3 Steps to Better Legal Intakes at Your Client-Centered Firm
Do your clients come first? Why a better customer experience at your law firm is a win for all parties.
Think of your relationships with your clients, past and present. What words come to mind? If trust and satisfaction aren’t at the top of your list, you’ve got work to do in transitioning to a more client-centered law office. The importance of choosing the right intake specialists for your law firm can’t be overstated.
Clients make decisions and form judgements in a very similar way to you. If you went into a store and the clerk ignored you, you’d only wait so long before finding a new store. Clients don’t exist in a vacuum; they appreciate good treatment from a business partner just the same as you do. If you start keeping this idea at the forefront of your mind when managing client relations, you’re already on your way to becoming a more efficient and more profitable client-centered law firm.
After all, it’s not a zero sum game. It’s not about either catering to clients or bolstering the bottom line. Instead, the two are clearly linked and interdependent. A client-centric law office makes it more likely you’ll secure the business of the client in front of you at the time of initial outreach. It also makes it more likely that you’ll attain future business indirectly as your positive reputation and referrals network grows and spreads.
Some law firms and many businesses dedicate employees or teams to focus on the client’s law firm experience, making sure all aspects of the client’s engagement with the firm reflects empathy and makes client needs and concerns the top priority. From intake to disbursal, client communication must be a priority in navigating important relationships with your legal clients.
Step 1: The Client Intake Call
When taking calls from prospective clients, the intake specialists for your law firm need to be two things: friendly and knowledgeable. Even if you’re a small firm or solo practitioner, someone in your operations center needs to quickly answer or respond to potential new client calls. The more quickly your firm can assess the matter and communicate the decision back to the potential client, the more confidence that person will have in your firm – whether or not you take the case.
Consider: Are your employees engaged and warm or disinterested and hasty? It’s important your staff understands that any incoming call could be your legacy case. Whatever initial assumptions you might make about a client or call, you never know how things are going to shake out. An unassuming client might still hold the potential for a claim that makes your reputation or results in a significant and meaningful case. With this unpredictability in mind, all calls to your office should receive prompt and genuine attention.
Of course, a friendly voice will not mask a lack of knowledge. The staff member picking up the phone or returning a call must be able to vet potential clients effectively. If the right question never gets asked, your potential legacy case may just slip through your fingers. The good news is, unlike deficiencies in punctuality and personability, a lack of knowledge can be overcome with the right technology.
Only one legal case management system offers a patented method for prompting your intake specialists with real-time suggestions for follow-up. Click here to learn more about how Buzzwords™ can help you uncover more — and more valuable — causes of action.
Step 2: Text Messaging and Legal Intakes
Without putting too fine a point on it, you’re a dinosaur if you’re not texting. It’s not essential that you personally like or enjoy texting. You don’t even have to type your messages on a mobile device. Instead, you just need to send messages to your clients and clients’ devices. If you refuse to text, you’re failing to cater to the preferences of the majority of your clients.
According to a recent survey by OpenMarket, three quarters of respondents between 18 and 34 would choose a text-only phone over one that was voice-only. It’s a fact that many of your clients, especially but not exclusively younger ones, prefer texting to talking on the phone. “Millennials are more interested in texting over other forms of communication because it’s less invasive, more personal, and makes them feel valued.”
But don’t equate less invasive with having a low success rate. “Email open rates are 20% whereas SMS open rates are 98%. Email response rates are 6% whereas SMS response rates are 45%. It takes the average person 90 minutes to respond to an email versus 90 seconds to respond to a text message.” The people have spoken and it’s up to you to adjust your business model as to be more client-centric and people-focused.
Step 3: Metrics for Your Client-Centered Law Firm
Go beyond a general feeling that you’re client-focused and take a methodical approach to evaluating how client-friendly you really are. Use existing relationships to assess how you can improve your process for forging new relationships. Survey your clients about their customer experience at multiple points throughout the business relationship and identify areas for potential improvement. In many cases, it won’t be about a major overhaul but about mild adjustments and easy-to-implement upgrades that will make your clients feel truly valued. Small and steady increments of improvement are what pave the path of progress.
