I bought a house the other day. It was my first one, and it was one of the most stressful experiences of my life.
You’re probably sitting there thinking: “First one?! You wait until you have to buy AND sell, THAT’s when it gets really stressful”, and I’m sure that’s absolutely true.
Thing is, it was plenty stressful enough just buying, thank you very much.
The root cause of the stress? The solicitor of course.
Now, if you’re reading this and you’re a conveyancing solicitor, then I might need to apologise in advance, as some of what I’m about to say might offend.
I’d never met a solicitor before, at least not knowingly, and it’s fair to say that our experience with the one we chose left a lot to be desired.
For a start, they took AGES to do everything. Like weeks and weeks and weeks, putting the whole purchase in jeopardy.
Secondly, they were pretty much impossible to get hold of. They work hours of 9:30-4:30 with an hour’s lunch break where they actually physically close the office (who does that in this day and age?!) and when they were supposed to be open they never answered the phone.
Thirdly, they were rude and uncooperative. On more than one occasion I endured what can only be described as a ‘rant of uncontrollable rage’ because I dared to ask when our contracts would be ready.
From start to finish, the experience was unpleasant and stressful and I’ve nothing nice to say about the solicitors – they certainly won’t be getting a referral from me.
(By the way, at this point I’d like to say that if you are a conveyancing solicitor doing good work for your clients, then this is absolutely not aimed at you).
However, I’m under no illusions about the fact that my experience was far from unique. Pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to has got a solicitor horror story, which begs the question: how do they get away with it?
Simple answer really: everyone needs them.
Okay, so you could draw up your own contracts. You could submit your own searches. You could check the deeds.
But you’re not going to; firstly because you’ve got better things to be doing, and secondly because you might screw things up, which, when you’re trying to buy a house, is not something you want to risk.
Unsatisfactory solicitors like the one I hired behave the way they do because people have very little option but to buy from them, and once a transaction has taken place, it doesn’t matter how bad the service was, the money’s still in the bank. Their appetite for improvement is non-existent, because in their minds, they don’t need to bother; the cash register’s still ringing.
But what if a solicitor decided to change things? Decided to be different? Decided to be better?
What if a solicitor stopped closing at lunch? What if they actively phoned clients every other day to keep them informed of the progress? What if they offered a guarantee that would give their clients money back if the process was delayed through any negligence or poor performance on their part? What if they made ‘speed’ their key USP?
Would people buy from them? You can bet your bottom dollar that they would.
Would they expect to pay more? Of course.
Right now, conveyancing is seen as a commodity. It’s something that needs to be done, but there is very little value placed on it. Consequently, most people shop on price, driving the value out of the market and forcing the solicitors to operate with fewer staff which in turn results in a more negative experience for the customer.
With a few simple tweaks, a standard solicitor with a whole bunch of dissatisfied customers could transform into a solicitor in a category of one, a category where they’re no longer competing on price:
“The only solicitor in Birmingham to come to your home – you don’t have to lift a finger”
“The only solicitor in Brighton with staff on call 24/7, round the clock”
“The friendliest solicitors in Bracknell; with 100% satisfaction guarantee. If our staff are ever rude to you, we’ll waive our fee”
It’s the same in a whole bunch of industries. Print. Car Servicing. Real Estate. The list goes on.
We might feel like what we do is commoditised, but that shouldn’t see us resting on our laurels and churning out the same, mediocre service that everyone else does.
Instead, we should look to break out of the mediocrity and deliver something different, something remarkable. Something that makes people sit up and take notice because it is so drastically different (and so much better) than everything else that’s available.
The coffee industry is a great example. Before the Starbucks ship rolled into town, coffee was completely commoditised. People shopped on price, and because the cost of a few beans, some water, some milk and a Styrofoam cup is pretty low, it was very difficult to sell a cup of coffee for more than a few pence.
These days, it’s normal to pay three or four pounds for a cup of coffee, and that’s down to Starbucks. Howard Schultz and his team managed to transform the coffee industry by being different and better than their commodity-crippled competitors.
They improved the quality and variety of their beverages but they also created an environment that people wanted to spend time in. It was still about the coffee but it was also about the experience. And because people enjoyed the experience so much, they were prepared to pay a whole lot more for it.
If you’re stuck in a commoditised market, there’s a good chance that you’re choosing to be there. With most businesses, in most industries, there’s an opportunity to do something different that appeals to customers, turns customers into fans and elasticises price. You’ve just got to find out what it is.
The good news is that it’s easier to do that than you think. What do your customers like about what you do? What do they find annoying? What do they wish was different? Ask them.
Once you know what your customers want, you’ll be about a hundred steps further on than most of your competitors, and your ability to get and keep customers, generate referrals and charge higher prices will be greatly increased.
Right, I’m off to start Speedy Solicitors, the fastest solicitor in the West…Midlands.