How effective is your law firm in its communications? Responsiveness is key, and utilizing a virtual receptionist may help your firm increase efficiency and boost customer satisfaction. In this episode of The Un-Billable Hour, host Christopher Anderson talks to Maddy Martin of Smith.ai about steps small law firms can take to improve their communication. They discuss the many ways virtual receptionists can enhance the capabilities of small law firms and how these services can be customized to serve each firm’s unique needs.
Maddy Martin is head of growth and education at Smith.ai.
Special thanks to our sponsors, Answer1, Solo Practice University, Scorpion, and Lawclerk.
The Un-Billable Hour
Virtual Receptionists and Enhancing Communications
Intro: Managing your law practice can be challenging. Marketing, time management, attracting clients, and all the things besides the cases that you need to do that aren’t billable. Welcome to this edition of The Un-Billable Hour, the Law Practice Advisory Podcast. This is where you will get the information you need from expert guests and host Christopher Anderson, here on Legal Talk Network.
Christopher T. Anderson: Welcome to The Un-Billable Hour, the Law Practice Advisory Podcast helping attorneys achieve more success. We are glad you can listen today on the Legal Talk Network.
Today’s episode is about the physical plant. And everybody sort of cringes when we do the physical plant episode said but they listen anyway, I know you do because we know that physical plant contains not just the computers and like desks and roofs and offices, but it contains what can often be seen as the core or real value in the business.
In law firm businesses that I’ve helped to buy and sell very often the physical plant that being the systems that the people follow, the systems, the policies, and the procedures that people follow can often be the greatest value. And we have a really, really great treat today to be talking with Maddy Martin.
Maddy is the Head of Growth and Education at Smith.ai and that’s a call routing answering and intake service for small businesses. And we’re going to talk with Maddy about communicating with the world, about using systems for improving our ability to communicate with our prospective clients, our actual clients and others that interact with our law firm businesses.
We’re going to be talking about basically the interface between the small law firm and the world. How solo and small law firms can compete toe-to-toe with the largest law firms and why that’s important.
I am of course, your host Christopher Anderson and I am an attorney with a singular passion for helping other lawyers achieve success with their law firm businesses as they define it.
In the Un-Billable Hour each month we explore an area important to help you grow your revenues, get back more of your time and/or get more professional satisfaction from your business. The Un-Billable Hour dedicated to helping lawyers achieve freedom through their businesses and our guests help you learn more about how to make your law firm business work for you, instead of the other way around.
Before we get started, I do want to say a thank you to our sponsors, Answer1, Solo Practice University, Scorpion, and LAWCLERK.
Answer1 is a leading virtual receptionist and answering services provider for lawyers. You can find out more by giving them a call at 800-answer1, or online at www.answer1.com.
Solo Practice University is a great resource for solos, no matter how long you have been practicing. Make sure you check out solopracticeuniversity.com and learn how to run your practice better.
Scorpion crushes the standard for law firm online marketing with proven campaign strategies to get attorneys better cases from the Internet. Partner with Scorpion to get an award-winning website and ROI positive marketing programs today. Visit scorpionlegal.com/podcast.
LAWCLERK, where attorneys hire freelance lawyers. There are no sign up or monthly fees. Only pay the flat fee price you set. Increase your profits, not your overhead. Learn more at www.lawclerk.legal.
And again, today’s episode of the Un-Billable Hour is communicating with the world and my guest is Maddy Martin. Maddy, as I said before, is the Head of Growth and Education at Smith.ai and they are a call routing, answering and intake service for small businesses.
Maddy, welcome to the Un-Billable Hour.
Maddy Martin: Thanks so much Christopher. It’s great to be here.
Christopher T. Anderson: I am really pleased to have you. I am excited about this conversation. So I’d like just to take a couple of extra minutes just to tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get involved with working with the business that helps small businesses with communications?
Maddy Martin: Sure. Well, I have been involved the last decade in growing start-ups from coast-to-coast across the US, and I connected with the founders of Smith.ai Aaron and Justin and it was time for them to hire a head of marketing and I have since developed the marketing departments there and then also the educational programs that we provide for primarily solo and small firm attorneys, who are seeking help with law practice management and technology.
So over the last year and a half or so, I have really helped get the word out about Smith.ai.
We had run primarily on referrals and now we are seeing a lot more inbound marketing leads through conferences that we’re attending and sessions that we’re providing, webinars and podcasts like these.
