The Legal Ombudsman has produced a guide to help solicitors improve their complaints handling processes. Here are their top tips.

In 2020/21 our Ombudsmen found poor service in 55% of the complaints we investigated. Providing a point of redress for consumers is our key goal, but we also want to support the legal sector to understand the areas where customer service needs to improve and where service providers can do more to resolve complaints in-house.

Last year we updated our Best Practice Complaint Handling Guide to help service providers to improve their internal complaints process, reduce the number of complaints that are escalated to the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) and improve service standards.

The guide focuses on the key areas outlined below.

1 Transparency

Having a transparent and clear complaints procedure in place instils confidence in the service and ensures effective dialogue with customers. The complaints procedure should set out an easy to follow process which supports a smooth, accessible, and timely complaint journey.

2 Language

The language and tone used throughout complaint handling is vital in breaking down any barriers and provides an opportunity to resolve issues at first tier. It should avoid jargon and legalese and maintain a professional and courteous tone.

3 Listening

The service provider should identify what approach to take with a complaint and tailor their approach accordingly. Starting off on the right foot can really help to set the tone of the complaint and leaves potential for an early resolution. To use a common phrase, ‘one size won’t fit all’.

We sometimes receive complaint letters which are very long and detailed and it can be difficult to identify the key issues being raised. If the service provider receives a complaint like this, it can be useful to phone the customer and talk it through, identify with them what the real issues are and what is important to them. Once a good understanding of the main issues has been established, they can be addressed.

4 Informing

Good practice requires a timely acknowledgement of a complaint. The service provider should provide the customer with options appropriate to resolving the issues raised. If the issue relates to greater clarity over costs, a more detailed breakdown of the customer’s bill may be required. In this way, the complaint could be dealt with quickly and informally.

On the other hand, if the complaint is about whether the service provider followed their instructions regarding the work instructed, it may require a more formal route in which both parties provide written evidence to support their argument.

5 Responding

We do not expect the service to be perfect. The Legal Ombudsman will look to determine if the service provided was reasonable.

When responding to the complaint, the service provider should set out what has been investigated and what they have found. The response needs to include as much detail as is required to ensure the customer understands how the conclusions have been reached.

It is important to be honest. If the service provider has found the service to be unreasonable, they should be clear about this, acknowledge what went wrong and offer the customer a suitable remedy.

If it is found that the service provided was reasonable, the service provider should also be clear about this and explain why they have formed this view, sharing evidence where possible.

At the end of the formal response the service provider needs to formally conclude matters by letting the customer know that they have come to the end of the process, and signpost to the Legal Ombudsman if the customer remains unhappy.

6 Learning

Good complaints handling can be positive for service providers – dealing with complaints effectively gives customers confidence that a service provider is customer focused. An effective complaints procedure can also help you learn from mistakes and identify ways to improve the services you are providing, which can only be good for business.

7 LeO resources

We have been developing our resources to better support service providers in dealing with complaints. In November we launched a Technical Advice Desk which is a direct route to an Ombudsman for any technical queries or general complaint handling advice before a complaint comes to us. We encourage service providers to use this service if they would like more tailored advice.

We have also added some videos to our website which can be used for internal training. They cover our complaints process, complaint prevention, good complaint handling advice and tips for handling and resolving complaints internally.

Please get in touch on the technical advice desk if you’d like to discuss opportunities for more tailored advice or support:

8 Law Society support