Say you’re a typical consumer who needs an attorney. You check the Internet, look through a phone book and call one that catches your eye. You leave a message on a machine. You don’t hear back for a week. You finally get a call back from a secretary taking down your basic information and saying someone else will get back to you. How likely are you to trust this law firm with your case?
The answer, of course, is not likely. Responding to potential customers or clients as soon as possible is a well-known best practice in all industries. Attorneys are no exception. But while timely lead follow-up has always been understood by the legal profession to be important, a new survey of consumers has shown it’s even more essential than previously thought.
A study by Ifbyphone, a marketing firm, recently found that 59 percent of consumers were more likely to buy a product or service when a call is answered in under a minute. They are also 73 percent more likely to recommend highly responsive companies to other consumers.
In addition to phone calls, the internet gives potential clients a quick, easy route of contact through e-mail and online web forms. The ability for potential clients to find both you and your nearby competition with one search has essentially leveled the playing field. It’s not a stretch to believe a person in need of an attorney may e-mail four or five law firms about the same case. And it is no coincidence that the first ones to respond are the most likely to get the business.
The same can be true for pay per click online ads. Many attorneys have invested in PPC campaigns to help directly reach their audience. But what is the use if spending that money if you don’t plan to respond to leads quickly? It essentially becomes a wasted campaign if you can’t convert the leads because of slow response times.
So with all that in mind, you would think companies would be eager to respond quickly. Unfortunately that’s not the case.
In fact, a Harvard Business Review studyfound 24 percent of companies took more than 24 hours to respond to a lead while another 23 percent never responded at all. Just 37 percent of companies responded to a lead within an hour and 16 percent within 24 hours. The average response time for companies that responded within 30 days was 42 hours.
For attorneys, this has long been a problem. Because of the amount of work constantly going on in the firm, law offices are notoriously bad at answering calls quickly and following up in a timely fashion What they might not know is how this is affecting both new and current clients.
In the Ifbyphone survey, 84 percent of customers were likely or very likely to do business with a company if they respond in less than a minute. Only 53 percent say the same thing after waiting over a minute. And those attorneys failing to answer may not only be losing that particular customer, but also that customer’s network of friends, family and colleagues. Eight-five percent of those surveyed were more likely to recommend a company if they wait for less than a minute on a call, compared to only 49 percent that wait more than a minute.
The lesson? Have somebody dedicated to taking calls and answering e-mails at all times. Without it, you are not only hurting new business, but referrals as well.
Of course, this is easier said than done for attorneys. The legal profession is time-intensive. Court appearances, client consultations, depositions, case work and sometimes even research often need to be done by the attorneys themselves, leaving little time for new client prospecting.
And even when attorneys do have time to talk with potential new clients, it’s hardly consistent. Cases vary in timing and size, meaning the lead attorney may have time to call prospects one week but not the next. This type of inconsistent response time is hardly ideal.
In addition, most attorney business comes from referrals. Because of this, many law professionals concentrate on current client cases and don’t worry as much about prospecting or outside marketing. In a way, they are correct. Referrals and client retention are two of the top drivers for the legal industry. But just because you have already locked them in as clients or they were referred to you by a friend, does not mean you can ignore the importance of response time.
In fact, the Ifbyphone survey data on client retention showed customers aren’t afraid to drop companies if they receive less than stellar service. Of those surveyed, four out of five respondents indicated a desire to abandon a company due to poor response times. And when current customers aren’t happy, that means less referrals. According to the survey, nine out of ten consumers who wait less than a minute are likely or very likely to recommend a company as opposed to only 52 percent who waited longer than a minute. That essentially means customers are 69 percent more likely to refer a company when they get that quick response. So in general, treat current clients as your most valuable marketing source, because they are.
Of course, those clients who will refer you need to come from somewhere so ignoring valuable leads remains bad for business. But how can attorneys balance all their case work with quick lead response times? Well there are several easy tips to get started.
Many law firms have looked for outside marketing help, specifically call processing and routing centers. These centers, many focused solely on law, work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, meaning prospects get their call answered immediately. Those lead calls are then forwarded straight to an attorney. If the attorney is busy, the call processors will continue trying to make the connection, whether it be through direct calls, e-mails or even text alerts. The point is that prospects get immediate human interaction and the attorneys get notice as soon as a lead is available. The best law firms will have someone available to speak with these prospects as soon as they call, especially between the most popular evening hours.
For those choosing to stay in-house, the best way to improve lead conversion is to simply rethink your priorities. Of course your cases are important. But if you can’t devote more time to speaking with potential clients, you won’t have any future cases. And since you never know when a big case might call, you need to treat them all with equal importance. You’d be surprised at how effective you can be by just taking an hour to meet with a possible client one-on-one.
And if you as the attorney don’t have the time for these types of meetings, find someone in house that does. Even knowledgeable secretaries or paralegals can be essential when it comes to taking lead calls and giving a potential client immediate feedback.
Finally, don’t underestimate the way you or others talk to prospect clients. The callers will likely be very emotional and it’s essential they feel you are emphasizing with their situation. Being patient and sincere gives these potential clients the sense of trust that is a must for them to move forward with an agreement. The last thing you want is for them to feel they are simply being processed and pushed off to someone else.
In general, finding the right balance between your case work, your attention to current clients and your attention to leads is a must for all attorneys. As the data shows, response time is essential in finding the new ones and keeping the old ones. Attorneys have a long history of being too busy for client attention, but that is easily fixed and the sooner you do, the more likely you are to make a name for yourself as a successful “attorney who cares.”© Copyright 2012 RW Lynch Company, Inc.