Christopher T. Anderson: Cool, and you know, that’s a cool thing about marketing why I think I’m really excited to have you on the show, talking about communications because this isn’t a really a marketing. Marketing is one of the things we do or but we’re talking about communications more critically but at the end of the day, what you do marketing is about communicating effectively with your target market.
But so let’s if you don’t mind start off by defining what we’re talking about. What are we talking about when we talk about small law firm communications?
Maddy Martin: So we’re talking about the methods that we communicate and also the times and effectiveness of that communication. So the methods can be phone, email, website chat, text messaging, and then the effectiveness that comes into play is how responsive are you being and who are you speaking to and how does that affect your approach to those communications, and what you’re looking to get out of those communications and deliver through them. So your communications will be very different if you’re talking to a judge or someone at a courthouse, work with a new client or an existing client, but responsiveness is key, regardless.
Christopher T. Anderson: Sure, and I mean that’s what’s one of the things that’s really changed, even during the time that I’ve practiced and I’ve been in business, but if we take a little bit broader look right, a hundred years ago lawyers were expected to be responsive by letter. That was pretty much it. You got letters, you sent letters.
Then, the phone came in and then faxes and so things started to speed up a little bit, but it was all either a written communication by letter that went by post or by phone or once in a while by fax. But nowadays, our clients are communicating in so many — you just rattled off a bunch, so many different ways and they’re expecting to be communicated in the ways that they find convenient.
Like you said, if judge might still be the old way, right, but even with judges now, we’re communicating on the electronic filing systems, the federal courts, you’re definitely communicating that way with your clients. Yeah, you’re all over the place, you’re on social media, you’re on chat, you’re on email, you’re on phone.
What are we doing about this explosion of different ways to communicate?
Maddy Martin: Well to me, what’s really the most important thing is that when we talk about responsiveness, which I think attorneys do recognize is very important because it is often cited as the number one reason for bar complaints, but as they are increasing their marketing efforts in getting more savvy on that front as well, responsiveness plays a big role in business growth in addition to just really excellent delivery of legal services.
But to me the most important thing to focus on is that responsiveness doesn’t just mean the time it takes you to get back to somebody but also using the platforms that your clients and other parties you are working with prefer.
So being responsive doesn’t just mean getting back to someone quickly but it also means adopting the technologies and those platforms. So you can say that you’re very responsive by phone, by email, you have like an SLA which is basically the service level that you agree to of 24 hours or 12 hours getting back to people.
But if you’re not communicating via text message or website chat then you’re eliminating the opportunity for someone to correspond with you on those channels, and that reduces your responsiveness just because you haven’t made yourself available there.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right.
Maddy Martin: And it may actually eliminate people who want to work with you because not only do they expect to be able now to text your business and hear a response because other businesses are doing that and they don’t differentiate between business types when they’re communicating.
But it’s really a matter of getting those platforms up and running so that you can accept all those different ways that people want to communicate with you and then it’s up to you to determine how do you handle that new stream of communication, because it does not only offer more ways to communicate with you, but it will increase the volume of your communication.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah absolutely. So let’s try to narrow this down a little bit to what law firms are facing. What would you say are the top issues that solo and small law firms are commonly dealing with in regards to communications? What are the issues that they’re having to grapple?
Maddy Martin: I think that there is the main issue of being responsive but not being interrupted, because you still need to get work done and in a small firm, you don’t have the ability to hand off that work to others. It’s really like the burden of the work is on you, maybe a partner, maybe a paralegal, but the challenge is that when you’re spread thin, you still also have to be very responsive and you want to typically grow or have a sustainable practice with good like replacement rates of turning over clients.
So the problem is that you have people who are being repurposed on one end of the spectrum where you’re responding in a frenzy, your paralegal is answering the phone, I see this very often or you’re answering your own phone or you’ve decided we’re really letting everything roll to voicemail because we hate interruptions.
So you have this dilemma between wanting to maximize responsiveness but also wanting to maximize productivity. How do those two things live happily together? And that’s kind of where the receptionist services can come in and make an impact.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah absolutely. So let me ask you this. If they’re dealing with these issues around these areas of your being responsive, about getting back to people on the channels, what, like can you name some ways that lawyers can achieve better impact, better interaction with their customers through improved communications?
