27th Nov 2020
Christopher Brooks talks to Jo Johnson, head of CX at Exclusive Law Group, about the unique challenges of delivering great experiences to customers who have found themselves in a situation they would rather have avoided.
One of the many consequences of the global pandemic has been the number of anxious, stressed and emotional customers that those working in the CX and customer service field have had to interact with and assist. Yet for some organisations, dealing with customers who have found themselves in a difficult situation is just part of the usual day-to-day.
The Exclusive Law Group specialises in serious injury work resulting from road traffic accidents, offering medical consultation, rehabilitation from injuries and hire & repair of vehicles, all under one roof. An amalgamation of companies that have a widespread reach in the market, Exclusive Law Group consists of an FCA-regulated business, an SRA-regulated law firm, a medical reporting agency and a vehicle repair network.
Jo Johnson is the Group’s head of customer experience. In the following interview, she discusses the unique challenges of delivering CX at a legal practice and what lessons she has learned during her time working in the field of customer experience.
Christopher Brooks: Your current role is head of customer experience for a legal practice. What are your key responsibilities?
Jo Johnson: My key responsibilities are embedding a vision of exceptional customer service, delivered through empathy and clarity to a wide-ranging customer base. I passionately believe in being the voice of the customer at all times and whilst the regulatory complexities add shade to some of the detail, the overarching goal is to deliver a model of customer inclusion and excellence in all of our customer interactions.
CB: You are not new to customer experience, having held various roles serving customers – what influence have these roles had on your approach to customer experience?
JJ: Customer experience has not always been seen by all firms as a critical part of a businesses success. Therefore, a focus on customer excellence is sometimes justified as an opportunity to cross-sell, to reduce complaints, or to keep/move another KPI into the “green”.
I believe that a customer’s desire to be seen should be just as important to a business in its own right, regardless of the potential for a business to boost their bottom line or influence other business KPIs. Customers are not a commodity and there is never a wrong time to do the right thing. My aim is to ensure the value of investing in the customer experience is seen.
CB: Is customer experience still a relatively new focus in the legal profession, or has experience and service always been part of the offer, but less defined?
JJ: I think it is reasonable to say that law firms have always had the best interests of their customers (clients) at heart, after all it is enshrined in the expectations of their regulator. However, there is a balance struggle in the extent to which a fee earner can sacrifice billable hours to focus on soft skills and customer excellence over and above delivering the service a particular customer is seeking, so having a dedicated role for customer experience within the Exclusive Law Group is a huge benefit to the business and its customers.
CB: In customer experience management, we typically start with the customer. So who do you define as the customer in a legal practice and what are their priorities you need to fulfill?
JJ: Our group of businesses are so much more diverse than just a law practice. We require a multi-jurisdictional vision of the customer, whilst keeping the customer central, alongside navigating a number of different regulatory environments. Managing this, whilst not losing sight that the customer is flesh and blood, is not an easy task. A consistent approach of fairness and understanding of their individual demands and needs is key during every customer interaction.
Every person that engages with our group of businesses, regardless of what capacity they engage with us in, is a customer. Customer experience matters to us in the delivery of all of our varied service propositions.
CB: Often customers are dealing with you because of a situation they would rather have avoided, so what does a good customer experience include in this situation?
JJ: We are completely open and transparent in all our customer dealings, as a result, we have modest complaint volumes. Our culture is based on our people and our people are customers of many varied businesses in their own lives. We bring our experience as customers and deliver them to our own customers in a non-confrontational way.
We deal with all customers as individuals, we aim to understand their motivations, their drivers and the reasons that they are utilising our services to ensure we are able to fully meet their needs. We will always deal with any issues and concerns raised, fairly and with empathy.
CB: What are your plans for progressing customer-centricity and where are you on your journey?
JJ: We are well along the road of embedding CX into all our areas of our business operations and developing a clear and consistent understanding among all our teams regarding the importance of CX. Our ultimate goal is to have a group of businesses where everyone is a passionate advocate of CX (just like me!). We plan to engage more closely with our customers by developing propositions and delivery mechanisms (through process and its development) that work for them by delivering what they want when they want. Our success will be measured in due course by a touchpoint survey to identify any pain points, which is currently under construction.
