Be clear, open and transparent with customers from the start - Vicky Crichton

The Institute of Customer Service has published its biannual UK Customer Satisfaction Index. It draws on survey data from across the UK looking at what improves and reduces customer satisfaction and makes recommendations for what firms can do to respond. Although legal services aren’t specifically included, there’s much that the sector could learn from, and much that rings true from complaints we see about legal services.
Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints CommissionVicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

Reflecting the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, more than half of customers surveyed said low prices would become more important in influencing their choice of organisation, product or service in the next two years. We all want good value for money when we buy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean going for the cheapest option. Indeed, the survey also found that about a third of those asked were still prepared to pay more to guarantee good service.

What we all want is to be clear what we’re paying for, what level of service we can expect and how much it will cost. In straitened times, the prospect of being hit with an unexpectedly high bill when you’ve budgeted for less, is a risk that many of us would find challenging to take.

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Pricing should be clear and transparent. Firms need to set out how much customers can expect to be charged for a particular service, how bills will be calculated, and how they’ll be advised if and when that cost might change so they can decide how to proceed. It’s not in anyone’s interests for costs to be disputed or bills to come as a nasty surprise.

The report also recognised the pressure on businesses to deliver a consistent service, but said firms “need to develop service strategies that are responsive to evolving customer needs but also protect short and long-term business performance”.

The issues are clearly linked – the cost of dealing with poor service adds to ongoing expenses for businesses. It costs time, money and reputation to resolve complaints after the fact. Understanding what customers expect should be a core part of risk management and mitigation, along with good complaint handling and a focus on learning from customer feedback to prevent future problems.

The report also highlights a key theme championed by the SLCC Consumer Panel – understanding consumer vulnerability. This is a significant concern in legal services, where advice or representation is often a ‘distress purchase’, made out of necessity or in difficult circumstances. The report outlines how the impact of rising costs on people’s financial circumstances makes it even more important for firms to respond to customers’ personal circumstances and needs. It finds stark evidence of the damaging impact caused by organisations failing to respond to the personal situation of customers who are experiencing low levels of financial, mental or physical well-being.

Positively, the report also outlines practical steps firms in any sector can take to respond to these challenges. Much of this chimes with the guidance we provide to legal firms. That is to be clear, open and transparent with customers from the start about the service you provide and the costs you’ll charge. To be aware of potential vulnerabilities and individual circumstances and needs. And to be open to feedback (including complaints) as a resource for improvement.

Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission