My heart shatters into pieces every time I receive a call about a “little” issue the business owner is facing. “I have been waiting three weeks on a return call from a $5 million client and my receptionist put them into voicemail when I stepped out to use the restroom this morning – and when I walked by here, she never told me about it. It wasn’t until 4 p.m. that I discovered the message. And last week an urgent FedEx package was put in my inbox, where you don’t notice it until the next day.  She’s a lovely gal, the clients love her. It’s just these ‘little’ things that are making me nuts. Am I being a control freak?”

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 their work.  As soon as the new person can speak relatively coherently, remember the names of your team members and learn where to find the phone system’s hold button, they are left to field calls and “yell if they have a question.”

Considering that the person answering the phone is the first, often unchangeable impression that a new client has of your firm, this is scary.  From someone who calls A LOT of law firms across the country, I’ll tell you – it’s frightening!

The #1 job of every person in your firm is to “connect” with people hiring you (or considering doing so). 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 are “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 deals with your firm.  It greatly impacts your bottom line.  Trust us.  Are you training the receptionist on how to push buttons on your phone system, or on 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 present. Remember, you are in the personal services business.  If you can manage to have fun, that alone will distinguish you in the marketplace (and will drive 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 how to handle it.  Not only does this never allow your workload to decrease, but it isn’t very empowering for the new person to just be a switchboard operator.  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 for how to handle the most common types of phone calls your firm receives, it’s a great 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 can she ask to really drill down on what the caller needs and how she can assist them,” and together brainstorm the best responses.  Make sure you verify that she heard and actually understood what you were 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 cringe at how the receptionist just answered someone’s inquiry.  I actually 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 be crystal clear with your team on 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 is 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 your phone procedures. A word of caution, though: In this day and age, people are so sick and 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 attorneys are notorious for “dodging” calls.  So be the firm that IS different than the 30 other firms in your marketplace.
4. Use call logs.  Call logs serve as intake sheets for certain incoming calls.  They provide consistency and ensure that all of the correct questions are asked.  They 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.  Each attorney and team member who receives 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 their call-back time. (For a free call-back list template, email info@hiringandempowering.com.)
6. Define your protocol for interrupting others.  Decide what constitutes an “emergency phone call” and warrants a meeting being interrupted.  Don’t make a receptionist who has been there for a week decide what an emergency is and what is not.  Put your protocol in writing and add to your phone procedures systems.
7. Create a binder of all upcoming firm-related events and information.  Your receptionist should be aware of and have at their fingertips information on all upcoming workshops, etc. They need 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; therefore they need to know what clients hire you for and the culture of your firm.  This allows them 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 but haven’t read its 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 to them 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.  They may not be able to create these phone-technique systems, but they can be the one to put pen to paper and capture each instruction and decision.  During their down time, when the phone isn’t ringing, they can 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.

Let us help you. Maybe it’s an issue of hiring, training or empowerment, but either way, we can help you discover which it is. Book a complimentary 60-minute discovery call today by clicking here or emailing us at molly@hiringandempowering.com.

Molly Hall