Richard Cunningham is an Associate at Downs Solicitors LLP and runs the residential property team. They have just been voted ‘Best for Customer Service’ in the SearchFlow Property Forum Awards. Richard told Today’s Conveyancer why the award is so important to their firm.
What was the entry criteria for the award?
“The judges asked us to submit all sorts of information which included our standard pack of documents which we give to clients at the beginning of a transaction. Amongst other things, the pack includes a data collection form so we make sure we have all the information we need about our clients from the outset and we also include protocol forms. On top of that, we issue clients with a detailed step-by-step guide outlining the various stages in the house buying and selling process so clients know what to expect, what they must do and what we will do. Clients find this really useful, especially if they are first time buyers.
“We also submitted market data based on Land Registry stats showing that we’ve grown from being the third biggest residential conveyancing team in our geographical area in September 2013 to the number one provider of residential conveyancing within a five-mile radius of Dorking by the second quarter of last year. That’s pretty impressive as we’ve overtaken some big names.
“Then there are our client, estate agent and referrer testimonials. We send out questionnaires to clients at the end of the conveyancing process and we always have lots of really great feedback with many clients wanting to take us for a celebratory drink when the transaction has gone through! It makes our job really satisfying and rewarding.
“Estate agents, too, appreciate how we work – by that I mean that, while protecting our clients’ interests, we make sure the deal gets through. That’s what the client wants, the agent wants and we want.”
What did winning the award mean for Downs?
“It’s huge – it’s recognition that what we’re doing works and is appreciated by the people we’re doing it for. It reinforces and justifies the decisions we’ve made in not going for a purely volume-based approach. We are not about being the cheapest but about providing the highest standards of customer service– and awards like this give people confidence when selecting us as their solicitor.
“It’s also testament to the hard work and dedication of the team and the fact we go the extra mile for both clients and estate agents, keeping them well informed throughout the conveyancing process. Moving house is stressful enough and not keeping clients properly informed only adds to the stress and can cause a huge amount of uncertainty and upset.
“Nowadays, everybody wants everything done yesterday and, while we can’t promise that, we can manage expectations and make the transaction as smooth as possible. This fosters a relationship of trust – clients know we have everything under control so they can sit back and start doing the nice things like making the arrangements for the move and thinking about decorating and furnishing their new home.
“We also recognise the important role the estate agent plays in the process and the need to keep them up-to-date with what is happening. We have developed good working relationships with the local agents and enjoy working with them.
“The award has been brilliant for staff morale. Everybody’s got a big buzz from winning and it spurs us on to carry on doing what we do best – looking after our clients. And, obviously, it’s good for business as it’s the perfect way of attracting new clients. A large percentage of the calls we receive are because estate agents or friends or family have recommended us. So it’s not: ‘how much are you going to charge?’ – it’s: ‘could you possibly help with our house sale?’ And that’s brilliant because we know people trust us.”
You mention how important it is to keep people informed – how do you achieve that?
“Our model is of teams consisting of a qualified solicitor with their own dedicated assistant who are supported by a brilliant admin team. In Dorking we have five solicitors with assistants and in Godalming and Cobham we have further teams of solicitors and assistants.
“This structure plays to everyone’s strengths and allows the team to do the jobs they specialise in. However we don’t operate a conveyor belt system where one person does a bit and then it’s passed on to someone else who does a bit. Every team takes ownership of a case and they run it from start to finish. This means we can respond to emails and telephone calls quickly and effectively because we have a complete overview of each transaction.
“We always take a proactive approach so if something crops up we’ll call the client straightaway and talk it through. Similarly, if the client has any concerns, they know they can get hold of us because we all have direct lines so there is no need to go through a switchboard to get to us and we will always pick up the phone when it rings.”
Do you hope this will be the first of many awards for Downs?
“Definitely – historically we haven’t always gone in for awards as solicitors are not very good at “blowing their own trumpet” but, after this, we’re going to focus more on entering awards. It provides great opportunities for the firm by raising our profile and brand awareness and helps us stand out from others in our industry. It is also a great way to attract new clients, an opportunity to spread the word about our winning status through our marketing literature, our website, local press and promotions. But more importantly it is a really great morale booster.”
And what about the future at Downs in general?
“The firm has a planned programme of expansion and by growing the practise it puts us in a stronger position to respond to the marketplace by providing clients with the legal services they want. Part of our expansion plans resulted in the merger with the boutique residential conveyancing practice of Lowrie & Co. in 2013 and this merger enabled us to open an office in Cobham.
“Obviously it’s a good time for conveyancing at the moment as the market is buoyant. And we’re doing well off the back of that but we’re also doing well because we’re providing a first class service, not just in conveyancing but across the whole firm.”
For more information about Downs Solicitors go to www.downslaw.co.uk.