The key thing we have all learned through the painfully difficult times we have experienced is that people need people. Our clients need to feel confident that we are a business that values them.
CB: Developing a sustained customer-centric culture involves many different initiatives, some purely internal. How much do you think your focus will be on improving capabilities in CX inhouse versus making improvements to your customers’ experience? What would you say is the ideal balance?
JJ: As I alluded to previously, our staff are all customers and our approach to CX has not been developed in a vacuum. It has been developed as a result of the fundamental appreciation that, as technology and processes in the wider business world become slicker and more streamlined, we are aware that sometimes customer interaction suffers as a result.
We have all as customers of various organisations, been frustrated by IVRs and poor customer service and we empower all our teams to think about the customer and do the right thing, just as they would expect, should they be in their customers shoes.
CB: 2020 will be a year we will all reflect on as a catalyst for change. How much impact has it had on your customer’s experience of your organisation, and how are you adjusting to new business conditions?
JJ: I think the key thing we have all learned through the painfully difficult times we have experienced is that people need people. Our clients need to feel confident that we are a business that values them. After all, they choose to do business with us and therefore it is incumbent on us to understand the trust that our clients place in us. We are proud and determined to work for the right outcomes on their behalf.
CB: As a leader in customer experience, what are the biggest lessons you have learnt so far which you are taking with you going forward?
JJ: I have learned I can be a much more effective leader of CX in a business that is as passionately committed to delivering excellence to its customers as I am, which is what I have found with Exclusive Law Group. I always aim to be an ambassador and advocate for the customer at all times, deliver a vision of excellence and don’t allow that vision to be blurred.
CB: Customer experience needs to be accountable to demonstrate its overall contribution. Do the standard measures such as reduced effort, satisfaction, and likelihood to recommend apply equally with legal customers, or are there other ways you measure success?
JJ: It is too easy to measure CX by traditional metrics. Yes, that works to an extent but ultimately leads the business back into that potentially risky (and in my view not so virtuous) circle of seeing the customer as the application of a KPI or SLA. I don’t think that necessarily is what a post-COVID-19 world should strive for.
Our customer’s welfare and their mental health is much more of a consideration to ensuring an effective future CX strategy in our environment. The delivery of exemplary customer outcomes by doing what we said we would do, whilst ensuring they feel empowered and not merely part of a process. Exclusive Law invests a lot of time in ensuring customers are kept informed throughout their journey, to remove the need for customer effort and ultimately improve their satisfaction. Our newly formed client liaison team is an integral aspect of this process and this is evident in the excellent feedback we have received on our Trustpilot platform from customers who have been supported by this team so far.
CB: Outside of the legal sector, which brand do you admire for the customer experience they provide? What is it about them that stands out and do you have any personal experience you can share?
JJ: Based on my own experiences I have found British Gas to have really shown an improved commitment to customer experience since we have entered this COVID-19 period. I am not sure if this is a result of most people now homeworking and feeling happier in their own environment, with the support of tech. Call handlers appear to be much more empathetic and aligned to the customer. They are happy to invest time and live up to their ‘follow up’ promises. Meeting promises made is really important to me and I’ve seen a huge uplift in this from a number of service providers I have engaged with personally, in recent months but more specifically from British Gas.
CB: Finally, what advice would you give to someone tasked with driving forward customer experience in a professional services organisation?
JJ: Don’t give up. Be passionate, get all stakeholders on board and challenge the traditional thinking of the value of a customer to an organisation. That old adage that ‘the customer is always right’ has long been replaced by ‘the customer wants to be heard’ and you are the voice!
You will face difficulties and obstacles, but the customer is worth fighting for and I am delighted and privileged to work with a group of individuals who are as committed to delivering an excellent customer experience as I am.
CB: You have so much passion for CX. It’s been inspiring to spend this time with you. I wish you all the success in your continuation with customer-centricity across the Group. Thank you for your time and sharing your story.