We all have nightmare stories about providers in the service industry - how they never pitch for a quote, they never call back, or they forget to quote after the initial meeting.
I have been present in many law firms, almost like a fly on the wall while attending to software issues, or while waiting to speak with one of the partners, lawyers are notoriously bad at putting off returning or taking calls with their clients or even prospect clients, for that matter.
Set the correct expectation
If you are busy and cannot be disturbed, get your secretary or receptionist to take a message, but make sure you give the secretary or receptionist the proper instructions to take the most effective message:
- Get enough detail to not irritate the caller, but to enable you to have enough information to prepare yourself for the call and not waste their or your time finding out what the matter is about.
- Tell the caller that you will return the call in a given time frame (that you as a firm should all agree to) and if you are going to slip with that time frame to get your secretary to call and tell the client that you have not forgotten them and will call later.
- Ask for an alternate number should they not answer the other phone.
- Offer to share your law firm’s blog URL which could help the caller in the meantime until the partner calls back (another good reason for the blog).
If I am told by a secretary that they are going to check if Mr Soap is available, and they return to tell me that the partner is not - immediately I think that the partner does not rate my call high enough to take my call and that I can wait for their attention. Or even worse, if they say they will check in the partner is in, and they come back to say they are out!
Establish a clear directive for your secretary or reception on whether you are in or out, available or not. Also, if you are only going to be available for certain clients, make sure they only ask for the client’s name while taking a message, otherwise it sounds like you are screening calls.
Firm wide telephone etiquette policy
Make it a policy that phones will not ring more that 3 rings before being answered, that you will respond to calling people back within 4 hours, that the person answering will introduce themselves in a certain way etc.
Online email contact forms
These are put out into the world wide web like a fishing net, to catch clients for your law firm - why go to the effort of getting these clients into the net, if you are going to let them free by not responding quickly enough.
Have the “info” general contact email sent to a few contacts in the firm, and set service levels for the response. The person responding can BCC the others in the reaction group to show them that the contact has been made.
It makes sense for the contact email to have an auto responder, to give the person a warm and fuzzy feeling and again should point them to the blog to allow them to read up a little on their matter.
Have a group of people responsible for answering social media - assign a roster of who is responsible when - social media responses are critical to keeping a good reputation, and a delay in responding can do a lot of damage in a very short period of time.
Give the responders one or two partners they can contact to respond to a tricky question - but make sure you give these partners the authority to act on their own, otherwise the delay will cause damage.
Response times and how the client is handled when calling your firm, even before they speak to the partner concerned can set your law firm apart from the rest, surely it is time to setup a few policies.