You are waiting on a return call from a $10M client and your receptionist sticks him into voicemail. Or your urgent FedEx package gets put in your Inbox where you don’t notice it until the next day. How many times has something like this happened? Why is it seemingly so difficult to have simple office procedures performed with consistency and intelligence?
Training a team member on answering the phone is usually approached as a task to be completed as quickly as possible and checked off the list so the trainer can return to other work. As soon as the new person can speak relatively coherently, remember the names of your team members and find the hold button on the phone, the unfortunate soul is left to field calls and “yell if they have a question.”
Considering that any person answering the phone gives new clients a first impression that is often unchangeable, this is scary. From someone who calls A LOT of law firms across the country, I’ll tell you – it’s a widespread problem, and one you want to prevent.
The #1 job of every person in your firm is to “connect” with people hiring (or considering) hiring you. The first 20 seconds of every first interaction with your firm needs to communicate kindness, compassion, fun and warmth. The training process and the world of business is “serious” and “professional,” but if you are interacting with training in a very analytical, task-oriented way, that will be communicated to every person who interacts with your firm. Trust us, it is greatly impacting your bottom-line. Are you training the receptionist how to push buttons on your phone system, or how to connect with potential clients who call? People are hiring you for your ability to counsel, relate and “hear” them, not for documents. No role/job is about the documents, portfolios or funding; it is about the ability to be human and to be present. Remember, you are in the Personal Services Business. If you have fun, that alone will distinguish you in the marketplace (and further the growth of your firm)!
Phone Training Success Strategies:
1. Don’t rush it. Every incoming phone call is a training opportunity. It’s easy to get so busy that you just take a call and handle it, rather than stopping and explaining it and training someone else in how to handle it. It isn’t very empowering for the new person to just be a switchboard operator, and you aren’t empowered either because your workload never decreases. Let them learn how to handle phone calls and contribute to your firm.
2. Create and use phone scripts. If you don’t have scripts on how to handle the most common types of phone calls your firm receives, it’s time to create them. You don’t have to make a project out of it. It simply takes 15 minutes and a little bit of focus. Sit with your new “Director of First Impressions” and review the three most common calls coming into the firm. Ask yourself what questions she can ask to really drill down on what the caller needs and how she can assist them, and brainstorm the best responses together. Make sure you verify that she heard and actually understood what you are saying, versus just taking notes. This provides consistency in how questions and incoming calls are handled. There is nothing worse than that feeling when you walk by the receptionist and cringe at the answer you just heard to someone’s inquiry. I had a prospective client call in once and ask, “Does your firm do Medicaid planning?” and our receptionist replied, “Hmm. I think our attorneys just went to a training program on that.” Ouch! Not what we wanted to convey to prospective clients.
3. Clarify your position on voicemail versus taking a message. Different firms have different preferences. Make it a consistent rule and crystal clear for your team what the protocol is. A lot of attorneys get annoyed when the receptionist sends all their calls to voicemail and they have eight messages at the end of the day. However, someone else on the team may prefer voicemail and be communicating that to the receptionist as the overall preference. Discuss it, decide what is best for your firm, then convey it clearly and have it written down as part of your phone procedures. A word of caution: In this day and age, people are so tired of being transferred to India and halfway across the globe that you run a BIG risk of them hanging up before the transfer is complete. And with attorneys, they are notorious for “dodging” calls. So be the firm that is different than the 30 other firms in your marketplace.
4. Use Call Logs. A call log serves as an intake sheet for certain incoming calls. It provides consistency and makes sure all the correct questions are asked. It can serve as a decision tree for the receptionist to know what to do with the call next, based on the information collected. A call log should always end with the question, “Is there anything else I can do for you right now?” This alone will make your firm stand out as one of helpfulness and accessibility, versus one who stuck you immediately into voicemail.
5. Implement Call-Back Time. Attorneys and team members who receive a high volume of incoming phone calls should have a designated time each day to return calls. This allows the receptionist to set the expectation with the client that “Mr. Smith will return your call between 4 and 5 today – what number can you be reached at during that time?” Clients appreciate knowing when they will receive a call back. The receptionist can create a Call-Back List of names and phone numbers throughout the day to hand the attorney for the call-back time. (For a free Call-Back List template, email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
6. Define your protocol for interrupting others. Decide on what constitutes an “emergency phone call” and warrants a meeting being interrupted. Don’t make a new receptionist who has been there for a week decide what constitutes an emergency. Put your protocol in writing and add it to your phone procedures.
7. Create a binder of all upcoming firm-related events and information. Your receptionist should be aware of and have available any information on upcoming workshops, etc., necessary to be able to answer questions about location, timing, etc., rather than taking a message for someone else to call back. Every time you have to return a phone call you increase the possibility of losing the interest of the caller.
8. Train on your culture and value, not just what buttons to push on the phone. Your receptionist is speaking to your clients and therefore needs to know the culture of your firm and what clients hire you for. This allows the receptionist to speak in a similar tonality. Your receptionist should read every written piece of literature your firm has – brochures, website, client welcome letters, etc. It always surprises me how many people work for a company and haven’t read their marketing material. Clients read it – it’s what they hire you for – so your team should read it too! Have them highlight key words that you use and explain what they mean in the context of your firm. For example, if you use “trusted advisor,” “value-based planning” or “protection planning,” explain what those mean.
9. Have your new “Director of First Impressions” be accountable for capturing the systems. The receptionist may not be able to create these phone technique systems, but he/she can be the one to put pen to paper and capture each instruction and decision. During down time, when the phone isn’t ringing, have the receptionist type them up and organize them into a system.
Don’t underestimate the intentionality and time it takes to complete phone training. We all take phones and the role of “receptionist” for granted. This is the single best training tool for any team member. Trust the process and invest the time and patience into it now. It will produce powerful results by creating the right impression for your clients and referral sources.
Don’t miss the last FREE webinar in 2013, “Essentials to hire, empower and keep great employees” on Tuesday, December 3rd from 5-6pm ET. Click here to register.
Champions of your continued success,
Molly and Laney