Secret Shopping Your Law Firm

By | Jun.19.13 | Client Service, Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management

Secret Shopper

With so many balls in the air, it’s easy for lawyers to get caught up in the day-to-day minutiae of the practice. But taking an occasional step back to check your practice’s pulse and really put yourself in your clients’ shoes can be one of the most valuable ways to improve your client service. Want an easy and effective way to do it? How about a secret shopper?

I was introduced to the concept of secret shopping during my first career, in the retail industry. Buyers, product designers and marketers would travel across the country stopping into store locations, or phone stores at random times to present a variety of challenges, situations or opportunities. The goal of these exercises was not to determine which employees were underperforming, but instead whether the employees and stores were equipped with the proper training and resources to be successful.

What Does This Have to Do with Your Law Practice?

Lawyers and law practice administrators can execute a short series of secret shopping exercises to quickly get an idea of client experience, service quality and overall need for improvement. Understanding what your clients and prospects experience when they interact with your office will help you better manage their expectations and deliver an efficient, pleasant experience … which they will share with their friends.

When done properly, and as a team, secret shopping can provide great benefits and boost morale in your office. Here are some tips for how to get started with secret shopper calls.

Put your staff in the loop. Before you begin a secret shopper program, make sure you and your employees have a clear and mutual understanding of what’s going to happen—and what’s acceptable and what’s not. Notify staff prior to the first event. This isn’t about baiting your employees into missteps.

Be smart in selecting a mystery shopper. Your staff know your voice on the phone, and probably the sound of your significant other’s voice. So find an ally—a friend, a relative or a trusted member of your local business network—to place the call from their number. If you decide to be on the call as well, listen in on an extension with them. Fair, unbiased, neutral are words that should describe your shopper. So don’t negate your efforts by selecting the racquetball partner or yoga mate to whom you complain on a weekly basis. Because here’s what they will say to you: exactly what you say to them.

Be prepared. Have a plan! You and your shopper should be well informed about what needs to occur. Provide the secret shopper with a specific scenario, questions and related follow-up questions to ask the staff. Remember, you won’t be able to talk during the call. Whatever the situation may be, you must stay silent and take thorough notes. Here’s an example of what you could prepare for your shopper:

You are: Denise Baker, considering representation for a divorce.
When to call: At 11 a.m. (Don’t put this on your public/firm calendar, of course!)
Speak to: Specify if it can be any staff member or should be a specific person.
Ask about: These should be questions that callers ask on a regular basis. “Denise” will ask about filing for a divorce, but your secret shopper could likewise ask for information about common transactions such as handling a DUI, business incorporation or another case type of your choice. Pricing information and the process of working with your firm can be part of this.
How to close the call: Thank the staffer for the info and provide contact information for follow-up purposes (particularly useful if you expect staff to be making follow-up calls after someone declines the initial appointment).

Create goals. Now that you’ve heard the call, thoughtfully review what happened. Do not call your office right back and start telling the employee what was wrong with that call. First organize your notes. Which parts of the call were you unhappy with? Build a list of things to work on together. Your list might include something like this:

  • Eliminate long hold times. Was your shopper forced to wait on the line? If so, are the phones really busy at that time? Would a change in the phone system help, or maybe adding a virtual or second receptionist during peak times of the day?
  • Make intake less of a headache. Did your friend have to answer 100 questions before being offered an appointment? Was that really necessary, or could it have been done online? Remember that consumers are calling with a goal of their own. If that goal is to hire an attorney fairly quickly, stalling the process with 100 questions instead of getting them into the office as soon as needed will kill their motivation to work with you.
  • Improve staff’s ability to provide answers. Law office staff aren’t always able to answer clients’ questions, especially if they’re legal-related ones. But they can provide certain sets of answers that you approve ahead of time—as long as everyone is crystal-clear on how not to cross ethical boundaries.
  • Deal with rudeness or lack of empathy. It’s best to discuss the specific situation with the erring employee in private. Give the opportunity to explain what may have caused them to act that way, and then proceed as you see appropriate. A second secret shopping call to that person a week or two later could verify if it was just a one-time slip, or a regular occurrence.
What’s Next?

Now you have some real things to work on together. And you don’t have to take on all the work yourself. Bring in the whole staff team to create solutions—for example:

  • Document processes as a group. Building documents that assist employees in their daily tasks creates a consistent level of service quality, and sets a clear expectation of what should happen on every call and during every new client interaction.
  • Engage your team with some table-turning. Why not give your staff the option to send a secret shopper your way too? Offering them the same opportunity to help critique and improve the office in a creative way spurs empowerment, dedication and drive when handled appropriately. The first run will be a good starting point to build from as a team.
Growth, Not Guilt

These exercises can sometimes provide surprising results. This is a learning and growing experience for everyone involved. Don’t judge, be patient and repeat the process once or twice a year as needed.

Chelsey Lambert is President and founder of Virtulawso, a law practice management and technology consulting practice based in Chicago. Her specialties include online delivery of legal services and e-commerce solutions for small to midsize law firms. She has consulted law firms in the U.S. and abroad on the use of law practice management technology, payment processing, IOLTA management and marketing as well. Follow her on Twitter @Virtulawso and @ChelseyLambert.

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2 Responses to “Secret Shopping Your Law Firm”

  1. Jay Foonberg
    21 June 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    Why be secret? Why hire anyone to do it for you?Just pick up a phone and call your own law firm and see how the call is handled. Alternatively have a client call asking about how their matter is being handled and listen in to the responses.

    Nothing wrong with telling the staff that incoming calls and other communications may be tested and monitored by the lawyer (s) clients and third parties, but no need to be secretive about it.

    I recommended calling your own office to see how calls are handled about 30 years ago in the classic How To Start and Build A law Practice. I still recommend it. The same issues arise with email, faxes and text messages

    Communications with current and prospective clients is your life blood. Why risk letting others do it for you, if you can do it yourself?
    Jay Foonberg

  2. John Wade
    24 June 2013 at 2:14 am #

    Good article with some useful tips on how to go about looking at how your firm appears to others.

    It always disappoints – and sadly now, rarely surprises me – just how reluctant law firms are to review their own performance. What would worry me more, though, are those firms who undertake this exercise, and then fail to act on the results. They are, in my view, worse off than if they’d never acted in the first place.

    Expectations will have been raised; performance issues may have been highlighted; service levels exposed – and without follow-up action, firms are effectively condoning if not actively encouraging such behaviours as are apparent. It’s a little like other forms of client and external perception research.

    Better not done than done badly or not acted on…