The lack of basic technology where it’s expected can be extremely frustrating. But forcing technology on clients without a human touch can backfire, too. We asked law practice technology pros Heidi Alexander, Tom Lambotte, Sharon Nelson and John Simek, Nora Regis, Reid Trautz, Courtney Troutman and Emily Worley about the technology lawyers absolutely should use to improve client service — and their best tip for keeping it human.
Heidi Alexander: USE E-signature and Electronic Billing
E-signature is here to stay. There is absolutely no need to 1) attach a document to an email, forcing your client to 2) download it, 3) print it, 4) sign it, 5) re-scan it, and 6) email it back to the sender. Instead, use an e-signature service that allows parties to sign documents and authenticate the signer. You simply 1) upload your document for signing to the e-signature platform, 2) enter the recipient’s email address, and 3) the recipient signs the document electronically and receives a copy to download for their records. You’ve cut the number of steps in half, saving both you and your client time, money and stress.
A few popular e-signature providers include:
Paper billing is dead. It’s time to move to electronic invoices and payments to streamline invoicing and payment on both sides of the transaction — and improve collection rates. Many case management programs can generate invoices to email to clients. Clients can then pay online with a credit card or e-check from any device. That’s it. On the law firm side, the payment is applied to the trust or operating account and then recorded in a ledger. Now you’ve not only made your client happy with the ease of the process, but you’ve eliminated waste from your own processes. To name just a few, Rocket Matter, Clio, MyCase, Zola Suite, CosmoLex and Leap all offer electronic billing and payments (many through integration with LawPay).
Heidi Alexander (@HeidiAlexander) is Director of the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program, where she advises lawyers on practice management matters, provides guidance in implementing new law office technologies, and helps lawyers develop healthy practices. She frequently makes presentations to the legal community and contributes to publications on law practice management and technology. She is the author of “Evernote as a Law Practice Tool.”
Sharon Nelson and John Simek: Add ‘Contact Us’ Forms on Your Website
Email contact forms on your website are indispensable. While Sensei Enterprises is a consultancy, in many ways we operate and market like a law firm. We are contacted multiple times a day via our contact form by folks looking for our services or to engage us as speakers. We get multiple contacts from that form (which is on virtually every page of our website). Let them tell you in free text what they want.
The secrets of success:
- Make sure your website is search engine optimized.
- Get the word out on social media leading folks to your site.
- Make sure you have as many inbound quality links as possible.
- Make sure you are listed in local directories and that you are using Google My Business.
- To avoid spam and bots, use Google reCAPTCHA.
- Make sure all website inquiries are addressed promptly, and get answered by the right people.
- And, to make it human, get them on the phone as soon as it’s practical.
It goes without saying that there should be a “phone first” option, so they don’t have to use the form — but we have found the form is quite a popular method of reaching out.
Over the years, our website “How May We Help You?” contact box has brought in many hundreds of clients — and a lot of invitations to speak at conferences, which in and of itself is a huge source of new clients. Of all the inexpensive things we’ve done to bring in new clients, this has probably been the most successful!
Sharon D. Nelson (@SharonNelsonEsq) and John W. Simek (@SenseiEnt) are President and Vice President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a digital forensics, legal technology and information security firm based in Fairfax, Va. They have written several books, including “The Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guides” and “Encryption Made Simple for Lawyers.” Sharon blogs at Ride the Lightning and together they co-host the Digital Detectives podcast.
Nora Regis: Try Live Chat to Improve Client Communication
Want to retain solid leads and create good client communications? Try a live chat service on your website. Live chat service companies such as Ngage allow you to create the impression you are there 24/7 by having someone respond to your clients even when you and your staff have gone home for the night. A real human being will collect information from the client and send you a report on what was discussed along with any contact information so you or the staff can follow up first thing in the morning. The legal assistants I’ve spoken with say it’s made their job so much easier since they are no longer taking dictation from an answering machine. There’s even a live transfer feature that will pass the client to the firm phone line if the client chats during business hours. Since someone is always there to take contact information, you’ll never miss out on a lead just because you wanted some work-life balance.
Nora Regis (@noraregisCBA) was Trainer and Coordinator, Law Practice Management and Technology, for the Chicago Bar Association. She is a former paralegal, specializing in litigation and bankruptcy. Prior to working in legal, she was a technology help desk agent at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Reid Trautz: Start Using Video Communication — for Everything
Video communication is an inexpensive yet powerful tool that can help establish and maintain excellent client relationships. The vastly improved quality, ease of use and low cost has propelled this technology to the forefront of many small businesses, including law firms. Such communication includes not only scheduled conference calls, but also many routine calls that now take place on the telephone.
Social scientists have known for years that face-to-face communication where both sound and visual queues are used is the most beneficial form of communication — better than telephone calls and far better than email or written correspondence. Video calls allow us to see reactions to our spoken words. We look for facial expressions, gestures, head movements, and body positioning and shifting. We can see whether the other participants are paying attention or are distracted. We look for visual cues such as head nods and eye contact to see if our message is getting through, being rejected or being ignored.
Better communication leads to better understanding and fewer misunderstandings. That leads to better working relationships. Having positive working relationships with clients, co-workers and co-counsel is a hallmark of excellent lawyering.
Video technology is not complicated. Over 80 percent of American adults now own a smartphone with a video camera. Many use it to talk to friends and family, so why not their lawyer? Video calls are easily made from a lawyer’s office. Most laptop computers have built-in cameras, and HD-quality video cameras for office use cost $50 to $100, and are easy to install.
