At Moneypenny we have crisis management procedures in place to ensure great customer services can continue whatever circumstances arise, but we weren’t prepared for COVID-19 and its devastating consequences on business and our customers. From our position answering outsourced calls and Live Chat for thousands of businesses across the US and UK in multiple industries, we saw certain sectors like hospitality and travel shutdown nearly overnight. Fortunately, many legal companies were able to continue, albeit with most staff working from home.
We had a unique bird’s eye view of the effect the pandemic had on customer service, both from our own experience dealing with our 20,000 clients, but also through our role as an outsourced communications provider for those clients, talking to their clients. In this role, we saw firsthand how clients, including legal companies, managed customer service during the pandemic.
Last spring, we experienced an initial dive of 30 to 40 percent in client call volumes compared to 2019. And it appeared that many companies were using the pandemic as an excuse for poor customer service. A Moneypenny survey of 1,000 US adults showed 83% of respondents believed an increasing number of companies were blaming a delay in answering phone calls, or engaging in Live Chat, on unusually high call volumes caused by the pandemic. Additionally, that survey indicated typical call answering waiting times of anywhere between 11 and 60 minutes, with 19% of those surveyed saying they gave up waiting altogether. Legal companies, however, were among the least likely to be mentioned for phone delays at 9%, coming only after property companies at 7%. Utility companies and doctors were most frequently mentioned as the worst culprits at 28% each.
Customers started to complain, and companies realized that they risked losing business over the long term. We saw companies grapple to divert their phones while also adjusting to remote work arrangements, ultimately choosing to outsource their calls to ensure they could still provide good customer service. A classic example is one Moneypenny client that had been using a single mobile phone to field inbound calls when its offices closed. This mobile was shared between staff on a shift basis, taken to each other’s houses because the client didn’t have a telephone system in place, or at least one that could be adapted quickly.
Some legal firms took on new products and services to manage the rapidly changing business environment, including innovations like digital switchboards. As we saw how companies adjusted to remote work we quickly integrated our telephone system with Microsoft Teams. The legal sector saw an explosion in video meeting technology, and with this new integration it meant that our receptionists were able to know when to take a message if clients were indicated as otherwise engaged, resulting in a much better caller experience.
Legal companies also benefitted from new services with low costs of entry that emerged during the pandemic, like our triage bot. Particularly popular with legal and property companies, this bot qualifies and prioritizes new inquiries. Another new bot offers online COVID self-screening, taking customer experience to a new pandemic level by helping manage visitors’ and customers’ safety before any face-to-face activity. The bot captures contact details to support “track and trace” efforts, informs visitors of on-site hygiene policies, and asks health-related questions to ensure clients or customers are in good health before they meet.
Many of the changes in communications and customer service that happened during the pandemic had already been observed before 2020, but were accelerated. For example, we saw an explosion in the use of Live Chat, which grew by 142% in 2020 compared with 2019. An incredibly efficient communication channel, Live Chat can be set up in just five minutes, and allows agents to handle 10 times more customer conversations in the time it takes for one phone call, allowing spikes in activity to be better managed. While Live Chat was most frequently associated with the property sector in our survey, legal firms are increasingly taking it on to manage customer communications.
As legal companies plan a return to work, even if they pursue a hybrid system of home and office-based working, they may not return to traditional front of house reception. To this end, we’ve also seen voice-controlled switchboards gain in popularity following the widespread adoption of Natural Language Processing with technologies like Alexa and Google in people’s homes.
In research we conducted last year that was released in ‘The Inbound Phone Call’, we reported that calls to law firms have increased by 26% over the last five years, with more than a third of those resulting in a new business inquiry. That equates to a staggering $266 million for small firms nationwide. Limping along without appropriate answering services seems inadequate when harnessing such a valuable channel, which could also be used to provide the reassurance and validation clients may be looking for in a friendly voice on the other end.
The pandemic has taught the legal sector that poor (and especially no) communication won’t cut it with customers. If they want to maintain or actually increase client retention and acquisition, they’ve learned they need to embrace the latest communication technology. With so many options that increase efficiency, can be easily deployed, encourage engagement, and empower humans to better field valuable calls, the legal sector can leverage the learning of this pandemic to thrive in the “new normal” and beyond.