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VIDEO: Law firm communications technology with Concert Networks

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David Gilroy:                 Hi, David Gilroy here from Conscious Solutions, and we're doing another video session. And today, I'm really pleased to be joined by Neil Hollands from Concert Networks. Neil, would you just like to introduce the business for our listeners?

Neil Hollands:               Yes. Thank you, David. Concert Networks, we provide customer contact technology and internet connectivity to help our customers become better connected, and we promote that on a risk-free basis. What we mean by risk-free is that all the systems we provide, we look to make sure they're having a genuine impact on our customer's business performance.

                                    If it transpires they're not, then you don't pay for that part of the service. When we talk about impact, we're typically looking at how we can help customers improve their customer experience, improve productivity, or drive some efficiency. We've been working actively within the legal space, as you know, for, I don't know, probably at least 10 years, something like that, something along those lines.

David Gilroy:                 How many law firms do you work with nowadays?

Neil Hollands:               I'd say probably about 20, 25 legal firms that we're working actively with right now.

David Gilroy:                 Cool. When we first set this up, obviously we're, what, 12 weeks into lockdown, what's the biggest impact you've seen so far with the whole current crisis of COVID-19 on law firms, communication systems, and the ease with which they managed to convert to a predominantly working-from-home model?

Neil Hollands:               I think with our customers that we've been working with for a while, it's been relatively simple in terms of the services we provide to get them all working from home, where they've got people working from home. As an aside, there's been a lot of activity around getting costs down through people who are furloughed and providing what we've termed a furlough licence, which essentially puts everything running and working and ready to go live when they can come off furlough, but without the full cost of the licence and therefore without the rigmarole and time delay involved if they were just to turn it off and turn it back on, which, for us can be quite time consuming and potentially cause delays for customers

David Gilroy:                 Most of the clients you're working with, this is cloud-based telephony, is it I'm assuming, rather than-

Neil Hollands:               Yes, it's cloud-based. [crosstalk 00:02:43] Yeah, so at the most basic level, it can be cloud-based telephone systems, so purely call handling, call making, call answering. We've got a number of them who are doing a bit more sophisticated call routing with contact centre type style solutions, which those seem to have coped the best during lockdown.The challenges of COVID-19 have seemed to be less for them because they're already used to working in disparate locations, albeit now, they're no longer working in disparate offices; they're working in disparate households, but they're still managing to centrally control all the internal inbound communication throughout their business and being able to direct that to the right people.

                                    We've found those who are using the more sophisticated tools have coped very well and some of those who were using the more basic tools have layered some additional tools on top, so what I mean by that is things like call reporting so they can have clear visibility of whether calls are getting through to someone who they should be getting through to and what's happening if they're not. And then equally, things like call recording, so call recording can be switched on for those people who are working from home as well as if they're working from the office. Where-

David Gilroy:                 That's more from a compliance perspective, is it, than it is a kind of quality of service or customer care issue, do you think?

Neil Hollands:               It tends to be. I mean, we've had a few, perhaps not so much in the legal space, but they've got call recording on because I think they're a bit concerned about whether people are working or not, to put it at a really basic level.

David Gilroy:                 Big trust issue.

Neil Hollands:               Yeah, there's been a trust issue. I think also just in general, we've seen a lot of stuff around reporting where typically, I think people have had a naive idea that because when they can see someone's bum on a seat in the office, they're working effectively and when they can't see that bum on the seat in the office, they must be drinking coffee and not doing anything. I think that's been a big change with COVID-19, and people have to get over that hurdle. The fact is, like we've always said, if they're sat in the office, it doesn't mean they're working.

                                    In the same way, if they're sat at home, it doesn't mean they're working and I think those who were working in the office effectively are working effectively from home. They want to work. They're motivated to work. They're accountable, all those good things. The call recording has been from a compliance point of view and also, some people are using it to enable them to be more effective internally.

                                    If you and I are having a conversation with a prospect or a client, and I just said, "Actually, David, I had this really detailed conversation with Sarah. Here's the recording. Listen to the middle of it," it just makes my time more effective and makes your time more effective, so people are using it for that. I think what we're also seeing as a trend towards people wanting to do more. Previously, we talked to people about how they might, within their call handling, also handle social media inquiries, web chat, SMS, whatever it might be, a whole kind of omni channel[omni 00:06:03] , To use the dreadful phrase that we use in our sector.

                                    It's always been looked at typically, "Yeah, that's interesting." Won't do anything about that, whereas I think now, there are more and more people saying, "Actually, how can we become more efficient? How can we actually handle this customer contact in a more effective way?"

David Gilroy:                 Yeah, that brings me on to my next question actually, which is, we've all looked at Zoom's share price and wish we'd bought in in January or something. The option of Teams, and Microsoft put out, I think, was it a 300 user licence for free to try and get people adopting that over Zoom. What have you done to help or seen law firms do with the speed at which they've adopted these new technologies that would have taken months to plan and months to roll out, and we did it in a matter of minutes, pretty much, in most law firms?

Neil Hollands:               I mean, Teams is probably the one that we've had most involvement with. That's more than doubled globally to 75 million users, I think, in the space of lockdown. As you say, it didn't need a 12-month implementation cycle. It's just been done. Where we've been working with that is that from a telephony perspective, we can embrace Teams and effectively put some plumbing in the back end, which enables the proper carrier-grade telephony to happen within Teams.

                                    There is a Microsoft Teams telephony piece, but it's a bit clunky, not particularly feature-rich, and you are relying on the Microsoft portal from a support perspective, so when you're talking about real-time telephony issues, most customers don't want to be submitting a ticket on a Microsoft portal with a response time that might be 48 to 72 hours.

                                    Equally, those services we were talking about earlier, where we can have more impact around reporting and call recording, omni-channel type stuff, that's not yet available through Microsoft, so we can layer that on top, but I suppose on a more prosaic level where we've seen, whether it's Zoom or Teams or any other conferencing platform, is the pressure on internet connectivity, specifically the pressure in certain locations from working from home, which as we're all aware, is a postcode lottery, typically. I think that no one was prepared for the fact that all their team were going to be working from home, and therefore, no one had prepared to make sure that everyone had high-speed, reliable internet connectivity in a secure manner.

