Jim Calloway has a great post on one of the unanswered (pun intended!) questions concerning solo practice: what’s the best system for answering the phone? Jim’s post summarizes the pros and cons of (a) outsourcing to a live answering service (uneven quality and costly); (b) using paid employee (who may be low paid and unmotivated) or (c) relying on voice mail (which some clients don’t like). Jim then directs readers to this entry at Ellen Freedman’s blog, which summarizes a discussion of the topic amongst various law practice management professionals.
According to Freedman’s post, the consensus is:
Truly, it’s having a well-trained competent human on the phone who can
take a message or route to vmail as a first choice. If you’re too small
for that, or choose not to go that route, it’s about having a
well-designed vmail system which is user-friendly and idiot-proof.
I disagree that having a person on the phone is important. What
matters to clients is not whether they get a human (unless it’s the
lawyer) or an answering machine. What clients want when they call a
law firm is to get their lawyer on the line. Whether you use a human
or voice mail, clients get disgruntled when they’re always sent to
voice mail. (That’s why Allison Shields’ advice
about scheduling phone call appointments makes sense). They begin to
wonder if you keep “bankers’ hours” or whether you’re avoiding their
calls. Clients are more tolerant where you can provide some
information about your absence – whether you’re at depositions or in
court – and when you’ll return. But you can provide that information
on voicemail (by changing the message) just as well as with a human.
Moreover, as friendly or well meaning as a human receptionist may be,
he or she is just that …only human. Humans may take numbers down
slowly, plus, they really don’t have the ability to accurately write down what the
call concerns. With an answering machine or voice mail, clients can
leave as much or as little information as they want.
I pick up my own phone and use voice mail when I’m not available. I’ve
actually had several compliments from callers on how cheery I sound on
my message tape (which I force myself to do when I tape the message to overcompensate
for my monotone). And I’ve also had compliments from clients who call
and are impressed that I actually pick up my own phone.
What works for your practice? Drop me a comment below.