During the Covid-19 pandemic, hospitality and events were the first sectors to be closed and among the last to be reopened; with no face-to-face interactions or events permitted, many law firms were forced to furlough guest services support staff and, in some cases, make redundancies. However, now the world has moved on and we’re living with Covid, firms need to update and refresh their guest services strategy in line with new hybrid working practices.
Due to the multiple lockdowns and travel restrictions, firms and clients alike have become accustomed to communicating primarily via video conferencing or telephone. Firms have benefitted first-hand in multiple ways thanks to little to no travel time for meetings, and also the ability to attract clients based on service and reputation, rather than geographical location. But client demand has also changed since 2020, and a recent US report by Clio discovered a huge increase in the number of clients who prefer to communicate via video conferencing, up to 50% in 2022 compared to only 4% in 2020.
With remote methods of communication now becoming business as usual – even preferred, what does this mean for guest services? For firms, their reputation is built not only on the quality of legal advice it provides, but also every interaction a client has with them, from switchboard call handling to PAs as well as the lawyers themselves. It could be argued that guest services are now more important than ever, with clients travelling further for in person meetings and a new rarity value attached to visits to the lawyer’s office. Not forgetting the internal client: with firms wrestling with how to magnetise rather than mandate their lawyers and other staff back into the office for more of the working week, the quality of front of house, conference suite and concierge service and facilities can be a secret weapon and are often overlooked.
Intelligent Office has been providing law firm front of house services for over 20 years as part of our extensive portfolio of services. Running the ‘First Impression’ service in over 30 law firm offices, we recognise that every single interaction between a firm and its clients will influence the way clients feel about the service, quality and value being provided. As a partner to our clients, we’ve utilised our unique insights in supporting firms of all sizes and services to help shape their guest services strategy post-Covid. Here are the key trends we see emerging within the sector:
REACTIVATING HOSPITALITY SAFELY
Covid hasn’t gone away, and firms need to ensure safe working practices are in place for face-to-face meetings. Meeting room preparation needs to be updated to include time between clients for sanitising chairs, desks and equipment and replenishing any refreshments offered to clients. Advance confirmations should be introduced to confirm client arrival times, any special requirements, and inform guests of the safety measures being taken.
DESIGNING SMART OFFICE SOLUTIONS
With increased reliance on technology, facilities, IT, and guest services teams should work together to implement features to make the client experience more accessible and digital. This could be by upgrading video conferencing (VC) facilities, making Wi-Fi access simpler and quicker but also more secure and having wireless sharing devices in meeting rooms as well as touch panel controls which can be easily sanitised between meetings. With clients travelling less and more reluctant to use busy public spaces to touchdown and work between meetings, law firms should consider offering exceptional temporary working facilities, especially as most have more capacity to spare than in pre-pandemic days.
IMPLEMENTING SMART ROOM MANAGEMENT
Many firms are now using booking software and asking fee earners to book desks, parking spaces, and meeting rooms. Smart room management systems can help streamline the approval process, avoid double bookings, and updates the service in line with new digital working practices.
What’s more, the data being collected from app usage can provide a wealth of valuable insight to firms who previously had little more than anecdotal evidence for occupation and usage stats. An Intelligent Office client site recently launched a new online booking system in their newly opened London office. Hanle De Lange, Business Services Manager at Intelligent Office, tells us how the system is benefiting the firm:
“The system provides real-time meeting and desk booking information, and the data collected by the system enables our team to review meeting rooms, desks, and events usage. The team can monitor occupancy levels and this information assists with operational planning and support. We are now in a position where we can begin to analyse this data. The insights gathered will allow us to review and update services in line with the data-backed insights, and continually ensure our services meet the needs of the fee earners.”
Guest services teams are well-positioned to manage events and firms should consider the benefits of utilising members of staff whose sole focus is on the client experience. Guest services teams run the service daily and are cognisant of the challenges that may arise, can add value with soft touches, and place as much importance on client departure post-event as on arrival, ensuring a consistent and positive experience. Many guest services teams also regularly deal with suppliers, prepare rooms for events, and know what clients like.
Hannah Staines, IO’s Guest Services Centre of Excellence lead, says “in person client interaction has reduced, therefore it is critical all onsite interaction is positive, professional, aligned with the brand and exceptional throughout the client journey regardless of the size of the event. This means investment into experienced staff, technology, aesthetics, catering, and soft touches is of paramount importance and consideration – in the Instagram era, it is about making positive memories and experiences.”
Like the hotel industry, we have started to see the emergence of ‘client’ apps; these chasms of information can provide event information, customisation to personal requirements such as catering (thus reducing waste), notification of event requirements/waivers/insurances and electronic access to the event space; the apps can send notifications to advertise related services – for example a probate event could include directories of property solicitors. With this sort of technology, it is about the tech enhancing the experience rather than being the experience, and in the Hospitality Professionals Association’s view, it is about giving people the option of how to engage.
REFRESHING AND UPDATING THE SERVICE
Before implementing a new guest services strategy, firms should conduct a thorough review of all the internal functions (don’t forget IT and secretaries/PAs) and external suppliers involved to ensure their service provision is in line with new practices, as well as targeting best value. There is an opportunity to implement changes to support agile working whilst creating a more consistent and memorable brand experience; from the moment a client steps into reception through to meeting fee earners and the offer of support for onward travel or touchdown working, the service is harmonious and demonstrates the firm’s culture and values at every opportunity.
Implementing change requires transition, and a key element of this transition is upskilling all guest services staff on new technology and processes to help them excel in the service delivery to clients. “When something in the client suite goes wrong, it is not the piece of equipment you remember or the room number the equipment is stored in – you remember the person who was there to help you. Guest services teams must aim to be the fountain of knowledge in an office which could be intermittently populated, therefore the management of the team is critical – training matrix, monthly one to ones, operational structures, work allocations, SOPs and daily meetings (to name a few) are critical management tools to embed to ensure consistency of a high performing guest services team,” notes Hannah Staines.
Intelligent Office is the leading provider of support services to law and professional services firms. To find out how we could support you with guest services, please contact Jo Styles – email@example.com or on +44 (0) 7753 497 940.