“Do you have any complaints against you?”, is a question potential clients sometimes ask me.
You want to know if my firm is one you can trust to help you. Just like you, when I’m looking for someone to help me I want to know that they have a solid reputation. But what exactly does that mean?
Just like I would be if I were in your shoes, our clients are understandably pleased when they find out that my firm, Jeff Fouts and Associates (or Fouts Law Firm) has a great reputation. People find it comforting that in over 18 years of tax cases we have achieved a A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.
But…what if our record wasn’t as clean as it actually is? What if, instead of our having very few complaints, we had a handful more complaints than we do now?
Is One Single Complaint, One too Many Complaints?
How many complaints are too many for a law firm, or any business, to have?
What I’m about to say may offend some folks, but I hope it doesn’t. The fact that a business has some complaints against it doesn’t necessarily mean the business is a bad business. It doesn’t mean the business:
- is a rip off
- is a scam, or
- “sucks” (I apologize for using this term, but it’s a word some folks use a lot these days)
There are a lot of online complaints against legal services and lawyers because not every case is won or the settlement is not what the client hoped for. What we’ve learned is that sometimes that disappointment with the IRS spills over to us, even if we did everything that any attorney with the case could have done to help.
Think about how different this is to buying a product or a clear cut service where you know ahead of time exactly what you’re buying. For example, a hardware store, which is much less likely to have complaints than a law firm. Why? You can hold the product in your hand and know exactly what you’re getting. Or, you pay $1,200 over the course of the year for lawn service where you know your lawn is mowed weekly and sprayed for weeds once per month.
When a business is in constant interaction with the buying public it is always at risk of having unhappy clients – no matter what it does. I would even take that farther and say you can multiply that fact if the business is a law firm.
What causes this mis-match, and thus lays the grounds for potential client dissatisfaction and a possible client complaint?
Here are some of the things that increase the chances that a tax law firm will have more client complaints:
- the client has expectations for the ultimate outcome of their case that aren’t in agreement with what the case’s facts allow as an outcome. Some intensive fact finding must first be done before we know what the client’s options are.
- the client expects the service will cost less than it actually ends up costing
- the client doesn’t understand that the service he is buying involves going through a process that is more difficult than the client originally thought it would be
But of course it goes both ways, there are also things which businesses do that cause clients to register a complaint. For example:
- not giving reasonable attention to the client
- not acting with reasonable speed to move the client’s case forward
- incorrectly charging the client, contrary to the price/rates that were originally agreed upon
While we at the Fouts Law Firm are certainly not perfect, we try to not be guilty of any of the above.
So, what’s the answer? Is it reasonable to expect that a business can be in business for many years (we’ve been in business 18 years), and not have a complaint? I would say “No”.
Knowing that a business has had thousands of clients, like we’ve had, helps put a small number of complaints into perspective.
Since a customer shouldn’t expect perfection from a business, just what should they expect?
Since both the client and the business are human beings, a client should most certainly expect to be treated with proper concern about quality, a reasonable amount of patience, compassion when misunderstandings take place, and fairness in pricing. And the client should expect the law firm staff to work hard and be intelligent.
It’s all too easy these days for a person to anonymously “vent” or “rant” online. So, after you have read a complaint online, instead of concluding that a business: is a rip off, a scam, or sucks, you may want to consider the source – anonymous reviews that are quite often unfair or imbalanced or just downright wrong about the facts.
Until next time,