David Gilroy:                 That's absolutely key. I mean, we're a 40-person business. Predominantly, everybody's in Bristol. We probably have one, two, three, four, five, six who live outside the city boundaries, maybe seven with everything, but the vast majority of Bristol city centre is Virgin Media, so decent fibre-based broadband. You can tell when it's wobbly because the Slack channel goes mad.

                                    "Is yours out? Is mine out?," kind of thing. Then we've got a couple of people who live externally to Bristol, and there's a brand called True Speed who have been going around putting in fast fibre in some of the regional villages around Bristol, and that's been fantastic for one of our team. One of our designers who works from home is shipping files around at light speed compared to what she had before.

                                    It's that kind of assessment that when we talk about a longer-term shift to working more flexibly, and almost certainly, business is getting in a lot of flexible working requests as in not times but where they work from, that's going to be a key thing, isn't it, trying to make sure that people can get the right bandwidth nowadays? I mean, we take it as a given in the city. Your northwest small town, I'm guessing it's great, but if we go to the countryside out in Cheshire, it's not so great.

Neil Hollands:               Yeah. I think it's pockets and actually, bizarrely, of our team, I'm probably the worst affected. If I look out that window, I can see the local exchange and it's that kind of scenario where you just don't know. I can walk to the local BT exchange in 15 seconds, but the speed of my connection is worse than everyone else in my team.

                                    I mean, we are doing things about that, which I won't bore you with, but I think the key aspect that we're working on is ... and a shameless plug ... we're working on something called #FasterBritain. It's not dissimilar to what you were talking about that there with the guys in Bristol. We're just looking at very niche, small geographies where there's not-spots.

                                    As an example, very close to our office, there's as an industrial estate with about 300 businesses on it with very poorly served from an internet provision. We're working with our partner to invest money to put full fibre throughout that park, and they should benefit from not only higher speeds but at a lower price on more flexible terms.

                                    We're hoping that that's going to go sit well post-COVID, that type of scenario. We've got four or five other projects lined up like that, but I think the key thing in terms of the general conversation we're having is as an end user, if you've got five of your team who are in not-spots, unless someone's doing that kind of activity ... and there are lots of firms doing that, and the DCMS, the Department for Culture, Media, and something else-

David Gilroy:                 Sport.

Neil Hollands:               Sport is going to invest lots of funding in rural-type broadband, so it's very much about outside-in as opposed to historically, they've just been putting money out for anybody who wants it. It's very targeted now about addressing those not-spots.

David Gilroy:                 Well, I'll give you an anchor for your pricing. Here in central Bristol, we're on the city fibre network, so we get one gigabit up and down, eight to one contention ratio, for 367 a month, which is just phenomenal. The first time we put it in when we moved office two years ago and my tech director said, "Try this," and he sent me a link to a file which was 700 mg, and it was seven seconds to bring this file down. That's before we put voice on it and all our other stuff, but it's just been probably the best 367 pounds a month we spend.

Neil Hollands:               I think that's similar to what we were looking at, which would be a gig uncontended about 280, 300.

David Gilroy:                 Going back to law firms and work from home requests, it's going to be really interesting to see if a valid reason for declining a flexible working request is your internet speed's not good enough, so until you sort that out, you can't work effectively from home. I don't know. I don't know if that's [crosstalk 00:13:05] valid reason.

Neil Hollands:               I think there's probably two ways to look at that, aren't there? You would hope that lots of employers, if it's a cost-based issue, would help support that employee to address their speed issues, but if you say someone we know, Lily Newman[Libby 00:13:21] From Goldman Sachs, I know she lives in a location where you can throw as much money ...

                                    Well, sorry. Within reason, you can throw as much money as you want at it, and you're not going to solve the problem, so it requires those projects that we're looking at, but they're three, six, 12 months down the line. Would you say to someone in her situation, "Yes. You've got to come to the office because you can't work effectively from home"? I think the answer probably is yes.

David Gilroy:                 That's the difference when we think about how technology impacts what's changed, and lots of businesses are asking themselves, "What are we going to bring forward from what we've learned over the last 12 weeks into the new normal?" Not a phrase I use very often, but I mean, there are lots of different things.

                                    Working more flexibly, we always had a phrase in our business that we would use, which somebody said, "You never announced you were working from home. It was you were working remotely because the mantra is work is a thing you do, not a place you go." Whether it's a train, an airport lounge, a client's offices, the coffee bar, the hotel foyer, whatever, it's not just working from home. We always used to have that. "I'm just working remotely." It's nobody's business where you're working.

                                    I think that, going forward, is going to be more key for recruitment, almost certainly. I know somebody just this morning told me they're getting a new puppy, and they haven't told their employer yet because they need to do their flexible working-from-home request before they announce they've got a dog. Easy for me: Just take the dog to the office. That's our policy kind of thing.

                                    Besides historical voice communication, more modern video that we're doing now, and I think this is one thing that we as a business will take forward, doing more of this with our customers. What other kind of comms channels have you seen law firms start to use more of? I'm thinking client communication apps, thinking online case tracking. I mean, I've not seen a real massive shift to that yet. It's still predominantly voice. Have you seen anything different?

Neil Hollands:               Similar experience to yourself, so lots of interest in looking at alternatives and not much engagement and going further than that. I mean, we don't deal with them, but the likes of Knights have embraced a great deal of technology and embracing a way of working in terms of a kind of centralising customer contact and, really, how to handle that as efficiently and as effectively as possible in a positive way.

                                    What we tend to find when we're working with law firms, so this is prior to lockdown. The same applies going forward really, is that it's a bit disjointed in terms of how customer contact is handled and it's quite different to sectors outside of the law sector, so if you take a sector which obviously has been hammered, but kind of luxury travel, the average value of a holiday for a luxury travel firm is high.

                                    It's 15, 20,000 pounds. The way in which they handle their customer content, whether that be telephone ... and it is quite telephone-intensive or digitally, social media, web chat, whatever it might be, they stress a huge amount of importance course around the team that handle that customer contact and how it's handled and what happens if that person's not available? Where does it go next? Not dissimilar to the Moneypenny[inaudible 00:16:54] type care levels that are delivered treated.

