Jon Hepburn, a founder member of CoreLegal and Managing Director of Legallybetter Ltd takes a look at the role of comparison sites for law firms – in terms of consumer’s usage for legal advice and other industry sectors, OFR compliance, the new competition and maximising a law firm’s reputation.
In many industry sectors, comparison and review websites are one of the main channels through which a business can connect with its customers. Who hasn’t checked out reviews of a film, book or washing machine before typing in our card details and proceeding to the checkout?
Well, yes to a certain degree, in that purchasing FMCGs (fast moving consumer goods such as toiletries or food for example) or durable goods (e.g. washing machines) is quite closely linked to the reputation of that item – or the company that sells it. In other words, personal experience and the word of mouth of others plays a huge part in getting people to buy.
Where legal services differs is that, in the past, people have automatically assumed a level of competence and, indeed, a certain level of service from a solicitor – and have generally gravitated towards their local provider – the same way in which they would register with their local doctor, see their local optician or open a bank account with their local bank…
…However, over the past few years’ society’s attitude towards service providers has shifted massively
- Along with the development of the internet, the global market and social media, the world has become a smaller place, both physically and virtually. People are now no longer constrained by the ‘local’ label, even when it comes to professionals who provide a service.
- What they are now looking for is who can provide the best service and the best value, not only in terms of price but also through visible examples of a good reputation i.e. testimonials and recommendations.
- As service providers, law firms now need to make sure that their reputation clearly matches their service and that this is good enough to attract new business as well as retain long-standing business from existing clients. So, how can they communicate this quickly and cost-effectively?
- There is a difference between trying to find the right legal advisor, the cheapest car insurance, a night in a hotel or a care home for an elderly relative – the information sought, importance of the service to name but two. But this is a task that has been made much easier thanks to comparison sites.
- They, like brand names, provide a short cut to help people make a decision and can be divided into price-based comparison and review-based comparison – both of which contribute to the development of a reputation.
Price comparison sites
- These are ubiquitous in car insurance and many other sectors and, along with fixed price legal advice websites, are becoming more popular in the legal services sectors. Law firms are often attracted to these sites by promises of new business but, unless your law firm is of a suitable size, structure and culture, competing on price alone can be a risky option.
- A client’s perceptions of value are much more than just the cost involved and if your workflow is dependent on referrals that could be outlawed or from a source that could become a competitor, it is time to think about reputation management.
- When there is a lack of information on which to make an informed decision – particularly for an infrequent and often ‘distress’ purchase such as legal advice – recommendations, reviews and the reach of the internet have been a great help to the consumer.
- Indeed, the Government is encouraging the empowerment of consumers in many service sectors – there are proposals in a forthcoming White Paper on the future of social care proposing for care homes to be reviewed and rated – it would be fair to say that review sites will become an even more prominent feature on the consumer landscape.
The role of feedback differs according to what is being sold
- For a product such as a toy, book or car, there can be clear indications of whether or not the reviewer has been impressed with the product or the service received.
- When it comes to legal services the information imbalance between client and solicitor is often huge and the subject matter highly emotive. The client often has little interest in the process; their focus is on the service and outcome – and that will shape any feedback they may provide.
- However, the implications of a ‘bad’ restaurant experience or waiting longer than expected for a shed to be delivered are less serious than the implications of some incorrect legal advice – real or perceived – and so it is understandable that many law firms remain wary of the subjective nature of reviews.
The effect on each service provider’s reputation is potentially significant but must be put in context
- Consumers are now quite familiar with using review sites to help them decide on a wide range of purchases. But they are also getting wise to the issues encountered by sites such as TripAdvisor where the lack of a verification process has shown some reviews to be fraudulent and/or malicious.
- By their very nature, review sites will attract extremes of opinion but those sites that endeavour to make sure that reviews are genuine, will be the ones whose own reputation will rank highly in the site visitor’s consciousness.
- Comparison site visitors don’t tend to be alarmed by the occasional negative comment (some may even be suspicious if none exist) and generally take a broader view of the range of reviews published.
Taking this on board, some online retailers actively include all positive and negative reviews of their products and services on their own websites. It is worth noting that, under the new ABS rules; those big brands could soon be offering legal advice. Will they offer a ‘warts and all’ availability of client reviews for these services – and will you?
Given that getting client feedback is an SRA requirement for the new OFR, an appreciation of reputation management through reviews is important. The time has come for law firms to ‘think like a retailer’ with regard to their reputation and to consider the information that would help a potential client choose them over another provider.
The Legallybetter perspective
- Legallybetter has been in existence for three years. We are an independent and responsible review site and have always been careful to ensure our service offering is to the benefit of law firms. To date, we haven’t published very negative reviews (though we are currently reviewing this policy), as we want to give law firms the opportunity to rectify any problems they may have had with a client.
- We enable law firms to maximise the value of their reputation through the provision of a new client feedback service that is second to none and help empowered consumers be able to make an informed choice.
- We perceive a difference between the collective reputation of an entire law firm and that of an individual solicitor – they both have huge value and are both inextricably linked but also entirely independent of each other. To that end we offer individual solicitor profiles as well as a listing for the whole law firm including individual branch offices to enhance your local status.
Legallybetter won’t sell you leads and won’t promise to get your law firm onto page 1 of Google. We provide actual client feedback for your firm to verify and act upon. We welcome a future where we are able to provide client feedback about all legal services providers.