(2020 Update) The First 30 Seconds of A Client Call Can Make Or Break Your Solo Practice

I remember after graduating law school I had the opportunity to call the law firm of Day Berry and Howard several times (now Day Pitney) and I was instantly enamored of their phone receptionist.  I’m sure every person who called there felt the same way. She had the most incredible and memorable voice and charm to match. I can still hear her voice nearly 20 years later. This was my first encounter with the law firm and it set the psychological tone and my perception of the law firm.  Her voice made me think of ruby-red crushed velvet. I then imagined how the law firm must look, how everyone must be dressed in expensive suits with French cuffs and even the high quality of their work.  It wasn’t a conscious perception based on any substantial fact and it happened within a millisecond. They took the time to find the right front person for their firm and the branding has stuck to this day.

Oftentimes, the first contact (or touchpoint) a potential client has with your law firm is the person (or machine) answering your phone. This touchpoint falls under the umbrella of your law firm’s customer service and branding.  Unfortunately, many law firms consistently discount the value of a live person answering their law firm’s phone even if not intentionally.  They inadvertently fail to offer high quality, attentive client service with the first ring of the phone oftentimes because they’ve been told technology is a good substitute or everyone is accustomed to voice mail these days. Sometimes, especially when you are brand new, you will use voice mail, google voice, or other types of electronic service as a substitute.  This isn’t bad when you are just starting out, but you should plan to graduate to a live service, particularly for the reasons I’ve stated above.

When a potential client calls a lawyer, they usually have a good reason to do so— a legal problem! If they are an existing client, they often have important questions or concerns leaving them anxious, frustrated, and probably impatient to get a resolution. Keeping this in mind, can you now see why those first 30-seconds of a call to your law firm can heavily influence the experience and ultimately the outcome of their contact with you?  If they get voicemail, it’s like getting a convenience store, pre-packaged stale cookie instead of grandma’s fresh out of the oven cookie.  It’ll do in a pinch when you’re hungry but doesn’t really satisfy. If they are a potential new client, they may simply move on to another lawyer who has a live person answering the phone.

Statistics Support There is Much At Stake

It is imperative your law practice be in control of these contacts (or touchpoints) and set the tone (and extend your brand) early because the backlash can be swift and costly. According to a BIA/Kelsey report, phone calls influenced more than $1 trillion in consumer spending in 2019. The average American tells 15 people about a poor experience—and you’ll feel the impact on your business in large part because of the power of the internet. As I’ve discussed before, the internet has made it extremely easy for a dissatisfied client to share negative reviews about your firm with some furious keystrokes and one final push of the ‘enter’ key.

Researchers recently uncovered compelling statistics about the impact of a negative customer service experience after polling more than 5,000 respondents:

  • 59% of survey respondents have higher expectations for customer service than they did a year ago.
  • 61% have switched brands due to poor customer service, nearly half in the last 12 months.
  • 60% don’t see customer service as getting any easier, and 34% say it’s actually getting worse

And, possibly most compelling, 94 percent of those surveyed by ReviewTracker say an online review has convinced them to avoid a business.

The Impact of a Bad Experience is Felt Immediately

Immediate (potential) client engagement is critical from the moment the phone is answered or, again, the risk of a negative experience and backlash goes up substantially. The first 30 seconds usually will define the nature of the call as either positive/negative for the client because the onset of the call is when the following is established:

  • Competence level of the lawyer/law firm
  • Caller’s reaction to psychological triggers created by your law firm
  • Trust which carries through the life cycle of your attorney/client relationship

Don’t forget, while we are talking about the client phone experience at your law firm we ARE talking about an important form of customer service. Experienced customer service representatives have the training to know how to effectively engage potential or established clients and satisfy their needs.  How they respond to your client is always relevant.  Let’s face it.  If you are answering every phone call yourself are you always capable and patient when answering one call after the other, interrupting your work or picking up the phone on the fly while rushing out the door to court and more.  You may find yourself pre-judging ‘voices’, making unfair determinations of potential clients when you are simply not in the right mindset to handle a new client call or listen to a frustrated current client’s narrative on a minute point.   And voicemail isn’t going to always be the best alternative.

That’s why we are thrilled to continue our long-standing partnership with Ruby.  Six years ago, I actually sought them out to become our sponsor because I was hearing such wonderful things about their service from the quality of their live virtual receptionists and chat specialists, to their price points, their working relationships with their own customers and the ultimate return on investment the users were gaining from switching from voicemail to live answering. Not to mention, the ability to work from anywhere—so important as many firms make the move to a virtual office. By using Ruby and customizing their needs, they are getting the important skills of patient, experienced, attentive customer service pros, hand-picked and trained to know how to set the all important ‘tone’ early and satisfy every caller’s need and based upon your specific instructions.  This speaks volumes to me in how they work hard to protect your reputation and brand.  This philosophy is definitely in keeping with our Solo Practice University’s own mission, to separate the wheat from the chaff and bring in high-quality vendors who can meet solo/small firm needs at rates that are affordable. Ruby is the real deal.

I did seek out other reviews of Ruby and discovered, as they grew, they had small imperfections.  But so do we all. Then I discovered this review which sealed the deal for me. Ruby lives and breathes customer service and so I realized if there ever was a hiccup with the company they would be quick to fix and satisfy their own clients (you) because they actually do care – it’s not just marketing chatter.

I encourage you to check them out. As always, Solo Practice University does not accept affiliate commissions, and any benefit we may derive is passed on directly to our students.  Ruby is offering our students great savings to test drive and benefit from using their superb virtual receptionists.  Check them out!

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4 comments on “(2020 Update) The First 30 Seconds of A Client Call Can Make Or Break Your Solo Practice

  • Thank you for this.

    I hope many solo attorneys, especially those who are just starting out, take this information to heart. That first impression will make or break your firm long term. It’s worth the investment to have a well trained, live person answer your calls from the beginning. While hard to quantitate, the value this brings your firm is massive and a very strong way to stand out from your peers.

    • James, this is a cost/benefit analysis. The issue we have to understand the value and measure the return. The evidence speaks for itself. Yes, solos have to scrupulously watch their pennies. But they also have to know when to invest. Many lawyers don’t know what business they lose or why. The information provided in the post lays out some very important points for consideration.

  • I agree on this but it does not take into count explicitly the cost of having someone to answer the phone, for a solo lawyer. Solo lawyers have to watch very closely the overhead and having some one to answer phone is costly.

    • Ignacio, I’ve always maintained watch your costs but there are times you have to spend money to make money. It’s about spending money wisely. Yes, there is a cost, but one has to do a cost-benefit analysis. I remember a while ago people were talking about lawyers answering their own phones. The issue is how does it sound if you are rushing out to court or stressed about a bad deposition? What if you are at your child’s game and miss THE call because it goes to voicemail and the person doesn’t want to leave a message, wants to speak to a real person because they have a level of urgency. We don’t know what business we lose and the cost of losing this business. Just another way to look at how one allocates funds to grow.

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