Legal regulators urged to undertake mystery shopping

Mystery shopping would open up some very powerful data for the legal regulators, but does it make sense for each regulator to undertake separate exercises? After the recent recommendation by the Legal Services Consumer Panel that all of the legal regulators should undertake mystery shopping, Sue Bramall looks at the importance of mystery shopping and how it will benefit legal regulators.

I was surprised to read that the Legal Services Consumer Panel recommend that each of the legal regulators should undertake mystery shopping - not because I do not believe in the benefits of such an exercise (see blog from 2013 about ensuring a great client experience), but because it seemed strange to encourage several separate, and therefore presumably different, exercises. But I suppose that recommending that all the regulators worked together might have been even more of a challenge.

Mystery shopping is one of those management tools that the legal profession has been rather slow to catch on to, although its use has been well documented in a wide range of other service businesses for decades. There has been a noticeable growth post-recession, with reports of the LSB testing wills in 2011 and LawNet more recently embracing such research as part of a drive to continuous improvement.

One reason for its slow adoption may be a fear of the unknown, a lack of understanding about how this research is undertaken, what sort of information can be acquired as a result, and a perception that it might an exercise might reveal negative results. While most lawyers are familiar with Which? reports and would not doubt their value in comparing electronic appliances, a similar approach for legal services is dismissed as it is not comparable. Of course, it is true that legal services are not identical, but the subjects of complaints remain stubbornly similar relating to communications, responsiveness and cost.

Have you ever been somewhere where you have received fantastic personal service, outstanding in its attention to detail while truly putting you at ease? It might seem effortless, but that excellence has been honed by careful consideration of your experience and planning for every step of your customer journey.

Mystery shopping is used to test the experience of a potential new client, and to look for possible improvements to ensure that your firm has the best chance of securing an instruction. Consider how the British rowing or cycling teams or the Formula 1 teams review every element of their activities to find a millisecond of advantage to ensure that they win. No aspect is ignored, from diet to psychology as well as exercise clothing and equipment.

Those firms that use mystery shopping know that they get their hands on some very powerful data, which they can then act on to eliminate problems by refining processes and training programmes. This investment pays dividends in terms of happier clients, a higher rate of conversion of enquiries, better retention and referrals and this cascades through to profitability.

So why should any of the regulators do this for their members? Well, they can certainly play a role in identifying best practice, and developing templates and workbooks that could be made available to members on a more affordable basis.

But does it make sense for several regulators to undertake several separate exercises? Wouldn't it be more cost-effective for them to work together on different legal practice areas? For example, both the SRA and the ICAEW might each benefit from collaborating on an exercise to consider probate, not least in sharing the costs of set up and reporting.

Just off to find a flack jacket …

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