- Microsoft Office 365 for Business Professionals includes Skype for Business that can call clients and others from Outlook with just one click.
- Zoom.us is another simple yet robust video communication tool that costs less than $150 per year for unlimited calls up to 50 participants per call.
- Go2Meeting and Cisco Spark are also popular in this market segment.
Introduce each client to your video communication efforts during the initial consultation. Let them know the benefits and that they can easily communicate with you using their smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. Consider adding a brief provision to your representation agreement highlighting the understanding with each client to try to use this technology rather than the telephone or in-person meetings. Make a note in each client’s contact information which tools they have to communicate via video.
It may seem weird not to pick up the telephone, but soon your clients will be thanking you, and you’ll be thankful you read this tip!
Reid F. Trautz (@RTrautz) is Director of the Practice & Professionalism Center of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a blogger on the issues of business process improvement, technology, legal ethics and effective practice management. Reid is co-author of the ABA’s “The Busy Lawyer’s Guide to Success: Essential Tips to Power Your Practice” and a past ABA TECHSHOW chair.
Courtney Troutman: Whose Call Are YOU Missing?
The first thing anyone notices when they call your office phone is whether they get a recording or they get a human — especially one who knows what is going on.
If you can’t afford a receptionist, consider one of the many companies now offering virtual receptionist services. Better than a regular answering service (which, let’s face it, tends to be a bit impersonal and hurried), these services have more facts about your firm at their disposal, including your schedule. They tend to be friendlier and more professional sounding, and they can respond quickly to questions — impressing callers who may not even guess they aren’t sitting at a desk in your office. One such popular service is Ruby Receptionist. Check with your bar association to see if any virtual receptionists offer member discounts.
And if you happen to answer the phone or check messages yourself, don’t just scribble the info on the first piece of paper you see. Buy an old-fashioned spiral-bound phone message book with carbons. They’re inexpensive and available online and at your local office supply store. Save these message books (the carbon stays behind after you rip off the top copy) because you may need to refer to it later.
Courtney Troutman (@SCBar_PMAP) is Director of the South Carolina Bar Practice Management Assistance Program, which she founded in 2002. A former practicing attorney, she is a frequent author on technology topics, including numerous articles for ABA publications. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and a recipient of the 2014 Fastcase 50 Award.
Tom Lambotte: Two Ways to Ensure Clear Communications
I use this Key & Peele video as a teaching tool all the time (warning: profanity).
Everyone has been guilty of misreading a text or email from someone. Why? UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian found that 58 percent of communication is through body language, 35 percent through vocal tone, pitch and emphasis, and a mere 7 percent through the content of the message.
Email and texting are extremely convenient but are the least efficient method of communicating. You lose so much of the human touch and it leads to a tremendous amount of wasted energy and bad customer service experiences. So many so-called issues are immediately diffused when someone calls to reach out to the client.
My first-level tip to improve client service is to pick up the phone. Old technology, but compared with the 7 percent of communication you get with content (email or text) only, you add on 35 percent for vocal tone for a total of 42 percent communication (a full six times better than email or text only)!
My second-level tip is to use video. Our personal favorite videoconferencing tool is Zoom. It works with all major devices, is very easy to use and very reliable. One could argue you don’t see the full body language via video, so it still doesn’t replace being face to face. However, getting the facial expressions and some body language is another big jump in the quality of your communication.
The key with videoconferencing is to use it at the right times. You’re not going to force people to use it when they have a quick question. However, it is extremely handy for remote depositions, meetings with clients, co-counsel or opposing counsel, remote testimonies, virtual mediations, and administrative and internal meetings, just to name a few.
Tom Lambotte (@LegalMacIT) is CEO of GlobalMacIT, a company specializing in providing IT support to Mac-based law firms. Tom is the author of “Hassle Free Mac IT Support for Law Firms” and “Legal Boost: Big Profits Through an IT Transformation.”
Emily Worley: CHECK Your Website’s APPEAL
All lawyers know (or should) that their website must comply with their state’s ethics rules. But would a client hire you based on your website?
Think about it. How many times have you searched for a plumber, doctor, electrician, pet sitter or handy man only to find that: (1) they don’t have a website, (2) their website is out of date, or (3) their website is too complicated? What happens? You are either extremely frustrated or find someone else because you assume the business is not respectable or competent.
Every law firm should have a working, responsive, modern-looking website. Ideally, it should be easy to navigate and branded to match your law firm’s identity and logo. How can you improve your website? First, think about all the things that annoy you when you visit someone else’s website. Do you get a lot of pop-up ads or chat windows? Is the design boring or misleading? Is the content helpful? How quickly did you find what you were looking for? How did it make you feel? Next, think about all your positive website experiences. What did you like about that website? Was it easy to navigate? Easy to understand? Appealing? Or something else?
Make a list of the URLs and features of your favorite websites vs. the bad ones. (You’ll need this list later when you hire someone to assist you in designing or updating your site.) Now, compare your website to the ones on your list. How does your website measure up? If you’re not sure, send the link to a couple of acquaintances and ask for honest feedback.
Emily Worley (@pmatechie) is the PMAP Assistant to the South Carolina Bar Practice Management Assistance Program, where she assists the PMAP director in providing practice management and technology assistance to South Carolina Bar members.
How do you use technology to improve client service in your law practice? Tell us in the comments below or send a message to the editor.
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