                                    I think what I've certainly found over the last decade or so working with law firms is I think it's more there's a legacy system in place. So let's get that working and let's refine that a little bit and make it a bit more efficient and, but not really embrace really strong working practise from different sectors. I think what might happen is that the value and the importance of customer contact post lock down may rise to a level where it actually, those things have to be addressed.

David Gilroy:                 When you're talking about centralising that you don't necessarily... In this world, you don't mean physically to one, one days, rather than anybody picking up the phone. A client of ours in the Northwest, Stevenson's have done this for years. They have a contact centre and at one point I think 30 people centralised in one office and then actually they'd have a small core team centralised and put everybody else back out with the service areas, but it was still centralised through that person because they were the best person at dealing with it.

                                    I'm reminded of professor Cooper, who's been working with law firms for years and he used to make a guarantee or offer a guaranteed, say, "I can come into your law firm and within 30 minutes I can improve your conversion rates." What he would do is go in, listen to everybody taking inbound calls and then saying, "Right, you three, you never answer the phone again. It all goes through Neil because he's the best person." No surprise the conversion rate goes up because some people, their empathy is better. Their questioning is better. You know, these may or may not be lawyers, so it's valuing different things other than their technical skills. I think we're seeing more of that through this period, potentially.

Neil Hollands:               Yeah, I think so. I mean, certainly that kind of emotional intelligence has got to be hugely important if you're going to spend all the money with either individually through marketing team or through the likes of conscious to generate some kind of inbound lead. Someone's perceiving there's value in that inbound leads, so handle it like the value it has. What we've seen quite frequently is a call comes in. The receptionist is under a huge amount of pressure to handle all calls. Nobody's taking those calls equals from within the business, so the calls come back, she's also going to make cups of tea for people in a meeting room. She's got to answer the doorbell, she's got to do the photocopying. So her job, when a call comes in is just get rid of that call somewhere and then the inbound lead is lost,

David Gilroy:                 We have an exercise that we try and do with customers. It doesn't always go very well with law firms, is if you can work out the average spend for every matter that you open in a year, and then you can monitor and track how many matches do you get over the lifetime of a customer; I'm using the word customer deliberately because that's the language we use they're not clients, and you can work out the customer lifetime value and remind everybody when they're taking that inbound call, this is a 100,000 pound phone call that you're answering or a 50,000 pound phone call, and it's all about averages. It doesn't matter whether you say, well, you know, we're mostly transactional firm, that's fine, but you're still trying to do later life or whatever. Pick a number that sounds reasonable.

                                    I mean, most law firms can't. I can measure accurately. Every year I measure it and this year, our average customer lifetime is 6.4, seven years. Yes. I measured it to two decimal points kind of thing, so I can work out that this inbound phone call is worth a 100,000 points to us over that lifetime. That's averages, so it could be worth more depending on the span. I think that changes your mindset. You know, they're not just buying a well for 500 pounds. This is a 20,000 pound customer phone call, which could completely change your mindset about how you think.

Neil Hollands:               There's all those horror stories of people handling calls in law firms where someone rings up and says, you know, in an emotional state, "My father has just died." "Oh, good," being the response and it's just really making sure that the people who are handling that call have, like you say, have the empathy and emotional skill to handle the call really well and are available to handle the call. I think that's, again, really basic thing, but we see it time and time again, the availability of someone who can convert that call into business a real issue. The call handlers are typically trying to get it through to a fee earner[inaudible 00:21:34], whether that's conveyancing family, whatever it might be and they really, really struggle to get those calls to a fee earner [inaudible 00:21:42] in that team.

David Gilroy:                 Well, I'll give you a story from our words. Probably three or four years ago now we run a paid advertising campaign for a family law firm over, well for the family law team over at Christmas period and into January. At the end of January, we were doing a debrief with the customer and they were really not very happy about the volume of leads they got through all the quality. We were using call tracking, well, our tool of choice is Ruler Analytics and every single call got recorded and we could take call durations and everything else. We took this quite personally, because we thought it was an okay campaign. It wasn't the most successful thing we've done, but they've made a decent return to keep the customer happy. One of my team went and listened to all 122 phone calls that got generated and something like 30% didn't get answered.

                                    Another 25% got told to call back because Neil, wasn't available to speak to them. Not, "can I take your number? Neil will call you." "Please call back this afternoon when he's available." We presented these stats back to the customer. They're still a customer today and they were just horrified because they had no clue this was going on in their business because they'd never bothered going and checking what was going on. They didn't have call recording on their phone system because we were doing it through the cloud, through Ruler Analytics that we were able to do that. That explains why... Another example is another client of ours phoned up sometime last year, middle of the month. "David, I'm really not very happy with they way..." In fact it was to Dan, "Not very happy with the way our SEO and PPC is going this last two weeks. We really haven't opened as many cases as normal. You know, I need to know what's changed. What's going on?"

                                    When we looked to the numbers and yeah, they were down, but search volume and everything, all that was holding up and click through rates, everything we said, "But this is weird because all these numbers look fine. You know, are we sure nothing else has changed in your business?" "No, no. The only thing that's changed is Jenny went on holiday." "Right, who's Jenny?" "Oh, Jenny is the lady who answers the phone." "Right, so your primary phone answerer has gone on holiday and your numbers have dropped and you think it's awful? How does that work?" They went away happy knowing that it wasn't campaign. Then, what they did about training Jenny Two, as we called her. Yeah, it is those kinds of challenges and like I say, whether it's emotion intelligency QEI, whatever you want to call it or just general sales skill, which this historically swearing when we use that phrase in law firms, but that's what it's about.

                                    When we talk to law firms and say, "Look, you're not selling, you're helping somebody solve a problem. Isn't that? What lawyers do?" They go, "Yeah, that's what we do." Okay, great. That's when you think about sales in that way. I've got one last question for you, which is everybody's trying to reduce cost, whether it's, as you said, by changes to licencing for systems, everything else, but automation comes into cost savings. What's going on in the world of you look at what Google's doing with it's intelligent automation and stuff. What's going on in the world of telephony info systems that's going to put people out of jobs? That's the bottom line or massively improve customer service?

