The dreaded complaint. You work your backside off for a client and then out of nowhere you receive the email. Subject: COMPLAINT.

It feels like a kick in the teeth.

You can’t help taking it personally, despite knowing that won’t help.

You feel like pressing delete and hoping the issue will go away. As you read through the email, you feel like arguing with the complainer about the lack of justification, how hard you worked getting them a great result, and how they should be grateful.

Then you take a breath, and your common-sense kicks in.

You remind yourself that complaints are a fact of life. They are a cost of doing business. You could reasonably accurately forecast that a certain percentage of files will result in a grumble. If you were so minded.

Now, that is not to say that you should dismiss complainers as bonkers (or worse). A significant proportion of complaints will be fully justified when looked at objectively.

If the client has gone to the trouble to complain, there is an argument to say firm has failed. Lawyers sell a service. If a person feels disappointed, perhaps that is all that matters.

Avoiding complaints

The fact is that happy clients don’t complain. Time and again, we see complaints falling into similar categories. Here are our top five tips for keeping a smile on your clients’ faces:

  1. Be polite and responsive. Watch the tone of your emails – particularly those tapped out in a rush. And return those calls!
  2. Manage expectations – some people may not have instructed a solicitor before, so may think daily or even hourly contact is reasonable. You need to set clear boundaries, particularly on response times and frequency. (That doesn’t excuse you for not returning those calls!)
  3. Deliver on what you say you are going to do, or don’t promise it in the first place.
  4. Provide regular and timely updates. If your client must ask you what’s happening, you’ve probably failed on this point.
  5. Don’t over-complicate things. No-one is impressed by five-page letters (front and back!). Cut to the chase – is it clear what your advice is?

Top five tips for dealing with complaints:

  1. Train everyone on your complaints policy, and make sure the policy is clear and accessible.
  2. If possible, allocate the complaint to someone within the firm who has had no previous dealings with the client.
  3. Speak with the client, listening carefully to what they say with empathy and understanding. That first call with the client should be about reassuring them, not about justifying yourself or disputing the complaint. Handled correctly, this one call could nip the issue in the bud.
  4. Learn from feedback. Keep an open mind, using complaints as a valuable resource for improving your service for everyone else.
  5. Review your complaints register at every partner/Director meeting as a rolling item. This ensures client satisfaction is kept at the top of the firm’s agenda.
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