Intake is low-hanging fruit for lawyers. However, far too many attorneys focus efforts and marketing dollars on generating more leads, rather than finding the people and implementing the processes that can truly convert those leads to cases. Law firms that master an intake process garner more cases and more ROI in the long term.
It’s not necessarily that lawyers are ignoring intake altogether. There’s typically some process in place to handle calls that come in from referrals, advertising or other marketing campaigns. But often these procedures are out of date, tracked poorly, and don’t receive a lot of buy-in from busy attorneys. Often a single office manager is tasked with trying to handle too much, and intake consistency and quality get overlooked.
If you are second-guessing your intake program it’s probably worth acting on your hunch. Lacking an established protocol could be one reason your firm is lacking revenue—and possibly a stronger caseload. One recent example shows just how many firms are making major intake mistakes. Stephen Fairley, CEO of The Rainmaker Institute, asked his staff to “secret shop” 126 National Trial Law firms who were registered for an upcoming NTL summit, all high-caliber personal injury, workers compensation, medical malpractice, mass tort or criminal defense attorneys who are invested in the legal industry.
Fairley’s callers pretended to be a car accident client who was referred to the firm by a doctor treating the caller’s back pain. Some of the discoveries are jaw dropping:
- 70% of intake people did not ask the caller for any contact information before completing the call
- 52% of the firms never called back, even after properly collecting contact information and promising to follow up
- 31% of the firms never even identified the law practice by name
- 71% of law firms put the caller on hold for more than two minutes
- 33% of law offices misspelled their own website URL when asked to provide it, including one so botched it led the caller to a competitor’s site
These are some obvious intake mistakes—not collecting information, following up or considering callers’ needs—that can be fixed by lawyers who start to realize how much they may leaving on the table. Let’s address a few more common intake mistakes that you can start to improve on today.
MISTAKE: Not dedicating an intake professional to handle calls.
The secret shopper test also revealed too many people answering calls with a distinctly annoyed tone that left a bad impression, such as “you’re taking me away from something more important” or “your call is not valuable to us.”
FIX: Empower an intake person or team with the right tools, technology and direction to begin seeing (and valuing) leads as potential cases. Which existing specialists are converting the most calls to cases? Do you need to consider hiring, firing or re-training?
MISTAKE: Sounding like you’re too busy to care.
Following up on the previous mistake, tone of voice is a huge barrier during intake for lawyers. Being short, rude or too quick to turn “unqualified” cases away is extremely off-putting and could quickly cost your firm a lucrative client.
FIX: Work toward finding a consistent tone of voice that conveys compassion and caring. (Or at least fake it ‘till you make it.) In fact, studies show that the simple act of smiling can improve a person’s mood, something that could certainly impact verbal delivery over the phone. Writing and employing some simple scripts that put the caller first—for example, asking if the prospective caller is OK first—can go a long way.
MISTAKE: Not collecting any (or appropriate) information from callers.
Remember that astounding 70% figure from above? How could any law firm build a viable database or convert a lead without ever being able to contact or market to the callers who are referred to them or find them through advertising?
FIX: First things first, asking immediately for a caller’s name and number will ensure you can reconnect in the event that you are cut off. This also creates a more personal interaction since you can address the caller by his or her first name. After that, it’s every law firm’s call about how much information to collect—what’s appropriate enough for follow-up but doesn’t overstep in such a way that a prospective client feels like a statistic rather than a person. In addition to a phone number, it’s common practice to ask for an email address and preferences for receiving communication via text or email.
MISTAKE: Not listening in on intake calls.
Being unwilling to take a hard look at intake to see which people and processes are working is the definition of doing the same thing and expecting different results. That scenario never works. The only way to know for sure whether or not your intake system is functioning at a high level is to truly listen in on the messages your firm is communicating each time the phone rings.
FIX: Start recording your firm’s incoming calls. There are some very simple yet sophisticated call-recording programs available today that can help you begin to review, monitor and learn from your intake calls. These systems can help you not only uncover flaws in how they are communicating but track statistics about call volume, time of day, length of calls and other key metrics that will hone how you market over the phone.
MISTAKE: Not paying attention to the small details.
A lot of little intake mistakes can add up very quickly to an undesirable impression of what your lawyers might be like to work with. Don’t give an anonymous caller the chance to rule out your law firm before you’ve even had a chance to meet in person.
FIX: Create an action plan for intake specialists that lists things to avoid during that critical first-impression session on phone. For example, institute a one-minute rule: If a caller is left on hold past one minute, a live person must at least re-acknowledge the waiting caller’s existence or ask for a number to return the call. Similarly, have a cheat sheet readably available with your firm’s accurate website URL and other key details. Also consider quicker ways to disseminate information correctly, such as asking for an email address and including all relevant firm details in an email that goes out immediately following the call.
MISTAKE: Not following up fast enough—or at all.
Statistics have shown that anywhere from 30% to 50% of sales go to the vendor that responds first. And, depending on your average case fee, a 2% increase in conversion could lead to $500,000 in revenue! There is simply no reason for not following up with a caller that leaves a message.
FIX: Again, put a system in place for exactly how these intake follow-up procedures should work, especially for after-hours calls. If you can commit to returning a call within 24 hours of someone leaving a message at the office, say so in your voice mail message. Better yet, consider a two-prong approach by sending a recognition email or text (if you have the caller’s information) to acknowledge that you have received the message and the appropriate attorney will be in touch soon.
When in doubt about, we can’t stress enough the importance of simply writing and following a script—at least until your intake folks get the tone of communication down pat. Having a clear, consistent way to talk to your prospective clients can carry you farther than you might think.
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