Promising levels of service seems an easy thing to do. The Co-operative announced that a caller 'will receive a response from a trained lawyer within three rings'. QualitySolicitors promised a number of things including direct lawyer contact, first consultation free, no hidden costs, same-day response and Saturday office opening. I find the use of the word ‘lawyer’ interesting as it provides a ‘get-out’ that consumers may mistrust and it can cancel out the ‘good will’ intended in the message (see the comments on this article).

Why do these organisations feel it’s necessary to promote these service level features? Most solicitors' firms already offer similar features as an intrinsic part of their service but fail to include them in relevant promotions. This leaves competitors to pick up on the perceived failing of traditional firms. However, service level features are marketing’s version of ‘hygiene factors’, not the motivators or promoter that affect a consumer’s choice. These are expected elements of service, where are the benefits the client can identify as a solution to their problem? There are further questions from a competitive analysis and marketing management view.

What happens after the fourth ring, when the matter and therefore costs change or the client finds out that the person they are talking to is not a solicitor? There can be an erosion of the levels of trust the client has for the firm and which the firm has spent a lot on developing.

Are these the elements of a solicitor’s service that consumers and businesses want? Consumer and small and medium-sized enterprise research into why and how people access legal services shows three basic concerns for clients, costs, access to ‘their solicitor’ and the time taken to respond to contact. So on the surface these promises present some reassurance for the potential client. It may encourage contact but I would suggest it misses the basic point of why a person wants to contact a solicitor.

What the client wants is a solution to their problem(s). They are seeking advice on a solution that offers better value than the alternatives available, usually doing nothing, muddle through or attempting DIY law. How the solution is delivered depends on a number of things including, the particular problem, the amount the client is willing to pay and how well the firm is set up to deliver it’s services. The features of answering the phone, direct lawyer contact etc, are far less important, people want a solution for a known cost. What your firm has to do is communicate the benefits of the services you offer to the target client groups you want to serve. If you don’t tell them, you can’t expect them to call you.

There is an opportunity for your firm to benefit from the high profile advertising campaigns the Co-op and QS will be doing. Their campaigns raise the awareness of where people and SMEs can assess and buy legal services. Your firm can compete if you promote the real benefits of your services to your chosen target market groups in your local area. Provide those target clients with the knowledge of the benefits you can deliver and you can win their work.

Don’t let the phones ring for too long but focus on meeting their needs for a solution to their problem. The client has called your firm, reward them with excellent service.

Alastair Moyes is a director at Marketlaw and co-author of Marketing Legal Services, the current marketing handbook from Law Society Publishing