Maddy Martin: Yes, I think the most important thing is to answer the phone with a live friendly person every single time during business hours.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah really? I mean you think that’s important?
Maddy Martin: I think it’s extremely important. Voicemail is a black hole. I think that part of the reason people choose a small firm over a big firm is for that personal attention, that attentiveness, that that special feeling that you get when someone’s really going to pay attention to you and you’re not just another number, another tick mark. Personally, that’s why I like working with small businesses in general.
The problem is, is that working with small businesses can be a pain because they don’t have all these resources that make it really easy to communicate with them or more responsive, all those support systems are not necessarily there. So the biggest gap is often in that like service delivery responsiveness.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right.
Maddy Martin: So I think like not only having someone who is US-based and friendly, they sound like they’re right in-house, but that allows you not only to answer the phone but then empower that person, this is really, really important like answering services have come a very long way, it’s not just about answering and transferring anymore and taking messages, what can be done is lead qualification, basic intake, scheduling, because now online calendars make it possible for you to have people book appointments and consultations on your behalf. They can even take payments for fee based consultations.
Christopher T. Anderson: Sure.
Maddy Martin: And they can schedule even if it’s not an appointment, a callback on your calendar, because what happens is, let’s say the receptionist takes a message, then you just have an email to respond to and follow up with that person when you get around to it. But if you take that step of adding structure to the process, where you say yes, you can have access to my calendar and book callbacks with this amount of time and this timeframe, then its set for you and it’s much more likely to get done and done promptly.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yes so I mean like what you’re basically saying is I mean the — I think the first, we all we’ve been dealing with these things for a long time right, so I think doctors were among the first, right, we had call my service where you would actually have a different number for people to call.
Maddy Martin: Right.
Christopher T. Anderson: And then you had people being able to answer your line, that would roll over or whatever you use them is sort of supplemental, but they were really phone answerers. And what you’re talking about is actually pulling more and more of that front desk, all the capabilities of the front desk into a capability that could be virtualized and applied to the business in a way just as if they were sitting there in your business.
Maddy Martin: These are members of your team, absolutely.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah.
Maddy Martin: And to speak to the importance again of the responsiveness, the 2017 Clio Legal Trends Report and this was reconfirmed in the 2018 Report, said that two out of three potential clients base their decision to hire a lawyer on that firm’s initial responsiveness to their first phone call or email.
So it is critical that you are picking up the phone because if they leave a voicemail then or if you have website chat and you’re just letting it be basically a contact form where someone’s entering their information because no one’s actually live staffing that chat.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right.
Maddy Martin: This translates to online methods as well in terms of responsiveness because filling out a contact form is the digital equivalent of leaving a voicemail, right.
Christopher T. Anderson: A voicemail, absolutely.
Maddy Martin: So what you’re able to do is to capture them and then save more of the attorney’s time, because all right, let’s say you just take the phone and email, right and you schedule that call back but you didn’t ask any questions, is this person looking for the right practice area when they call this law firm?
Did they call a criminal defense firm but they’re looking to get a divorce, like that could be screened out, because as people are searching more and more online and attorneys are getting great about developing better websites that have higher search visibility, the problem is that when we’ve relied on for so long referrals that are oftentimes the most qualified screened applicable potential clients.
As you start to explore these other channels, like SEO and content marketing, and you’re starting to run a blog or things like that, you’re getting listed on certain networks, people are not going to be as well informed about your firm as they were when there were referrals.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right.
Maddy Martin: So this really becomes even more important and you can say these are the criteria I use to determine with 80% accuracy or something, whether or not this person is likely to become a client, are they aware of the fees, are they in the right location if that’s a determining factor. Do they understand my availability to take on new cases, whatever the case maybe?
The receptionist can get all that basic contact information, filter through those questions and then if they are a good lead so to speak based on that decision tree, they can then take the next step of scheduling that consultation, and if you take payment for that consultation, accept the credit card over the phone and put it into your payment or billing solution like LawPay or Headnote or whatever you’re using. So they can really complete a workflow.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah.
Maddy Martin: And take that work off your plate, and then your time is saved doubly, because you’re not answering that call and then you’re also not wasting that consultation time with someone who is not likely to be upfront.
Christopher T. Anderson: Who is not a prospect, that’s right.
Maddy Martin: Exactly.
