transaction numbers were key to the SDLT peaks and troughs, Clare said “you need to know how many transactions are being dealt with and how many new jobs are being taken on. A culture of never turning a job down exists but can impact on customer service further down the line.”
Richard Mathias reiterated Clare’s point by saying “It is a firm culture to not stop working and keep taking on new clients. But you need to know your pipeline, if a law firm is more popular than others that law firm can get overloaded. Data is key. You need to make the decision to stop taking calls to protect employees and do a good job for clients.”
Sarah explained that you need to “look at the way the department is operating and functioning day to day, and if you show every client that you are on their side, you will probably be the best solicitor - because of the passion for the job”
Clare’s top tip is to “separate quoting for new business and fee earning. The sales part should be carried out by the salespeople and lawyers should undertake the ‘welcome call’ and talk to the new clients.”
In conclusion, knowing your clients is key. Jargon-free communication with your clients is a ‘must’ but looking after your employees and being aware of their limits is equally important to meet customer expectations and deliver exceptional customer service in the long run.