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3 Keys to Successful Intakes, Part 2: On the Call

Hand holding phone surrounded by icons about caring, questions, Buzzword matches leading more cases

Call etiquette is a vastly researched, studied, and taught skill. Phone manners go a long way to creating rapport, but you need more than that. An intake call is not the proper time to engage in tangential conversations. The challenges faced by firms may differ based on their size, but the ultimate goal is the same.

TIP: Take a look at our 4 Tips for Converting Intake Calls Into Clients for Your Firm. It’s a good primer for any law firm, whether you’re going back to basics or you need to get every advantage.

It is vital to remember that this is a job interview of sorts. If you’re not fortunate enough to sign the case on the spot, set expectations and communicate next steps to the potential client. These aren’t just waypoints. They’re opportunities to show that your firm is punctual, organized, and communicative.

Below are some things that firms, regardless of size, should understand. You can improve your on-call success and sign more of the clients you want. Here’s how.

ICYMI: In Case You Missed It

This is the fourth in our series of blogs that cover intake case management for law firms. Here are links to the series (which will update as they’re published):

Small Firms On the Call: Fight the Trend, Call Manners, Self-Scout

The difference between signing a case and losing the possible revenue it can produce often comes down to the call itself. Small firms generally get three things wrong. And these are easy things to fix.

Fight the Trend and Answer the Phone

Law Technology Today did a cold call study of law firms back in 2016. Our daily view of the law firm intake landscape tells us not much has changed. Here are the high (or rather, low) lights.

  • 3% of callers gave up before the phone was answered
  • 11% of calls lasted less than 10 seconds
  • 32% of calls went to voicemail

Every one of these calls is a possible million-dollar settlement that your firm missed. Ask yourself, what if just one of these calls was a seven-figure booster shot to your bottom line?

While it is not an ironclad certainty, you’re likely to lose 100% of the calls you don’t answer because the caller will find another firm to call who will pick up the phone. Likewise, if you have an automated system directing calls, someone in a crisis mentality is likely to grow impatient and hang up.

Practice Good Phone Call Etiquette

The quality of the conversation you have once you have someone on the phone makes a difference. The same LTT study found that:

  • More than half of the people answering for the firm never gave their name.
  • More than half of callers were placed on hold at least once.
  • Nearly half never used the caller’s name.
  • Around 22% of firms asked no detailed questions at all.
  • More than 40% were rated as “not at all” empathetic.
  • 84% of firms failed to explain fee structure proactively.
  • 86% of firms failed to ask for an email address.
  • 45% of firms failed to ask for a phone number.

How are you supposed to work for a client if you don’t respect them enough to communicate during your first impression? If your firm doesn’t check any of those “bad call” boxes, you’re doing better than most. If your firm is guilty of any of these transgressions against customer service, take steps to fix what’s wrong.

Scout Your Own Firm

How would you know you’re getting all these things wrong? Well, have you tried calling? You may be surprised by what you can learn by simply calling your own firm.

And, if you have a bad experience with your secret-shopping, make sure you address the root of the problem. Have you trained the people answering the phone? Do they have a clear process? Do they know what questions to ask? Are they on board with the importance of the call and your firm’s mission? It may not be the person – look for a broken process.

Tip: If an intake call is a case you want, find or create an opportunity to sign it as soon as possible. Depending on your tools, you could send an agreement while the call is ongoing.

Large Firms on the Call: First Impressions, Caring With Details, and Seeking Opportunities

Larger firms generally have people with plenty of experience on the call, and most have a system in place to handle intakes as a whole. Intakes are not rocket science, but they can be highly nuanced. The approach will differ by practice, a personal injury client and a family law client are in different mental spaces. There are, of course, some universal truths.

First Impressions Matter

We mentioned empathy earlier, and this is where it is applied. Remember the reason they called – crisis mentality. Create a personal connection. Using someone’s name is like looking them in the eye on a phone call. If your intake personnel aren’t trained to do this, remedy that.

Too often, intake personnel are too focused on asking questions to listen to the client. That’s a mistake. Listen to their story. Empathize and sympathize with them not because it furthers your needs but because it will make them feel better. A little goes a long way.

“I’m really sorry that happened to you. If you’ll answer some questions for me, I can figure out how we can help you.”

This tip isn’t scientific, nor is it even something GrowPath can necessarily help you with, but we think it’s vitally important.

Asking Good Questions Sets You Apart

When you ask someone a question about their problem, you imply that you want to help them solve it. That’s a simple thought, but it’s where the client’s needs merge into your firm’s needs. Asking good questions ties these two needs together.

A good question:

  • Is clearly relevant to the client
  • Helps them feel that you care and like you’re building their case
  • Is not something they have already answered

Yes, most large firm intake reps work from a script or a questionnaire. Once the call begins, there’s a variable – the client. A rote list of questions may not come across the right way, so representatives should be able to generate opportunities organically. The order in which you ask questions affects their relevance. How you ask the question can impart the feeling that you’re building their case. And if you ask the same question twice, it signals that you’re not listening.

Some firms use questionnaires that ask the same question differently to get an answer, which can be a dangerous game. Smart clients will see through that. Unless you have smart questionnaires that remove the repeat question when you record an answer into the system, you’d better have an intake representative who knows what they’re doing. Or, you’d better train them well. Or both.

Seeking Opportunities to Help the Client and Your Firm

Fundamentally, an intake call is an information-gathering task, not necessarily a transactional one. Your firm may not be able to help this caller. You won’t know until you gather information. However, even if your firm only practices one niche of law, you may have an opportunity to help both the client and yourself by expanding on their original reason for calling.

For example, if they were in a car crash, that is a personal injury case. There might be an additional workers’ compensation case if they were driving for work. Or, if someone calls about a Social Security Disability case, you may find that they’re taking a defective or recalled medication. A class action opportunity or mass tort case could be on the table. Your questions, or the client’s answers, could trigger an entirely new avenue to compensation, and there are tools (for example: our patented BuzzwordsTM feature) you can give intake reps that specifically enable them to do this.

There are plenty of examples of these hidden cases, and you need not practice in the requisite areas to see a benefit – have a referral agreement with a firm that does and open a new revenue stream. If you’re not seeking the hidden value in your intake calls as a large firm, you are leaving money on the table for yourself and your client.

TIP: According to Law Technology Today, 70% of firms they called did not set a time or a date for next steps. More than 25% of firms took three days to respond to an online inquiry if they responded at all. And more than 50% of firms took three days or more to respond to voicemail if they responded at all. There is an obvious opportunity here for responsive law firms.

Bonus Tip for Every Firm: If you want the case, ask the client for their business before the call ends. Yes, that should be obvious. No, it isn’t always. This is more of a sales tip, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get the sale. If they sign, next steps are obvious. If they don’t, create some next steps that lead to a signing.

Nailed the Call! Now What?

If you have not signed the client from the call, fear not. There are things you can do after the call to help you get some ink on that representation agreement and get the ball rolling for them.

Our next piece will cover the steps you can take after an intake call – whether you answered it or not (and you probably can’t answer every call – we get it).

Want to learn more about GrowPath and how its patented tools can help you manage your firm? Schedule a demo today.

June 07, 2022