Recognising complaints will lead to happy customers - Vicky Crichton

Would you recognise a complaint when you saw it? Sure, the phrase, “I am writing to complain” might be a quick give-away. But what about “I am concerned”, “I’m not sure” or “Could you please explain?”.

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

All of those phrases might raise a flag that someone isn’t entirely content with what’s happening and might want you to look again, or to help them to understand.

If you’re waiting for a ‘formal’ complaint before you act, then you might miss the opportunity to pick up an early concern, deal with it quickly and move on. Doing so will likely not just help you avoid any further escalation, but impress your client that you’ve been quick to recognise and respond to their concerns.

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In legal services, the definition of a complaint is ‘any expression of dissatisfaction’. It’s a broad one, but that should feel like an opportunity rather than a threat. It’s a reminder that the services lawyers provide for their clients are vital, complex and often needed at times of upheaval in people’s lives.

When we feel vulnerable, we need to trust the people we ask to help us. We want to know that they understand what we need and can respond to that. When we’re already confused, angry or upset, someone picking up on something that’s not quite working for us – and trying to solve it – is a blessing. Being asked to jump through extra hoops to complain is unlikely to be welcome, and won’t be conducive to reaching a mutual agreement on how to move forward.

Listening out for a flag that someone is concerned you haven’t fully understood their needs, or isn’t clear about what might happen next, is a key skill. Addressing that head on might just help allay their concerns, or it might uncover an issue that could well cause you significant challenges further down the line if left to deteriorate.

Either way, it’s a chance to put things right. What they’ll remember is not the concern they had, but how well you responded when they raised it.

People look to their lawyer for advice and guidance, often at really difficult times in their lives. Our data shows that complaints tend to arise from situations where there have been shortcomings in the adequacy of that advice, or more commonly, from how effectively that advice has been communicated.

Getting to a good legal outcome doesn’t just mean avoiding technical errors, but finding a solution that your client feels addresses the problem they brought to you. One that helps them to move on with their life. If they don’t understand, or don’t feel heard, the chances they’ll feel they’ve had a good outcome are significantly reduced.

The good news is that those little flags can help you to pause, check, reframe and discuss with your client. There’s a good chance the solution might be simpler than you think. It’s almost certain to be simpler to deal with now than once it’s had a chance to rankle, or events have moved on too far to be easily unpicked. Ultimately, if they feel heard and understood, and feel that you can address their concerns, then you’ll likely have a happy customer.

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

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