Confidential research undertaken by the Solicitors Regulation Authority has revealed that there are some bad attitudes towards complaints handling in the profession. But rather than fearing complaints, you should be welcoming them - as they inform you about the client’s experience and help improvements to future service.

For a client to take the time and effort to tell you they are dissatisfied demonstrates that something has gone wrong. When you receive a complaint it’s natural to feel defensive, but taking an adversarial approach (or in the words of last year’s Legal Services Board YouGov report on first-tier complaints handling (June 2011), ‘the superiority complex on behalf of legal professionals - untouchable syndrome’) to handling client complaints is unlikely to demonstrate to the regulator the required fairness and openness.

So, can you demonstrate you are meeting the requirements (code of conduct 2011 - outcomes 1.9-1.11) to handle complaints promptly, fairly, openly and effectively? As with most other things in life, prevention is better than the cure and adopting a clear client service charter will help communicate to your clients your commitment to excellent service delivery, as well as setting out each party’s duties and responsibilities.

If you use client satisfaction surveys as a way of measuring your charter statements then they become a way of having an open culture in respect of complaints, as questions can be asked about the service received. If there are suggestions for what could have been done better, these can be used to drive improvement in client service.

Whether or not you adopt a charter it’s crucial to train client-facing staff in how to deal with dissatisfied and/or angry clients. If a client complains and has his/her concerns dealt with promptly and effectively, it is less likely that the matter will escalate to a point where the issue cannot be resolved. Research has shown that clients who receive a good, quick outcome to a complaint have increased trust in the service provider and are more likely to tell others about the good service received.

Having a positive and proactive approach to complaints handling does not mean that you always agree with the client’s complaint, but that you deal with client’s concerns promptly, openly, fairly and effectively. One of the additional factors for dissatisfaction with service identified in the report on first-tier complaints handling was, ‘Not being treated as a human being… just as another "case"’. Think about this statement when you deal with your next complaint.

It’s also important to ensure that all data about clients’ complaints is carefully tracked and recorded, as this enables any trends to be identified and investigated. Risks can be evaluated and procedures amended to minimise/avoid them and compliance issues can be dealt with.

Ensuring that everyone buys into delivering excellent client care will create the right behaviours to ensure that any complaints that arise will be handled well and in accordance with the regulatory requirements.

Jeanette Lucy is the director for compliance, quality and learning with law firm network LawNet