Neil Hollands:               Yeah, I don't know if it's going to replace put me a lot of jobs. I mean, there's, essentially, I would liken it to Alexa. You can have an intelligent agent, which from a telephony point of view, a customer can call in and that intelligent agent can be programmed to handle a whole bunch of commonly asked questions and in the world of lockdown and COVID-19, that's been incredibly useful where lots of people have gone on to furlough and this can take the pressure off the remaining team.

                                    You can programme this agent to handle a whole bunch of frequently asked questions and then if the person who's called in is not happy with that, either as a way of communicating or can't get the answer they're looking for, they can just escape back into normal human being. Really, it's designed to say, if we can get the call volumes down into our smaller team by X percent, that's a good thing. It's not just a good thing in terms of efficiency. It also means that actually the customer is getting a response where typically if they're going into an overburden team, they're not getting anything. They're either getting voicemail, no answer or a really short response from someone who's under a huge amount of pressure.

David Gilroy:                 You're talking about things like, "I need to make a payment to you, how do I do it?," or, "What are your office opening hours? Are you still accepting visitors?" It's not. "I want to get divorced. How do I go about it?"

Neil Hollands:               No, no. There might be scenarios where there's a change in legislation. For example, the furlough legislation. We had a couple of accountants and some business consultants use it. For example, just saying, if your questions about furlough, we're under huge amount of demand. Go here and we'll be able to answer 70% of your queries. It's not like press one for this, press two for the other. You effectively shout it as you would do Alexa. We can even talk to it nicely and say, "I want to furlough five people on a part time basis. Is that possible?" Well, providing it has been programmed into the backend saying, part-time furlough. This is what we say.

                                    It will work. The other thing is, it is not quite self-learning, but you will see which questions are being asked that haven't been able to be answered. If obviously there's some commonality, then you would programme it to answer that question. I think, yeah, in the world of lockdown, it has been useful where lots of people have been put on furlough and it just provides another resource without having to bring someone back from furlough.

David Gilroy:                 In that case, the law firm would script the answer and they'd have somebody read the answer into the intelligent assistant or is it doing text to speech translation?

Neil Hollands:               Text to speech, and you can choose the speaker from a number of different ones, but yeah, they don't need to go in and speak themselves. The honest answer is, I don't know whether that's an option, but I'll take that away and find out. Yeah, going down the line, I think it's just, again, some of those issues we talked about earlier where the person who's responsible for handling telephone calls is under vast amounts of pressure and they're unable to get it through someone who can actually provide any assistance. If I'm the person who's handling your call and say, "Well, David, I can't get you through to Sarah who will be able to answer this. Clearly, I can put you through to an intelligent agent who will be able to answer some of these questions. Would you like to do that?"

                                    At least I'm not just automatically being shopped dropped into at an Alexa type thing. It's been announced. I'm like, "Yeah, okay. I'll give that a go." If it works effectively great, but there is a release mechanism from it. You can just say, "Put me back to the reception," or, "Put me back to an operator." It's early days and we're seeing, where it's worked really, really well is in hospitality. I mean, again, prior to lockdown, hotels we're using it for a vast amount. What they found was a huge volume of inquiries coming to the front desk at a hotel, especially around airports were, "What times a shuttle bus? When does breakfast finish?," all these kind of common queries... Rather than that go through to a busy front desk, we just went through to an agent who said, "Okay, this shuttle bus goes at these times. Breakfast today finishes at blah, blah, blah," and it's just really understanding that frequently asked questions that don't necessarily need an expert answer.

David Gilroy:                 Yeah, and I think that the way you interact with it is key because none of us like press one for this and then that's two for that. It's like, you know, sat in a voicemail on my mobile, you know, I've memorised the keystrokes. I'm a bit older than you, but the joke when I was growing up was could you memorise the keys you had to press into a Nokia phone to change it back from Russia and when you left it open on your table or something, your drunk friend would put it in Russian for you. Yeah, I think that's key. It's the same thing with, chat bots on websites.

                                    If you're not doing super, super clever AI, it needs to be taught the answers because the self-learning stuff does get quite expensive. You know, we did a prototype with IBM Watson and we just couldn't get it to do the self learning bit. It was just a silly amount of money for implementation. Whereas here's a question, it contains this and this is typewritten. Therefore it's these answers just go look it up using semantics. That works extremely well. What about, does telephony get extended, then into meeting bookings? You know, I want to, I want to book a meeting with you. Can I do that through a phone system or is it still old fashioned go to a web page and do it that way?

Neil Hollands:               Well, you can develop the automation behind that. It's not the same example, but as an example for payments, one of the areas that this intelligent agent is having a lot of success is if I was speaking to you and we get to the point in the conversation where we're about to do a transaction and you want my card details, there's obviously lots of issues around PCI. You would then just say, I'm going to put you through to our PCI compliant, intelligent agent. You hand add the call off. I do that transaction. You've not heard any of it. It's all been secure that it transfers a call back to you once that's happened. Again, I'll go and find out if we can achieve a similar thing could happen. You can say booking system and they will come back and say, yes, you're meeting is booked with David at 12:30 on Tuesday.

David Gilroy:                 Yeah. You just, I mean, if there's a great video that does the reigns of the Google assistant doing that, booking a hairdressing appointment. I think you've seen it, and it is amazing. You know, it's like the first bit was when he was talking to the Google system and I just had it with Siri this morning when I use Siri for something and Siri went, "Uh huh." You know what you do when you say, just give me a minute, you'd go, "Uh huh," and you just acknowledge the fact. It's just spooky, absolutely spooky the way this stuff will absolutely will work. That's from a search engine perspective, not telephony.

Neil Hollands:               Completely as an aside. It's also interesting as you know, my two boys, Henrik, the youngest, seven, he just loves talking to Alexa and she has got lots better. The kids will ask questions like what's your favourite colour? I think it was, "I don't have a favourite colour," and it's now, "I really like the colour green."

David Gilroy:                 Well, maybe when he's old enough, you can let him watch that X Machina or X machine or whatever that film was called. It was a very lifelike robot. Well, Neil, it's been a real pleasure chatting with you this morning. What I'll do is I'll put your contact details at the end of the video when I put it online and if people do want to get in touch with law firms, talk about how telephony and cloud comms and all those things can improve their client service and almost certainly improve what their staff are doing, then hopefully you'll get some take up from that. Thank you for your time.

Neil Hollands:               Brilliant. Thank you, David. Pleasure.

