The great call conundrum

Posted by Benjamin Graham, content manager at Legal Futures Associate AnswerConnect

Graham: There is a fourth way

I’m going to take a guess that this is the first Legal Futures article to start with a quote from a 2,000-year-old Roman philosopher, but the wisdom of the great stoic philosopher Seneca is just as pertinent today as it was back then.

Seneca said: “People are frugal in guarding their personal property, but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”

In other words, if we realised just how precious our time was, we would spend it a little more wisely.

And that’s what this article is about; specifically, how to spend your work time more wisely.

Every professional faces the same conundrum when it comes to answering calls. Do you spend less time on the phone and miss calls? Or do you answer every call, even if it disrupts your work?

Let’s explore what both of those choices mean for you and your legal practice (and look into two possible alternatives).

Focus on work

You need time to work. Between meeting clients, attending court, liaising with other parties and everything else, it’s hard to find time for phone calls.

Besides, you might think, you don’t need to answer every call, right? Small and mid-sized legal practices miss about 15% of all calls.

But callers who don’t receive a quick response won’t stick around: 64% of callers hang up if they cannot speak to a person within five minutes of calling a business, and 74% of people who have a bad phone experience say they would choose another business next time.

Sure, they might leave a voicemail so you can get back to them later. But the odds of that aren’t great; 69% of callers sent directly to voicemail don’t leave messages. This rises to 84% for those aged between 20-29.

So what’s the alternative?

Answer every call

The thing is, you know you can’t afford to miss every call. The phone is still the most popular channel for contacting a business. It’s not just the benefit of getting new leads – three out of four small law firms rely on the telephone to create a personal rapport and solve customer problems.

The immediacy of the reply, the reassurance of hearing a real human voice, the familiarity of being recognised – all of these elements combine to make the telephone the most popular tool for law firms and consumers alike.

But how can you ensure you answer every call without, well, spending all day on the phone? Business owners spend, on average, 2.9 hours on calls every day. That’s over a third of the day just answering calls.

And that makes finding time to perform all the other daily tasks you need to run your business a whole lot harder. Something has to give. You have two options:

Hire a receptionist

Most people opt for the in-house receptionist route. That is, one person answering calls on behalf of your business and passing the messages back to you. This option brings several benefits, including personal familiarity with your callers (after a certain point) and the scope to give them other in-house tasks when the phone isn’t ringing (such as greeting visitors, ordering travel and accommodation, etc.)

But hiring in-house also comes with costs and obstacles. Those obstacles can stifle growth.

If you need someone to answer your calls today, you still need to advertise the position, select the right candidate and train them in the role.

Even when you have an in-house receptionist, they can’t answer every call.

In-house receptionists tend to work nine to five. That means you’ll still miss every call that comes in outside those hours. If you need someone to work after hours, you’ll have to hire more than one. In-house receptionists are also entitled to paid holidays, sick days and other company benefits.

Besides that, each receptionist can only answer one call at a time. If someone happens to call when your receptionist is already on the phone with another client, they’ll likely end up on voicemail (and we all know how that ends).

But there is another option…

A fourth way

Law firms today can choose from a range of customer support services, including interactive voice response systems and call centres. But the most popular of these is the legal answering service.

This is a customer support tool, whereby ‘virtual receptionists’ working from outside your office answer calls on behalf of your business. They can also book appointments and transfer calls to specific contacts.

So why do legal practices choose an answering service? The service comes with several advantages over in-house: available 24/7, 365 days a year, scales with your business and ready to go from day one.

It’s by no means perfect. Unlike an in-house receptionist, virtual receptionists won’t perform several tasks you could ask of your in-house receptionist. They won’t book travel and accommodation for youm manage your schedule or greet visitors to your office.

Ultimately, whether you need a virtual receptionist service depends very much on what you’re looking for. It isn’t the solution if you’re looking to maintain an in-office presence and have someone manage your schedule.

But it’s an ideal solution if you need to ensure your calls are answered 24/7. It’s also a great asset if you experience fluctuations in demand and want something that can be picked up, scaled and dropped according to need.

Most importantly, it can save you one of the most precious resources: time.


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