You’ve set up your new website, invested in getting to number one in Google, implemented other online and offline marketing activities to support your business objectives and then, wait for it…. The phone rings! Great! A new client, right? Easy! Sadly, for too many firms, this isn’t the case.
In an increasingly competitive market place, law firms invest enormous amounts in marketing and lead generation activities. They invest yet more in getting the very best lawyers they can to carry out the work. Yet most firms pay little heed to one of the most important parts of the process: converting enquiries into paying clients.
In our experience, most law firms view answering the telephone as an ‘admin’ task. And not just any admin task, one that is frequently delegated to employees who may have the least to gain from converting an enquiry, those that are further down the salary bracket or those that might be least engaged with the long-term health or growth of the business.
In our view, call handling should be viewed squarely as a business development (BD) task. After all, what’s the point of investing your hard-earned cash on generating new enquiries if the leads are being lost at the first point of contact?
If, for example, your average fee value is £1000 and you lose just 2 leads per day due to calls not being handled effectively, you are sacrificing almost half a million pounds of additional turnover per year!
Does this sound like your firm?
- Inbound calls are answered by a member of your admin team who has never received any formal sales or call handling training
- Your call handlers make no effort to differentiate your firm from others
- There’s an inherent reluctance to sell
- There’s no central database of call handing data (i.e. priceless marketing information!) including things like name, address, email, telephone and so on.
A 2016 report by Professor Ian Cooper on the conversion of conveyancing enquiries into new files found some damning statistics:
- In more than 90% of all calls, the call handler failed to attempt to build a rapport with the caller. The discussion was entirely factual, transactional, formal and administrative. In many cases, callers are made to feel like they are a nuisance to the firm.
- In more than 1/3rd of all calls, neither the caller or the call handler knew who they were talking to – there was no introduction or asking for a name. Almost NO law firms ask for the business. In fairness, this is done badly across all organisations and at all levels.
- Most damningly of all, 97% of call handlers failed to ask for the business when they had the chance.
Some more sobering stats:
- A typical law firm will lose 90-95% of potential leads.
- Most potential clients will contact on average 5 different firms
- People who call are between 5-10 times more likely to convert than those who email or fill in forms
- Properly nurturing prospects increases conversion rates by 50% and reduces ‘cost per lead’ by 33%
- It’s anywhere from 4-10x more expensive to attract new client rather than keep an existing one
How should law firms handle incoming calls?
To a significant extent, how calls are handled and routed internally depends on your firm’s culture. Are calls passed to partners, fee-earners or heads of department quickly? Can administrative staff or junior lawyers handle them?
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, the following elements should be part of the call handling procedure for any firm taking business development seriously. At a minimum, your call handling staff should record:
- The date
- The call handlers name
- The caller’s name
- The callers email address
- Their contact number
- What service they are interested in
- How they found you (web, radio ad, press, print media etc),
- Next steps
- The DATE of those next steps
- The format of those next steps (call, email, meeting etc),
- The outcome (new instruction etc)
This might seem like a lot of information, and if this list is read from top to bottom it becomes a bit of an interrogation! What you must encourage call handlers to do is to work these elements into a conversation. Don’t worry, that’s not as hard as it sounds!
What should you track?
- The total number of leads – and their sources. This is vital. Only by tracking the overall number of leads can you accurately track the number that convert into new business. It’s also important you track the sources of the leads. There are two elements to this – the means of making the enquiry (telephone calls, emails, walk-ins etc) and the practice area.
- The number of enquiries that convert into appointments. The next step is to track how many of these leads become appointments or meetings. Once you establish the percentage of enquiries that convert to appointments and the number of those appointments that convert to clients, you have a baseline to measure, manage and improve on.
- How many of these appointments show (or fail to show). This is essential information in that it can illuminate a failure in your process. Are your call handlers attempting to set poor-quality appointments? Are they working on qualifying leads or just asking people to come in?
- How many people who attend a meeting or appointment become clients? An obvious one – how many people sign up?
- How many return to sign up after the initial meeting. Again, this can highlight elements of your process that are done well, or badly. To what extent are these prospects nurtured? How do you follow up with them after the meeting?
The next two elements are what will really inform your marketing going forward:
- What is your cost per lead by source/practice area? That is, how much are you paying for each telephone enquiry, for each email enquiry and so on? Once you know that, you can find ways to reduce it.
- What is your cost per client by source/practice area? How much are you paying for each converted client per practice area? Once you know this, you can more accurately determine how profitable each client is and, importantly, how much you should invest in acquiring new ones!