David Gilroy:                 Hi, David Gilroy here from Conscious Solutions, and we're doing another video session. And today, I'm really pleased to be joined by Neil Hollands from Concert Networks. Neil, would you just like to introduce the business for our listeners?

Neil Hollands:               Yes. Thank you, David. Concert Networks, we provide customer contact technology and internet connectivity to help our customers become better connected, and we promote that on a risk-free basis. What we mean by risk-free is that all the systems we provide, we look to make sure they're having a genuine impact on our customer's business performance.

                                    If it transpires they're not, then you don't pay for that part of the service. When we talk about impact, we're typically looking at how we can help customers improve their customer experience, improve productivity, or drive some efficiency. We've been working actively within the legal space, as you know, for, I don't know, probably at least 10 years, something like that, something along those lines.

David Gilroy:                 How many law firms do you work with nowadays?

Neil Hollands:               I'd say probably about 20, 25 legal firms that we're working actively with right now.

David Gilroy:                 Cool. When we first set this up, obviously we're, what, 12 weeks into lockdown, what's the biggest impact you've seen so far with the whole current crisis of COVID-19 on law firms, communication systems, and the ease with which they managed to convert to a predominantly working-from-home model?

Neil Hollands:               I think with our customers that we've been working with for a while, it's been relatively simple in terms of the services we provide to get them all working from home, where they've got people working from home. As an aside, there's been a lot of activity around getting costs down through people who are furloughed and providing what we've termed a furlough licence, which essentially puts everything running and working and ready to go live when they can come off furlough, but without the full cost of the licence and therefore without the rigmarole and time delay involved if they were just to turn it off and turn it back on, which, for us can be quite time consuming and potentially cause delays for customers

David Gilroy:                 Most of the clients you're working with, this is cloud-based telephony, is it I'm assuming, rather than-

Neil Hollands:               Yes, it's cloud-based. [crosstalk 00:02:43] Yeah, so at the most basic level, it can be cloud-based telephone systems, so purely call handling, call making, call answering. We've got a number of them who are doing a bit more sophisticated call routing with contact centre type style solutions, which those seem to have coped the best during lockdown.The challenges of COVID-19 have seemed to be less for them because they're already used to working in disparate locations, albeit now, they're no longer working in disparate offices; they're working in disparate households, but they're still managing to centrally control all the internal inbound communication throughout their business and being able to direct that to the right people.

                                    We've found those who are using the more sophisticated tools have coped very well and some of those who were using the more basic tools have layered some additional tools on top, so what I mean by that is things like call reporting so they can have clear visibility of whether calls are getting through to someone who they should be getting through to and what's happening if they're not. And then equally, things like call recording, so call recording can be switched on for those people who are working from home as well as if they're working from the office. Where-

David Gilroy:                 That's more from a compliance perspective, is it, than it is a kind of quality of service or customer care issue, do you think?

Neil Hollands:               It tends to be. I mean, we've had a few, perhaps not so much in the legal space, but they've got call recording on because I think they're a bit concerned about whether people are working or not, to put it at a really basic level.

David Gilroy:                 Big trust issue.

Neil Hollands:               Yeah, there's been a trust issue. I think also just in general, we've seen a lot of stuff around reporting where typically, I think people have had a naive idea that because when they can see someone's bum on a seat in the office, they're working effectively and when they can't see that bum on the seat in the office, they must be drinking coffee and not doing anything. I think that's been a big change with COVID-19, and people have to get over that hurdle. The fact is, like we've always said, if they're sat in the office, it doesn't mean they're working.

                                    In the same way, if they're sat at home, it doesn't mean they're working and I think those who were working in the office effectively are working effectively from home. They want to work. They're motivated to work. They're accountable, all those good things. The call recording has been from a compliance point of view and also, some people are using it to enable them to be more effective internally.

                                    If you and I are having a conversation with a prospect or a client, and I just said, "Actually, David, I had this really detailed conversation with Sarah. Here's the recording. Listen to the middle of it," it just makes my time more effective and makes your time more effective, so people are using it for that. I think what we're also seeing as a trend towards people wanting to do more. Previously, we talked to people about how they might, within their call handling, also handle social media inquiries, web chat, SMS, whatever it might be, a whole kind of omni channel[omni 00:06:03] , To use the dreadful phrase that we use in our sector.

                                    It's always been looked at typically, "Yeah, that's interesting." Won't do anything about that, whereas I think now, there are more and more people saying, "Actually, how can we become more efficient? How can we actually handle this customer contact in a more effective way?"

David Gilroy:                 Yeah, that brings me on to my next question actually, which is, we've all looked at Zoom's share price and wish we'd bought in in January or something. The option of Teams, and Microsoft put out, I think, was it a 300 user licence for free to try and get people adopting that over Zoom. What have you done to help or seen law firms do with the speed at which they've adopted these new technologies that would have taken months to plan and months to roll out, and we did it in a matter of minutes, pretty much, in most law firms?

Neil Hollands:               I mean, Teams is probably the one that we've had most involvement with. That's more than doubled globally to 75 million users, I think, in the space of lockdown. As you say, it didn't need a 12-month implementation cycle. It's just been done. Where we've been working with that is that from a telephony perspective, we can embrace Teams and effectively put some plumbing in the back end, which enables the proper carrier-grade telephony to happen within Teams.

                                    There is a Microsoft Teams telephony piece, but it's a bit clunky, not particularly feature-rich, and you are relying on the Microsoft portal from a support perspective, so when you're talking about real-time telephony issues, most customers don't want to be submitting a ticket on a Microsoft portal with a response time that might be 48 to 72 hours.

                                    Equally, those services we were talking about earlier, where we can have more impact around reporting and call recording, omni-channel type stuff, that's not yet available through Microsoft, so we can layer that on top, but I suppose on a more prosaic level where we've seen, whether it's Zoom or Teams or any other conferencing platform, is the pressure on internet connectivity, specifically the pressure in certain locations from working from home, which as we're all aware, is a postcode lottery, typically. I think that no one was prepared for the fact that all their team were going to be working from home, and therefore, no one had prepared to make sure that everyone had high-speed, reliable internet connectivity in a secure manner.

