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How Law Firms Can Use Secret Shopper Programs to Improve Their Client Service

February 03, 2020 (3 min read)

As consumers, we all know what great service feels like.

It feels like the person working with us cares about helping, like they’ll do everything possible to ensure we feel valued.

When we receive great client service, we tend to work with that business again. We also tend to tell our friends and family about the experience. Thus, great client service can generate both revenue and referrals.

Does your law firm provide great client service, particularly when a prospective client first contacts your firm or goes through your firm’s intake process?

How do you know?

More importantly, how can you get an unbiased opinion about your firm’s service so you can determine how it can be improved?

The answer may be to implement a secret shopper program.

What is a secret shopper program?

A secret shopper/mystery shopper program gives you an honest look at what prospective clients experience when they interact with your firm.

Secret shoppers pose as potential clients and experience the same journey actual clients take when they contact your firm. They record their observations and impressions, and report back with their findings.

This firsthand account of how your firm treats its clients can help identify and correct client service issues that attorneys and staff wouldn’t have otherwise noticed.

A secret shopper program can test:

  • The number of phone rings before your staff answers
  • How much time it takes to return an email
  • How pleasant interacting with your staff is
  • Virtually any other facet of customer service you come up with

Apparently, Law Firms Need Secret Shopper Programs

A recent study conducted by the American Bar Association suggests that in general, firms could benefit from these programs.

According to the ABA’s 2016 Benchmark Study on Law Firm Intake Processes, 42 percent of law firms took three or more days to reply to a voicemail or web-generated inquiry from a potential client. Less than 10 percent of prospective clients actually spoke with a lawyer. About three percent of callers gave up before their phone call was even answered. And 11 percent of calls lasted less than 10 seconds (likely because prospective clients were frustrated by their inability to reach a person).

The ABA reported that most of the law firms studied were appalled by their own performance—some could not believe what they were hearing on the call recordings.

Regardless of these firms’ reactions, there is a good chance that their failure to promptly respond to potential clients cost them business and revenue.

Five Tips for Designing Your Firm’s Secret Shopper Program 

It is not difficult or expensive to implement a secret shopper program. But for the program to be effective, it must be designed strategically.

Here are five tips that can help:

1. Choose your secret shopper carefully.

A secret shopper can be someone you know (friend or family), or you can hire a third-party service. Whoever you choose, the secret shopper should not be someone who your colleagues could recognize. And the secret shopper should be able to take copious notes about their experience.

2. Know What You Are Testing.

Make sure you and your secret shopper understand what exactly you hope to learn. Are you testing your colleagues’ responsiveness to phone calls and web inquiries? Their tone and empathy? Their ability to answer questions? Their demeanor when meeting face-to-face?

3. Don't Alienate Your Colleagues.

If you give your colleagues advance warning about the secret shopper, they might start treating every client interaction differently. Whether or not you give your colleagues advance warning, do not alienate them by having your secret shopper act in a bizarre or outrageous manner just to test them. When they find out that the troublemaker was a secret shopper hired by you, your relationship may never be the same.

4. Share and Implement What You Learn. 

Once you’ve digested your secret shopper’s report, make sure your colleagues see it too. Then, work together to make the changes that the report recommends. Without implementation, the work was all for naught.

5. Keep It Up. 

Continue the secret shopper program at regular intervals. This will help ensure that your firm is providing great client service on an ongoing basis.

The Secret Is Out

What you learn about your law firm from a secret shopper program might surprise you—it might even be difficult to hear.

But the unique insight you’ll get can help your firm improve its client service, which could lead to happier clients, more referrals and increased revenue.