By Kristina Schneider, Executive Assistant | Volume 2, Issue 2 (February 2014)
In a time when a lot of people utilize e-mail communication, the telephone is still, by far, one of the most common forms of communication for businesses. In a personal service industry such as estate planning – – regardless of whether you’re an attorney, financial advisor, CPA, life insurance agent, trust officer or some other kind of advisor to clients – – telephone communication plays an even bigger role for having a successful business.
So, why is that we see so many estate planning professionals have flawed systems for answering the phone? (If you utilize an automated message, answering services, virtual assistants or generic, untrained operators to answer your phones at any time between 8am and 5pm, Monday through Friday, read on!)
Not having a live person answering the phone lines during normal business hours five days a week is a huge mistake for estate planning professionals and here’s why.
Customer Service is Key
At a time when there is so much competition in the estate planning industry, it’s important to realize what it is that sets you apart from others (including internet and do-it-yourself options). Is it your legal documents? It might be, but how would a client really know what they’re getting? What is going to set you apart from others is how you treat people and make them feel, both as a prospective client and when they become clients. Imagine, if you’re a busy person and call an attorney to help you, and you get an automated message that places you on a long hold or summarily requests you to leave a message, will you hang up and call someone else? Have you ever purchased a product or engaged the services of someone and you felt so great when you were a prospect, but once you became a client, the customer service stopped there? Would you take your future business elsewhere?
Nobody likes having to deal with automated systems. That might be necessary for say the cable company, a credit card company and the IRS. But, for your firm, it’s silly for you to put your clients and prospective clients through an automated system just to reach someone or get a question answered. People enjoy speaking with a live person (particularly older, pre-computer age clients) and having a live person answer the phones at all times during your work day is one of the smartest business decisions you can make.
The Receptionist is the Face of Your Company
The receptionist is the face of your company. So, if you have an automated system answering the phones, what kind of message does that send to clients? We don’t want to speak with you, so we’re going to have you go through this system every single time you call to get what you need. What about answering services or virtual assistants? While these methods resolve the issue of having a live person answer the phone, it can be equally as frustrating to a potential client to speak with someone that knows nothing about your business.
Have you ever called an office and the receptionist can’t answer any of the relatively simple questions that you have? Have you ever had them tell you that they’re “just an operator” or “just an answering service”? Then, why are they answering the phone if they can’t help you? Also, with these systems, you’re relying on an outside third party to represent your company, so your ability to quality control the customer service and impression that the receptionist may be giving to your prospects and clients may be limited.
Lastly, your receptionist is on the front line of your company, speaking and interacting with your prospects and clients. Your prospects and clients connect with your receptionist on the phone and later when they come into your office, it’s a familiar name and now they can connect face-to-name.
These might seem like trivial concerns that may not be worth your time or overhead expense, but having a live receptionist that is a part of your team and will be a familiar face to those that come in and see you is a part of creating an environment for your prospects and clients that make them feel like you aren’t going anywhere and that they are being cared for whenever they call in and arrive at your office.
A Trained In-House Receptionist Can Triage Most Calls
As estate planning professionals, your time is important. Often times, the questions that clients have when they call in can be handled by the receptionist and/or someone else in your office that the receptionist can transfer them to. People hate when they call somewhere and don’t get a response or answer right away (or ever). Sometimes clients call in wanting to speak with you, but they don’t really need to speak with you for what they need. For example, we get clients that call in and want to have another copy of their Living Trust or simply want to know when the last time was that they updated their plan. These are all things that a receptionist can (or should be able to) quickly and easily answer for them. The clients are happy, because they are being serviced better and you should be happy, too, because your time did not need to be interrupted with returning calls, playing phone tag, or answering a question you would most likely delegate elsewhere anyway.
Lower Your Appointment Cancellation Rate
Last, but not least, having an automated system is a dream come true for someone who might be wanting to cancel their appointment, but it’s a nightmare to your business and projected cash flow. Having a live person answer the telephones is a great way to avoid losing prospective business, because you can train your receptionist on how to handle these calls. Even though a client or prospective client may not be able to make it at the time that they scheduled, the receptionist can attempt to reschedule the appointment to a better time right away before that client or prospect changes his or her mind. Perhaps the prospective client was unclear and thought that they were going to be charged for their free initial consultation or perhaps they did not complete their questionnaire or some other task and were trying to cancel their appointment later in the afternoon. A receptionist can deal with these types of reasons that people come up with to cancel their appointment and get them to keep their appointment, helping you save prospective business, rather than lose business.
Catch Business Even When You’re Closed
With all of this, you might be thinking: “Okay, Kristina. You’ve convinced me of the necessity to have a live person answer the phones, but why is that necessary when we leave for lunch or when we close for designated ‘work days’ or holidays?”
We have seen that a lot of attorneys close their office for lunch or they may have a designated day each week that the office is closed. Or, during extended holidays like Christmas to New Year’s, offices are closed. Does this mean that you should simply put an outgoing message on that says, you’re closed, leave a message and we’ll get back to you later? Absolutely not! There are times when clients are at a bank and they need a simple question answered, like the name of their trust or clarification on who they’ve named as trustee. These things cannot wait for you to get back from lunch. Or, someone calls regarding a client near death or who has just passed away and the caller is under a lot of emotional strain. Will they want to wait for you to return from vacation or will they just find someone else to help them? During the Christmas holidays, our office typically gets at least two or three calls regarding clients who have passed away or are in the hospital; these calls are immediately routed to the proper attorney or staff to handle them right away, even if they are not in the office.
What To Do If You’re Short-Staffed
Don’t get me wrong. Everyone deserves some time off from the business. The receptionist needs to take a lunch break, so that’s why you should have someone else in the office cross-trained to cover the phones during his or her lunch break, or in the event that the receptionist is ever out sick. And during the holidays, it’s good to provide some kind of emergency line or emergency mail box for such things as reporting the death or illness of a loved one. You then might have someone dedicated to monitor these lines during the shutdown so that you don’t lose the business when the prospective client goes somewhere else that is open and willing to take their phone call.
The phones may not ring enough to warrant having a receptionist that is solely dedicated to only answering phones. But this is why you’d have them trained to do other administrative tasks that can be done while at their desk. This could include some word processing, assisting with getting back to clients, greeting clients when they come in, sending out appointment confirmations, confirming appointments, etc. It’s also proven to be a great entry-level position to have in your practice, as it gives people plenty of face-time and interaction with your clients and prospects, plenty of experience servicing your customers and understanding what it is that you do and then figuring out how to multi-task and take on more to then move onto other roles within the company.
In conclusion, I hope that this article helps you understand the importance of having a live, well-trained team member answering the phones for you and your business. If you already are doing this, then you are steps ahead of the rest. If you’re not, then what are you waiting for? It’s time to figure out who will be answering your phones and helping you build your business, rather than killing it!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kristina Schneider is the current Executive Director of The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Pepperdine University in 2004 and was hired right out of college to work for the Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis, coordinating and facilitating Philip Kavesh’s “Missing Link” Boot Camps while also providing administrative support to Mr. Kavesh as his Executive Assistant for over seven years. Through her direct hands-on experience in Mr. Kavesh’s law firm, Kristina has been able to assist numerous estate planning professionals through The Ultimate Estate Planner and, equally as important, many of their staff members, in the successful implementation of Ultimate Estate Planner’s products and systems. You can reach Kristina at (424) 247-9495 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.