David Gilroy:                 That's absolutely key. I mean, we're a 40-person business. Predominantly, everybody's in Bristol. We probably have one, two, three, four, five, six who live outside the city boundaries, maybe seven with everything, but the vast majority of Bristol city centre is Virgin Media, so decent fibre-based broadband. You can tell when it's wobbly because the Slack channel goes mad.

                                    "Is yours out? Is mine out?," kind of thing. Then we've got a couple of people who live externally to Bristol, and there's a brand called True Speed who have been going around putting in fast fibre in some of the regional villages around Bristol, and that's been fantastic for one of our team. One of our designers who works from home is shipping files around at light speed compared to what she had before.

                                    It's that kind of assessment that when we talk about a longer-term shift to working more flexibly, and almost certainly, business is getting in a lot of flexible working requests as in not times but where they work from, that's going to be a key thing, isn't it, trying to make sure that people can get the right bandwidth nowadays? I mean, we take it as a given in the city. Your northwest small town, I'm guessing it's great, but if we go to the countryside out in Cheshire, it's not so great.

Neil Hollands:               Yeah. I think it's pockets and actually, bizarrely, of our team, I'm probably the worst affected. If I look out that window, I can see the local exchange and it's that kind of scenario where you just don't know. I can walk to the local BT exchange in 15 seconds, but the speed of my connection is worse than everyone else in my team.

                                    I mean, we are doing things about that, which I won't bore you with, but I think the key aspect that we're working on is ... and a shameless plug ... we're working on something called #FasterBritain. It's not dissimilar to what you were talking about that there with the guys in Bristol. We're just looking at very niche, small geographies where there's not-spots.

                                    As an example, very close to our office, there's as an industrial estate with about 300 businesses on it with very poorly served from an internet provision. We're working with our partner to invest money to put full fibre throughout that park, and they should benefit from not only higher speeds but at a lower price on more flexible terms.

                                    We're hoping that that's going to go sit well post-COVID, that type of scenario. We've got four or five other projects lined up like that, but I think the key thing in terms of the general conversation we're having is as an end user, if you've got five of your team who are in not-spots, unless someone's doing that kind of activity ... and there are lots of firms doing that, and the DCMS, the Department for Culture, Media, and something else-

David Gilroy:                 Sport.

Neil Hollands:               Sport is going to invest lots of funding in rural-type broadband, so it's very much about outside-in as opposed to historically, they've just been putting money out for anybody who wants it. It's very targeted now about addressing those not-spots.

David Gilroy:                 Well, I'll give you an anchor for your pricing. Here in central Bristol, we're on the city fibre network, so we get one gigabit up and down, eight to one contention ratio, for 367 a month, which is just phenomenal. The first time we put it in when we moved office two years ago and my tech director said, "Try this," and he sent me a link to a file which was 700 mg, and it was seven seconds to bring this file down. That's before we put voice on it and all our other stuff, but it's just been probably the best 367 pounds a month we spend.

Neil Hollands:               I think that's similar to what we were looking at, which would be a gig uncontended about 280, 300.

David Gilroy:                 Going back to law firms and work from home requests, it's going to be really interesting to see if a valid reason for declining a flexible working request is your internet speed's not good enough, so until you sort that out, you can't work effectively from home. I don't know. I don't know if that's [crosstalk 00:13:05] valid reason.

Neil Hollands:               I think there's probably two ways to look at that, aren't there? You would hope that lots of employers, if it's a cost-based issue, would help support that employee to address their speed issues, but if you say someone we know, Lily Newman[Libby 00:13:21] From Goldman Sachs, I know she lives in a location where you can throw as much money ...

                                    Well, sorry. Within reason, you can throw as much money as you want at it, and you're not going to solve the problem, so it requires those projects that we're looking at, but they're three, six, 12 months down the line. Would you say to someone in her situation, "Yes. You've got to come to the office because you can't work effectively from home"? I think the answer probably is yes.

David Gilroy:                 That's the difference when we think about how technology impacts what's changed, and lots of businesses are asking themselves, "What are we going to bring forward from what we've learned over the last 12 weeks into the new normal?" Not a phrase I use very often, but I mean, there are lots of different things.

                                    Working more flexibly, we always had a phrase in our business that we would use, which somebody said, "You never announced you were working from home. It was you were working remotely because the mantra is work is a thing you do, not a place you go." Whether it's a train, an airport lounge, a client's offices, the coffee bar, the hotel foyer, whatever, it's not just working from home. We always used to have that. "I'm just working remotely." It's nobody's business where you're working.

                                    I think that, going forward, is going to be more key for recruitment, almost certainly. I know somebody just this morning told me they're getting a new puppy, and they haven't told their employer yet because they need to do their flexible working-from-home request before they announce they've got a dog. Easy for me: Just take the dog to the office. That's our policy kind of thing.

                                    Besides historical voice communication, more modern video that we're doing now, and I think this is one thing that we as a business will take forward, doing more of this with our customers. What other kind of comms channels have you seen law firms start to use more of? I'm thinking client communication apps, thinking online case tracking. I mean, I've not seen a real massive shift to that yet. It's still predominantly voice. Have you seen anything different?

Neil Hollands:               Similar experience to yourself, so lots of interest in looking at alternatives and not much engagement and going further than that. I mean, we don't deal with them, but the likes of Knights have embraced a great deal of technology and embracing a way of working in terms of a kind of centralising customer contact and, really, how to handle that as efficiently and as effectively as possible in a positive way.

                                    What we tend to find when we're working with law firms, so this is prior to lockdown. The same applies going forward really, is that it's a bit disjointed in terms of how customer contact is handled and it's quite different to sectors outside of the law sector, so if you take a sector which obviously has been hammered, but kind of luxury travel, the average value of a holiday for a luxury travel firm is high.

                                    It's 15, 20,000 pounds. The way in which they handle their customer content, whether that be telephone ... and it is quite telephone-intensive or digitally, social media, web chat, whatever it might be, they stress a huge amount of importance course around the team that handle that customer contact and how it's handled and what happens if that person's not available? Where does it go next? Not dissimilar to the Moneypenny[inaudible 00:16:54] type care levels that are delivered treated.