Training your staff to convert calls
There’s no perfect or ‘one size fits all’ solution, the best solution is one that sticks and becomes a habit. Any lead-managing process is better than no process.
In any given firm, in our experience, there can be many barriers to adopting a conversion strategy. Asking staff (who may have been doing things the same way for years) to adopt new processes and procedures can be a wrench. At the very least, your call handlers should be given training on the following elements:
Qualifying prospects. A little bit of qualifying goes a long way. Again, the extent to which you qualify leads is dependant to a huge extent on your firm’s culture and client base. You can quickly qualify leads where there is a time-bar or where the client may be seeking legal aid. In other situations, a little more digging may be required. While excessive questioning might seem intrusive, the reality is that most potential clients will be happy to share details and information to give you the tools required to handle their particular situation.
Properly qualifying leads will save a huge amount of your fee-earners valuable time and effort.
Handling frequently asked questions. Again, this can save valuable time and effort on the part of your fee-earners. This works not just for prospects, but for existing clients too. Having ready answers to frequently asked questions improves your customer service and streamlines your efficiency. It goes without saying that information like your address, telephone numbers, email addresses and driving directions to your office should trip off the tongue!
Telephone manner. In many firms, reception staff are given carte blanche to answer telephones and deal with clients howsoever they choose. One of the best ways to deal with this is to implement a ‘Culture Code’. This gives staff direction and certainty of approach and will also help with your recruiting and retention of staff.
Sales training. As previously stated, the handling of incoming calls should not be viewed as a purely administrative task. If there’s one thing that would improve most law firms’ profitability overnight, it’s switching away from this mindset and towards one that regards this as the most important frontline business development task!
Your firm’s culture. While you could give detailed scripts and processes to call handlers, it’s easier and preferable to give a set of principles to call handlers. At Moore Legal Technology we use our culture code to give our staff the means to handle queries, questions and situations as they arise. As Mark Fields, President of Ford said, “Culture eats strategy for Breakfast”.
The Price is Right – Handling Price Objections
Instead of trying to break free from the price-driven race-to-the-bottom, most firms are simply sucked into it.
We live a in a world of price-comparison sites and we’re used to purchasing insurance, flight tickets, holidays, and gas, electricity and broadband in this way so why should legal services be different? Well, the answer as we know is that most of those things listed are ‘must haves’ – with the exception of holidays and flights (and you could argue that point, I suppose), we need the other things – just like we often need legal services.
Just as the client can intuitively understand price, so are search engines, comparison sites and other algorithms. Numbers are just data and area easy to sort. The other elements of a successful legal transaction are much more difficult to compare – the overall experience of working with you, strategic advice, help avoiding pitfalls, additional services and access to a greater spread of expertise are all essential elements that a single number cannot convey.
It’s easy to get sucked into a price war. It’s easier to change price than anything else. Brand, market position, value proposition etc. all require considerable time and thought. Changing a number doesn’t.
Clients who begin their relationship with you based on price will simply switch when a cheaper alternative is available, harming the long-term profitability of your firm. They simply don’t place a high value on your service. Do you really want that type of client?
If you are reputable firm with expert staff (paid accordingly), then a price war doesn’t suit you. For one, you know it won’t give you the opportunity to properly deal with the client and any issues that may arise. You know you probably won’t be able to do your very best.
So, how can you avoid getting drawn into a price war?
- having excellent call handling processes and procedures
- having a website that conveys your value proposition and is aligned to your target audience
- ensuring leads are swiftly and competently followed up on
- handling calls out-of-hours
- putting in place lead tracking and management processes.
- employ value-based pricing
How & when to follow up with prospects
When following up with prospects & enquiries, make sure you do it:
Quickly. If you receive an email, a call or a web form enquiry, follow up promptly. The likelihood of that lead converting drops dramatically the longer you leave it.
Often. People are busy. It’s not enough to call back once or twice and leave it at that. The likelihood of converting is much, much higher if you persist.
At the right times. This is mainly common sense. Ringing on busy days (Mondays & Fridays) or during working hours is fruitless. Ring between 4:30pm – 6pm and before 8:30 if possible.
Differently from other firms. Don’t leave the standard “Hi, it’s such-and-such from So-and-so law firm, returning your call…” Be a bit more personal – refer to their enquiry in detail, give them your direct dial and explain WHY you are the right firm to help – i.e. “we have specific experience of just this type of matter and I have a solution in mind for you…”