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Bishop Fleming: listening to clients

Author: Professional Standards Department

Published: 04 Apr 2024

Bishop Fleming is committed to listening to client feedback across all its service lines. In this case study showing how ICAEW probate-accredited firms gauge client satisfaction, Alex Robins, Partner and Head of Trusts and Probate, and Paul Seymour, Chief Marketing Officer, share their insights.

Probate is a sensitive area, and firms can sometimes feel apprehensive about asking for feedback in situations where people may be grieving, or where there are conflicting interests or family issues.

However, the emotive nature of probate work arguably makes it even more critical to check whether clients feel you are handling things properly and providing the best possible service.

“From day one, we’ve taken client feedback from our probate service line seriously,” says Alex. “We all acknowledged that feedback was crucial to ensuring we established the probate service in the right way.”

“We have a culture of benchmarking our services against the client input on all our services, and I’d scratch my head if any practice says it’s not interested in getting feedback from its clients,” he explains. “We’re a service industry and we should be striving to do the best by all parties.”

Firmwide feedback

Bishop Fleming, which employs nearly 500 people across the South West and West Midlands, uses a mix of informal and formal methods to gather client views.

The firm takes a firmwide approach and obtains feedback from its probate clients in similar ways to any other client.

“Overall, most of the feedback across the firm is gained anecdotally during delivery of a service,” explains Paul. “But alongside this, we have developed a process called Engage, which is our firmwide client listening programme.”

Over the past three years, clients have been surveyed through this annual pulse survey across generic themes. Engage covers all clients and service lines, so it includes clients who have used probate services but there are currently no probate-specific questions.

“Because Engage is client-wide, we haven't drilled too much into the specifics of service lines,” says Paul. “But we have pulled out information around wide-ranging issues such as service expectation, service delivery, communication, value for money, and all the generic issues that cut across our clients.”

“Clients frequently use multiple services,” Paul explains. “So, when we get feedback as part of Engage, it often refers to the general service a client has received across all of its business or personal interests.”

“We do, however, want to drill down further because the more granular we get, the richer the picture will be,” he adds.

As part of this, Bishop Fleming has also created bespoke client listening programmes. “Recently, for example, we’ve looked at the audit lifecycle of our Academy clients,” Paul explains.

“And that has allowed us to ask specific audit-level questions, such as: Are you prepared for your audit? Do you want us to do it in a particular way? What was your feedback coming out of the audit and did it meet your expectations?”

Bishop Fleming now plans to use this approach more widely across the business, in future delving more deeply into other areas, including probate.

From day one, we’ve taken client feedback from our probate service line seriously.

Alex Robins, Partner and Head of Trusts and Probate

Act on feedback

Regardless of how feedback is obtained, the key is to ensure the information gathered is shared and acted upon. “The whole point of doing the survey is to get the information and, if you then ignore it, what's the point?” says Paul.

“We share the results; we don’t just sit on the data,” he explains. “We pull out the testimonials, good or bad, and we push these back to the relevant relationship holders.”

“There aren't many that are negative,” he emphasises, “but the process means that we can nip those issues in the bud.”

“Part of being rewarding is pushing good feedback into the firm,” explains Paul. “We want those client testimonials to reach the person who did the work, so they know they’re doing a good job, and that their client is happy, too.”

Virtuous circle

“We’re not seeing any differences in probate responses versus other service lines,” says Paul. “Instead, we see common threads around service levels, proactivity, communication and speed of response.”

The Engage surveys also ask what other areas of business a client might be interested in. “In our most recent survey, probate was the leading service line our clients who weren't already probate clients wanted to know more about,” says Paul.

“So, that supports a virtuous circle - the more work we do, the more feedback we obtain, the more it informs our services.”

Probate clients are often existing clients, so finding out what clients are interested in is particularly useful. “Engage highlights those areas and provides us with an opportunity to have a conversation about what we offer,” explains Alex.

Bishop Fleming also publicises client feedback more widely. “For example, we keep a bank of testimonials for external marketing purposes or bids and tenders,” says Paul. “There's nothing more powerful than an existing client quote.”

Managing risk

Although Bishop Fleming doesn’t treat probate clients any differently in terms of how it asks for feedback, it has noticed some nuances in terms of the volume of anecdotal feedback, outside of the yearly Engage surveys.

“What we do find with probate,” says Alex, “is that our interactions can be slightly different to other service lines. Because it’s a more sensitive and emotional area, we usually tend to get a little more feedback along the way, compared to some of the other, perhaps more straightforward, transactional services.”

Both Alex and Paul also point out how the nature of probate means there is a more direct reputational link to delivering a good service in this area, making the risk of getting it wrong arguably higher.

“This is very personal for the people involved,” explains Alex. “So, it’s even more important to get feedback to ensure that you aren't overstepping the mark or upsetting anyone.”

“It is emotive, and naturally there are people who are going to be upset along the way,” adds Paul. “This might occasionally generate negative reviews, but I think practices have got to be ready to deal with those. It's far more rewarding to pull those problems towards you and deal with them.”

Through its various approaches, Bishop Fleming aims to get as rich a picture as possible of its client base. “It's never going to be 100%,” acknowledges Paul. “But we're confident that in the slice we get, we can extrapolate the results and rely on the themes coming out.”

“We’d also encourage any practice, regardless of size, to consider the value client feedback can bring to their business and to develop their own ways of obtaining it within their client base.”

Protecting consumers and building the public’s trust: a message from ICAEW’s Professional Standards Department

With client satisfaction as one of three areas of focus reported in ICAEW’s last Practice Assurance Monitoring Report, the results showed that 52% of firms reviewed had a method for obtaining feedback, and 35% had requested feedback from all clients.

The Legal Services Board (LSB) is also encouraging firms providing probate services to seek customer feedback as a key part of its wider strategy to enhance transparency of quality of service and empower consumers in their choice of legal service providers. We also know from research published by the Legal Services Consumer Panel that consumers benefit from understanding the experiences of others when selecting a legal service provider to assist them in their decision-making process.

Ultimately, a good flow of feedback between firms and clients, across all service lines, is useful and can encourage trust and confidence. Whatever method is used to collect feedback, firms could consider using its feedback mechanism to include a mention of all the service lines it offers to remind clients that they are there for all their clients’ needs, including probate. Most likely, a good experience in one service line will reassure clients that the level of service in others will be equally as good and in difficult times, it can be important to clients to work with a firm they trust and one that has provided a good service in the past.