                                    I think what I've certainly found over the last decade or so working with law firms is I think it's more there's a legacy system in place. So let's get that working and let's refine that a little bit and make it a bit more efficient and, but not really embrace really strong working practise from different sectors. I think what might happen is that the value and the importance of customer contact post lock down may rise to a level where it actually, those things have to be addressed.

David Gilroy:                 When you're talking about centralising that you don't necessarily... In this world, you don't mean physically to one, one days, rather than anybody picking up the phone. A client of ours in the Northwest, Stevenson's have done this for years. They have a contact centre and at one point I think 30 people centralised in one office and then actually they'd have a small core team centralised and put everybody else back out with the service areas, but it was still centralised through that person because they were the best person at dealing with it.

                                    I'm reminded of professor Cooper, who's been working with law firms for years and he used to make a guarantee or offer a guaranteed, say, "I can come into your law firm and within 30 minutes I can improve your conversion rates." What he would do is go in, listen to everybody taking inbound calls and then saying, "Right, you three, you never answer the phone again. It all goes through Neil because he's the best person." No surprise the conversion rate goes up because some people, their empathy is better. Their questioning is better. You know, these may or may not be lawyers, so it's valuing different things other than their technical skills. I think we're seeing more of that through this period, potentially.

Neil Hollands:               Yeah, I think so. I mean, certainly that kind of emotional intelligence has got to be hugely important if you're going to spend all the money with either individually through marketing team or through the likes of conscious to generate some kind of inbound lead. Someone's perceiving there's value in that inbound leads, so handle it like the value it has. What we've seen quite frequently is a call comes in. The receptionist is under a huge amount of pressure to handle all calls. Nobody's taking those calls equals from within the business, so the calls come back, she's also going to make cups of tea for people in a meeting room. She's got to answer the doorbell, she's got to do the photocopying. So her job, when a call comes in is just get rid of that call somewhere and then the inbound lead is lost,

David Gilroy:                 We have an exercise that we try and do with customers. It doesn't always go very well with law firms, is if you can work out the average spend for every matter that you open in a year, and then you can monitor and track how many matches do you get over the lifetime of a customer; I'm using the word customer deliberately because that's the language we use they're not clients, and you can work out the customer lifetime value and remind everybody when they're taking that inbound call, this is a 100,000 pound phone call that you're answering or a 50,000 pound phone call, and it's all about averages. It doesn't matter whether you say, well, you know, we're mostly transactional firm, that's fine, but you're still trying to do later life or whatever. Pick a number that sounds reasonable.

                                    I mean, most law firms can't. I can measure accurately. Every year I measure it and this year, our average customer lifetime is 6.4, seven years. Yes. I measured it to two decimal points kind of thing, so I can work out that this inbound phone call is worth a 100,000 points to us over that lifetime. That's averages, so it could be worth more depending on the span. I think that changes your mindset. You know, they're not just buying a well for 500 pounds. This is a 20,000 pound customer phone call, which could completely change your mindset about how you think.

Neil Hollands:               There's all those horror stories of people handling calls in law firms where someone rings up and says, you know, in an emotional state, "My father has just died." "Oh, good," being the response and it's just really making sure that the people who are handling that call have, like you say, have the empathy and emotional skill to handle the call really well and are available to handle the call. I think that's, again, really basic thing, but we see it time and time again, the availability of someone who can convert that call into business a real issue. The call handlers are typically trying to get it through to a fee earner[inaudible 00:21:34], whether that's conveyancing family, whatever it might be and they really, really struggle to get those calls to a fee earner [inaudible 00:21:42] in that team.

David Gilroy:                 Well, I'll give you a story from our words. Probably three or four years ago now we run a paid advertising campaign for a family law firm over, well for the family law team over at Christmas period and into January. At the end of January, we were doing a debrief with the customer and they were really not very happy about the volume of leads they got through all the quality. We were using call tracking, well, our tool of choice is Ruler Analytics and every single call got recorded and we could take call durations and everything else. We took this quite personally, because we thought it was an okay campaign. It wasn't the most successful thing we've done, but they've made a decent return to keep the customer happy. One of my team went and listened to all 122 phone calls that got generated and something like 30% didn't get answered.

                                    Another 25% got told to call back because Neil, wasn't available to speak to them. Not, "can I take your number? Neil will call you." "Please call back this afternoon when he's available." We presented these stats back to the customer. They're still a customer today and they were just horrified because they had no clue this was going on in their business because they'd never bothered going and checking what was going on. They didn't have call recording on their phone system because we were doing it through the cloud, through Ruler Analytics that we were able to do that. That explains why... Another example is another client of ours phoned up sometime last year, middle of the month. "David, I'm really not very happy with they way..." In fact it was to Dan, "Not very happy with the way our SEO and PPC is going this last two weeks. We really haven't opened as many cases as normal. You know, I need to know what's changed. What's going on?"

                                    When we looked to the numbers and yeah, they were down, but search volume and everything, all that was holding up and click through rates, everything we said, "But this is weird because all these numbers look fine. You know, are we sure nothing else has changed in your business?" "No, no. The only thing that's changed is Jenny went on holiday." "Right, who's Jenny?" "Oh, Jenny is the lady who answers the phone." "Right, so your primary phone answerer has gone on holiday and your numbers have dropped and you think it's awful? How does that work?" They went away happy knowing that it wasn't campaign. Then, what they did about training Jenny Two, as we called her. Yeah, it is those kinds of challenges and like I say, whether it's emotion intelligency QEI, whatever you want to call it or just general sales skill, which this historically swearing when we use that phrase in law firms, but that's what it's about.

                                    When we talk to law firms and say, "Look, you're not selling, you're helping somebody solve a problem. Isn't that? What lawyers do?" They go, "Yeah, that's what we do." Okay, great. That's when you think about sales in that way. I've got one last question for you, which is everybody's trying to reduce cost, whether it's, as you said, by changes to licencing for systems, everything else, but automation comes into cost savings. What's going on in the world of you look at what Google's doing with it's intelligent automation and stuff. What's going on in the world of telephony info systems that's going to put people out of jobs? That's the bottom line or massively improve customer service?

Neil Hollands:               Yeah, I don't know if it's going to replace put me a lot of jobs. I mean, there's, essentially, I would liken it to Alexa. You can have an intelligent agent, which from a telephony point of view, a customer can call in and that intelligent agent can be programmed to handle a whole bunch of commonly asked questions and in the world of lockdown and COVID-19, that's been incredibly useful where lots of people have gone on to furlough and this can take the pressure off the remaining team.

