Bernadette Bennett, head of legal sector at Moneypenny, gives her top tips for firms on how to approach your call management strategy, and make a great first impression with clients
First impressions are crucial in business. Even more so when you’re in the business of supporting clients during some of the most stressful times of their lives.
How calls are answered provides clues to a legal firms’ values, priorities and approach to care – yet all too often it’s given little proactive consideration.
Why have a strategy?
Lots of firms view answering the phone as something that just happens, rather than as an important communications activity that requires a strategy of its own.
Mismanaged and unanswered calls are costly. They could lead to a lost – potentially lucrative – enquiry, a disgruntled client or a missed job candidate.
By devising an inbound call management strategy, firms can take charge of first impressions, and put the skills and resources in place to achieve their goals. Whether you’re writing your strategy internally or calling on the help of an outsourced provider, there are eight key steps to lay the foundations for success.
The starting point for any new plan is to review the current situation and collect data, including:
- strengths – what aspects of call handling and client communications currently work well?
- weaknesses – what isn’t working? Do unanswered calls disturb fee earners? Are new enquiries missed? List what creates the most headaches and complaints.
- opportunities – what would happen if call handling improved? How could it improve brand profile?
- threats – what are the risks attached to leaving things as they are? How much damage could inertia do to your business?
- volumes – how are call volumes broken down by time and day?
- patterns – can you spot patterns with busy periods or average call durations?
Talk to call handling staff about their experiences and frustrations, including those who answer the phones, but for whom it is not their sole job. Understanding actual, rather than perceived, needs is imperative.
Calls to law firms come from a wide variety of places. Whilst a call from another legal professional needs to be handled with professional efficiency, one from a client going through a divorce, for example, requires more empathy and patience. Categorising caller types – and needs – helps you to understand how best to respond.
Consider the callers’ entire experience interacting with your firm. Ask yourself whether new client enquiries receive the same level of care over the phone, through the website and in person, and if other legal professionals get connected quickly and efficiently every time. Consistency is key, particularly for multi-office legal practices. Digital switchboard services, with intelligent speech recognition, might be helpful to your strategy – allowing calls to be directed effortlessly, every time.
24 / 7
Behaviours have changed, and consumers now expect to interact with their service providers at all times of day and night. That means to capture all enquiries you need to consider a 24 / 7 service. No one expects all staff to be available at 10pm – but ensuring that all calls are always answered in person, day or night, ensures that all potential new leads are captured ready for a call back the following day.
Standing in customers’ shoes can help to set standards as part of a process of continual improvement.
Ask yourself how quickly phones should be answered and whose responsibility it is to do so (is it an owned, shared or outsourced job). How will you handle different situations and what sort of language should be used? If your firm prides itself on empathy and accessibility – it must be evident in your practices and standards.
Standards might include how the caller is greeted, the number of rings in which a call must be answered, the detail to be captured and how quickly call backs are made.
This process may reveal there is insufficient resource to present a consistent first impression of your firm. If this is the case, consider an outsourced provider for overflow support (freeing up the in-house team at busy times), out of hours support (so callers never have to leave a message) or a fully outsourced solution (calls are always answered by a third party). A partner will help to identify your needs, agree service level standards and ensure a consistent brand experience.
Digital tools such as managed live chat can help legal firms to manage call volumes. Enabling people to ask questions while they’re on a website, in real time, can lead to faster query resolution. In fact, a managed live chat handler can handle three live chats in the time it takes to handle one phone call.
Used tactically, tailored live chat pop ups have tremendous value. For example, a live chat pop-up on the private client page might proactively ask if the visitor needs help with wills, in turn stimulating conversation and creating a lead – all while keeping phone lines free for more important calls. The use of live chat may sit within marketing, but it is crucial to call management because it can triage enquiries.
The last 18 months have been a masterclass in nimble decision-making and disaster planning. As crisis scenarios such as a fire, flood, infection control and power outage could compromise your team’s ability to answer calls in-house, give thought to a back-up. Make sure you know how to divert calls so that emergency plans can be actioned with ease. Whether it’s within the crisis management plan or call management strategy, think about how scripts might differ and call back expectations will be managed.
A well thought-through inbound call management plan clarifies caller needs, addresses resource and sets benchmarks against which to manage performance. More broadly, it provides the foundation for excellent client customer care and peace of mind that positive first impressions are guaranteed. Handling calls efficiently and professionally will support your goals to improve care, revenues and reputation. Anything less will undermine all your firm’s efforts and eventually, the phone might just not ring at all.