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A little time goes a long way to improving your practice

A little time goes a long way to improving your practice

The ticking clock can be a law firm's biggest asset - or enemy, writes lawyer and law firm marketing consultant, John Gray.

The ticking clock can be a law firm's biggest asset - or enemy, writes lawyer and law firm marketing consultant, John Gray.

TICKING CLOCK: Consideration of both you and your clients' time can make a big different to clients satisfaction
The focus on recording and billing as much time as possible each day has made lawyers some of the most time sensitive people on the planet. Its surprising then that we don't place more importance on the value of our client's time as part of a firm marketing and client relations strategy.

Everyone knows how frustrating it is to be kept waiting. Client surveys by law firms continually rank "timeliness" or "availability" in the top five factors for client satisfaction.

We all agonize over fees, particularly those who work in personal service areas, but often our clients more annoyed by how long they are kept waiting in reception or how long a return phone call takes than they are by the fees charged.

If you can show your clients that you value their time as highly as you value your own they will certainly appreciate it and this will provide a solid foundation for your other marketing efforts.

Time management tips:

Here are some ideas to think about in your firm:

1. Be realistic about your appointment times. Its better to set a meeting 30 minutes later at the outset than to leave a client waiting. Making sure anyone that books the meetings understands how long they can run will help.

2. Try to avoid showing one client out the door while the other one sits in reception. It might make you look busy but that second client will know you're probably not prepared for their meeting.

3. Be precise about times for returning calls. Don't give false expectations with: "She'll call you back as soon as possible." To an agitated client that might give an expectation that they should be sitting by the phone. When the reality might be that the call definitely won't be returned for an hour or more.

Where possible an alternative might be to say: "She's in a meeting and won't be able to return your call any earlier than...". If the client's expectation is set correctly it will help ease their anxiety and make the eventually conversation that much easier.

4. Put the client's time in context. This can help when you have multiple calls to return and need to prioritise. A client interested in booking an estate planning meeting might be able to wait longer for a return call before the anxiety rises than a person who's called for advice on child access with their former spouse standing at their front door.

"Surveys by law firms continually rank 'timeliness' or 'availability' in the top five factors for client satisfaction"

John Gray, Director, John Gray Marketing

5. Take responsibility for the return call. If any member of your team has made a commitment to a client about a return call and they know it can't be met - make sure someone calls to give an update.

6. If clients do have to wait in reception - keep them occupied in appropriate ways with things like a range of reading material, matching your client profile and preferably from this century! Quality coffee, a range of teas, cold drinks and biscuits or lollies will also go along way in keeping waiting clients happy. Interesting, educational firm publications will also prove valuable for clients. Don't underestimate the value of educating your clients on your other services and what they can expect from their relationship with your firm. And for new clients, consider asking them to complete a "client details form"

7. If your client's most often call during particular times ensure you have the phone reception resources in place to meet demand. Many small firms simply can't guarantee that they will meet the "answered in three rings" target. But it's still worth aiming for.

8. Check your hold music. Some firms have been known to go months without realising the continuously looping CD player has died. Or they took a messages-on-hold option which simply annoys instead of informing.

9. Track and manage your performance. Simply recording how long clients are left waiting in reception is a start. But don't use this to beat up the lawyer. Consider how your processes or systems might make it easier for them to be ready on time. Avoiding back to back meetings, scheduling meeting preparation time and legal assistants that have files prepared in anticipation of meetings without being asked can all help.

10. ALWAYS acknowledge when the client's been kept waiting. Pretending it didn't happen won't soothe your client - but an apology might.

11. Lead from the front! If it's your firm and you want your staff to treat your client's time like it's a precious commodity you must set the example.

The good news is that most of these suggestions can be implemented quickly and easily. A little bit of your time spent demonstrating that you value your client's time - will go a long way to maintaining and cementing the relationship - which in turn will lead to repeat business and a greater chance of referrals.

John Gray is the Director of John Gray Marketing, a lawyer and law firm marketing consultant.

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