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Like it or not, many consumers will rely on online reviews to determine which law firm they decide to instruct. Amanda Croxon explains why you need to embrace them as a way of enhancing your reputation, how you should handle responding to negative feedback, and what to do with fake reviews.
Online reviews and comparison websites are hot topics at the moment.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is currently piloting a scheme involving law firms and comparison websites to increase the amount of accessible, comparable information available to consumers to help them choose a lawyer.
Love them or hate them, we must acknowledge that online reviews and comparison websites are playing an increasingly significant role in how members of the public choose which legal service provider best suits their needs.
Many people accessing legal services will carry out online searches in the same way they would look for a plumber, car insurance or holiday destination.
Online reviews and responses to them are hugely influential in determining the choices people make when looking for services and products. The legal sector is no different.
If your prospective clients are starting their search for legal services online, it makes commercial sense for you to know what is being said about you and to engage with these reviews.
Online reviews are an efficient and direct way to seek feedback in real time.
Any issues arising can be identified quickly and openly, enabling swift resolution of any problems.
There is also a lot to be said about positively encouraging your clients to leave an online review, in the same way as you might collect customer satisfaction surveys at the conclusion of cases.
Where you're encouraging clients to leave reviews, you should ask them to do so as quickly as possible after the end of the matter, whilst it's fresh in their minds.
Asking clients to leave online reviews shows you care about what they think of the service you have provided, their overall experience and impression of your firm.
It should also increase the number of reviews that can be viewed by other prospective clients.
By encouraging clients to feedback on your service, you're demonstrating your open and transparent approach to customer satisfaction, which will give a good impression to prospective clients visiting your website and reading the reviews.
Online reviews should be monitored regularly and, whether they are good or bad, you should acknowledge and respond to them swiftly.
Some online review websites can notify you as soon as a review has been posted.
You should see your response as a further opportunity to show how you value client feedback.
It will show prospective clients that you provide a high-quality service tailored to your clients’ specific needs and requirements.
It will also give you the chance to raise awareness of your firm’s values and the way you do things that might not be readily clear from your website.
The best approach is to respond professionally, specifically remembering your duties to act with integrity and in a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the legal profession.
As tempting as it might be, do not get personal or defensive.
Some online review providers offer firms the opportunity to respond to negative reviews before they are posted, to enable you to investigate the concerns and draft a response so that both posts go live at the same time.
It might therefore be worthwhile engaging an online provider that utilises this service.
If this feature is not available and you strongly disagree with a negative review, then the best approach is to:
You might even want to offer the client a second chance to use your services.
If you can take the sting out of any criticism, it's likely to reassure other potential clients that you take feedback seriously and want to put matters right.
Negative feedback should be seen as an opportunity to do things better next time around, which will show prospective clients that you are innovative and responsive.
If you respond to an online review, you should take care not to disclose any confidential or privileged information.
A client might leave a review that includes specific details about their case, and if you respond, you must ensure that you do not say anything that breaches your duty of confidentiality.
You should not therefore mention anything over and above what the client has disclosed, and the best approach might be to acknowledge the review and then contact the client directly about what they have said.
If you believe a fake review has been posted, then you should take steps to see if you can verify its authenticity.
If it has been posted on a review website, contact the provider to try to establish whether it's genuine.
If you believe it's fake, then ask the review website what procedures it has in place for its removal.
If the review is not posted via a review website and you cannot verify its authenticity, then it might be worthwhile responding along the following lines: that you have carefully considered and investigated what has been posted, but have not been able to verify the review as being from a genuine client of your firm.
Keeping an eye on online reviews of your firm and responding to them might seem like an overwhelming task that you do not have the time or resources to deal with.
Consider therefore including the responsibility as part of an existing position.
This will depend on the size of your firm. For instance, in a large firm, this could be someone in the business development team, but in a smaller firm, it could be a partner or practice manager.
Alternatively, you could set aside time on a regular basis to check and respond to reviews.
We are living in a digital world driven by social media, and it's likely that online reviews and comparison websites will increasingly influence the way in which clients access legal services.
Ignore them at your peril.
Marzena Lipman, regulatory policy adviser at the Law Society, discusses the work regulators are doing on digital comparison tools for consumers and what it might mean for law firms.