                                    You can programme this agent to handle a whole bunch of frequently asked questions and then if the person who's called in is not happy with that, either as a way of communicating or can't get the answer they're looking for, they can just escape back into normal human being. Really, it's designed to say, if we can get the call volumes down into our smaller team by X percent, that's a good thing. It's not just a good thing in terms of efficiency. It also means that actually the customer is getting a response where typically if they're going into an overburden team, they're not getting anything. They're either getting voicemail, no answer or a really short response from someone who's under a huge amount of pressure.

David Gilroy:                 You're talking about things like, "I need to make a payment to you, how do I do it?," or, "What are your office opening hours? Are you still accepting visitors?" It's not. "I want to get divorced. How do I go about it?"

Neil Hollands:               No, no. There might be scenarios where there's a change in legislation. For example, the furlough legislation. We had a couple of accountants and some business consultants use it. For example, just saying, if your questions about furlough, we're under huge amount of demand. Go here and we'll be able to answer 70% of your queries. It's not like press one for this, press two for the other. You effectively shout it as you would do Alexa. We can even talk to it nicely and say, "I want to furlough five people on a part time basis. Is that possible?" Well, providing it has been programmed into the backend saying, part-time furlough. This is what we say.

                                    It will work. The other thing is, it is not quite self-learning, but you will see which questions are being asked that haven't been able to be answered. If obviously there's some commonality, then you would programme it to answer that question. I think, yeah, in the world of lockdown, it has been useful where lots of people have been put on furlough and it just provides another resource without having to bring someone back from furlough.

David Gilroy:                 In that case, the law firm would script the answer and they'd have somebody read the answer into the intelligent assistant or is it doing text to speech translation?

Neil Hollands:               Text to speech, and you can choose the speaker from a number of different ones, but yeah, they don't need to go in and speak themselves. The honest answer is, I don't know whether that's an option, but I'll take that away and find out. Yeah, going down the line, I think it's just, again, some of those issues we talked about earlier where the person who's responsible for handling telephone calls is under vast amounts of pressure and they're unable to get it through someone who can actually provide any assistance. If I'm the person who's handling your call and say, "Well, David, I can't get you through to Sarah who will be able to answer this. Clearly, I can put you through to an intelligent agent who will be able to answer some of these questions. Would you like to do that?"

                                    At least I'm not just automatically being shopped dropped into at an Alexa type thing. It's been announced. I'm like, "Yeah, okay. I'll give that a go." If it works effectively great, but there is a release mechanism from it. You can just say, "Put me back to the reception," or, "Put me back to an operator." It's early days and we're seeing, where it's worked really, really well is in hospitality. I mean, again, prior to lockdown, hotels we're using it for a vast amount. What they found was a huge volume of inquiries coming to the front desk at a hotel, especially around airports were, "What times a shuttle bus? When does breakfast finish?," all these kind of common queries... Rather than that go through to a busy front desk, we just went through to an agent who said, "Okay, this shuttle bus goes at these times. Breakfast today finishes at blah, blah, blah," and it's just really understanding that frequently asked questions that don't necessarily need an expert answer.

David Gilroy:                 Yeah, and I think that the way you interact with it is key because none of us like press one for this and then that's two for that. It's like, you know, sat in a voicemail on my mobile, you know, I've memorised the keystrokes. I'm a bit older than you, but the joke when I was growing up was could you memorise the keys you had to press into a Nokia phone to change it back from Russia and when you left it open on your table or something, your drunk friend would put it in Russian for you. Yeah, I think that's key. It's the same thing with, chat bots on websites.

                                    If you're not doing super, super clever AI, it needs to be taught the answers because the self-learning stuff does get quite expensive. You know, we did a prototype with IBM Watson and we just couldn't get it to do the self learning bit. It was just a silly amount of money for implementation. Whereas here's a question, it contains this and this is typewritten. Therefore it's these answers just go look it up using semantics. That works extremely well. What about, does telephony get extended, then into meeting bookings? You know, I want to, I want to book a meeting with you. Can I do that through a phone system or is it still old fashioned go to a web page and do it that way?

Neil Hollands:               Well, you can develop the automation behind that. It's not the same example, but as an example for payments, one of the areas that this intelligent agent is having a lot of success is if I was speaking to you and we get to the point in the conversation where we're about to do a transaction and you want my card details, there's obviously lots of issues around PCI. You would then just say, I'm going to put you through to our PCI compliant, intelligent agent. You hand add the call off. I do that transaction. You've not heard any of it. It's all been secure that it transfers a call back to you once that's happened. Again, I'll go and find out if we can achieve a similar thing could happen. You can say booking system and they will come back and say, yes, you're meeting is booked with David at 12:30 on Tuesday.

David Gilroy:                 Yeah. You just, I mean, if there's a great video that does the reigns of the Google assistant doing that, booking a hairdressing appointment. I think you've seen it, and it is amazing. You know, it's like the first bit was when he was talking to the Google system and I just had it with Siri this morning when I use Siri for something and Siri went, "Uh huh." You know what you do when you say, just give me a minute, you'd go, "Uh huh," and you just acknowledge the fact. It's just spooky, absolutely spooky the way this stuff will absolutely will work. That's from a search engine perspective, not telephony.

Neil Hollands:               Completely as an aside. It's also interesting as you know, my two boys, Henrik, the youngest, seven, he just loves talking to Alexa and she has got lots better. The kids will ask questions like what's your favourite colour? I think it was, "I don't have a favourite colour," and it's now, "I really like the colour green."

David Gilroy:                 Well, maybe when he's old enough, you can let him watch that X Machina or X machine or whatever that film was called. It was a very lifelike robot. Well, Neil, it's been a real pleasure chatting with you this morning. What I'll do is I'll put your contact details at the end of the video when I put it online and if people do want to get in touch with law firms, talk about how telephony and cloud comms and all those things can improve their client service and almost certainly improve what their staff are doing, then hopefully you'll get some take up from that. Thank you for your time.

Neil Hollands:               Brilliant. Thank you, David. Pleasure.

 

 

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