Evaluate your communication methods: Do you offer electronic billing? Are credit cards accepted? Do you provide a welcome letter geared toward answering clients’ most frequent questions (rather than telling them only what you think they want or need to hear)? Is your client told what to do, or do you present them with viable options and let them play an active role in the decision-making process? Your approach to these questions is partly what helps determine if your intake lead becomes a full-fledged client.
Here are five other key items to watch out for in your client-centered law office:
Define the agenda from the start:
A good working relationship begins with a good customer onboarding process. Having the intake specialist at your law firm answer questions thoroughly the first time will personally save you hassle and time down the line. Are clients bombarded with unintelligible forms? Or do you give them user-friendly paperwork only as necessary? Is your billing process exceptionally clear and transparent? Set expectations and establish workflows with your clients from the start, and everything will unfurl more smoothly from there.
Speed is everything:
The modern lawyer puts the client and their timetable first. And it’s not just about instant responsiveness. Be proactive in soliciting and ensuring client comprehension. As with any relationship, frequent, prompt, and clear transmissions make all the difference. Speedy interaction is even more important when the news is not what the client is hoping to hear. Using a cutting edge case management system to streamline your outreach can aid in ensuring sufficient communication. GrowPath case management offers click-to-call, in-file texting, and seamless Outlook email integration.
Be more than a lawyer:
Clients come to you because they need help during a trying period of their lives. Don’t forget that lawyers are referred to as counselors for a reason. Imagine being in your clients’ shoes, and adjust your words, actions, and body language to make them as comfortable as possible with the journey they’re undertaking. Clients can sense when you’re detached. You want to be calm but also reassuring and supportive. Overall, it’s important for clients to feel like they’re truly being heard.
Think both short term and long term:
Remember not to take your clients for granted. Many of them are quite forgiving, but avoid the tendency to focus on the squeaky wheels and put the quiet clients on hold. All clients can impact your reputation and the reputation of your firm. So, think beyond the instant case to the overall health and perception of your practice. Having a reputation for timeliness, genuine concern, and fair billing practices will yield tremendous benefits in the long term.
Track the client’s journey throughout:
How long is each stage taking? How often is your firm communicating with the client? What is your timeline for resolving the case? Here, you can once again make your life easier through legal tech: GrowPath’s Progress Timeline lays out case headway through various stages, the duration of each stage, and the team member who moved it to the next stage. It’s tools like these that will bring your client engagement to the next level.
Innovation: Clients As Creative Currency
It’s easy to maintain the status quo and rationalize that your business model is fine as is. But there’s no doubt that new technology and a culture of innovation can push your legal intakes, client retention, and client satisfaction to the next level. Consumers and clients think the technology exists to get them better answers in a more timely manner. Therefore, law firms that can meet these expectations gain a serious competitive edge.
It’s human instinct to resist change; even if change is embraced, the sheer number of options in measuring and collecting business intelligence can be overwhelming. And, of course, change isn’t always cheap. The answer is to start small, have a clear action plan, and keep the client forever in mind.
Mark Beese is the President of Leadership for Lawyers LLC. Beese connects the dots between innovation and superior customer service in his article The Law Firm as a Learning Organization. According to Beese, “a new generation of client decision makers and many other factors characterize the new normal, which is no longer new nor normal.” Beese wonders whether lawyers are nimble enough to shift priorities and adapt new strategies in the face of a changing market. Moving from potential to growth requires a mindset commitment to humility. Innovation and learning therefore come from a willingness to make mistakes and through engagement in a culture of critical thinking and constructive feedback.
In line with these realizations, Beese astutely points out how legal services should be delivered and priced based on “how the client perceives value.” The bottom-up lawyer crafts services for the current and future needs of their clients. Innovative lawyers, then, “understand our client’s business in a more intimate and complex manner so that we can provide custom services that meet their business needs.”
That’s an unavoidable process in becoming a client-centered law firm that others will envy.
Carl Heimel, Vice President of Sales for GrowPath, leads sales operations for GrowPath’s platform for high-performing law firms. Carl joined GrowPath in 2018, bringing a 25-year track record of success as both a sales leader and individual contributor.