Christopher T. Anderson: So the real question then is, well I think the — what you’ve answered is how we really make these people become part of the team, which is clear and the advantages of that I think you’ve really spelled out well.
What I’d like to do here is to start to talk to you a little bit about some of the top — how has technology enabled this, because this is a pretty wild stuff right, that you can have people not there be there. And so, I want to talk to you about the top technological advancements in communications that solo or small firm attorneys can take advantage of, but we’re going to do that right after we hear from our sponsors.
So we’ll take a break here and we’ll come back and talk about technology.
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Christopher T. Anderson: Welcome back on The Un-Billable Hour. We are talking with Maddy Martin, who is the Head of Growth and Education at Smith.ai. We have been talking about the creation of a virtual capability to not just, I mean really if you think of during the break Maddy, I was thinking about this, not just to replace the capabilities of a front desk in a solo small law firm, not just to be able to do the things that good receptionist could do but really to — what we’re talking about is expanding, about giving a small law firm the capability at a front desk that a bigger law firm might have, because they don’t have to pay for it full time, because they can be there, they can be there all the time, so it’s really enhancing that, not just replacing, which is really exciting.
Maddy Martin: And can I talk to that for a second actually.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, please, please.
Maddy Martin: So I often talk about the trade-offs between a virtual receptionist and an in-house receptionist and oftentimes people will say, oh it’s cheaper to have a virtual receptionist service and yes, it is typically much cheaper and you’re not paying benefits and anything else that you are spending money on to support another person in your office.
But the fact is that there are a lot of other benefits that are often not seen, and one very basic example is that most virtual receptionist services are going to extend your hours. So for example at Smith.ai, we offer a 12-hour workday, Monday through Friday.
The second thing is that you’re going to get access to a team of receptionists. So if you have someone in-house and they are at your front desk typically they’re also the person who will run out and make an errand or a drop-off or be out of the office for some period of time and then when they’re in the office, if they’re on a call there’s only one of them.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right. Yeah, if they’re by definition, if they’re on a call with someone, they’re not on the call with someone else.
Maddy Martin: Exactly. It seems basic, but the benefit is that when you use a virtual receptionist service you have access to our entire team, so and also they have shifts where they’re not on a full 12-hour shift let’s say, they take shifts so they are more refreshed because they’re not working, grueling like 12 hours or something. So you get fresh available people who are able to not only answer all the calls that come in, but then have this powerful software that we’ll get to I think in this second part of what you are going to say.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right, right. So let’s get there right now. So let’s talk about that. Let’s go and I wanted like — because right now I’m sitting here thinking all right, so someone on the phone, big whoop.
Maddy Martin: Right.
Christopher T. Anderson: But you’re talking about intake, you’re talk about like some – okay. So if someone on a phone far away so we figured out how to do that.
Maddy Martin: I haven’t even scratched the surface, right. I mean —
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. But what are some of the key technological advancements that have really enabled this?
Maddy Martin: Okay, well first and foremost like this seems basic but it’s actually a part of the AI component in the Smith.ai name, is that we automatically block spam and sales and wrong number calls and you don’t pay for any of those. So if the part of the reason you’re not picking up your phone is because you’re so darn sick of those like spoofing calls, that look like your area coded number or they are spam is some Marriott 22:41 calling you again and again like — you know it’s such a pain in the butt that people actually stop answering their phones because they can’t deal with the spam because it’s so frequent. Actually 30% year over year, April to April of 2018, that’s the increase in the spammers.
So if you’re feeling it, it’s because it’s universal, but the problem is for a small business you’re not going to block each spam number one by one we know that doesn’t work. So what we do is we automatically block 20 million known spammers and then on an account level we can block sales people. So some, one law firm might say to us I really am fine with hearing from Google and Facebook. I advertise with that, my sales person needs to reach me and here’s how to pass that call through and then another law firm may say I am never going to spend money. I don’t want to hear from any advertisers and don’t you dare charge me for those phone calls and we would say, absolutely.
So whether or not it’s that case or I always give this example but in the wrong number sphere we also work with some IT firms and some of them are MAT Consultants and they get calls about when the new iPhone is coming out, like yes it’s Apple related but not at all related to the services that they do. So that would be a call that we would say okay yes that’s a wrong number.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. So this is something like when you have a live receptionist you could never do right, because you’re paying for someone or two people to sit at your front desk.
Maddy Martin: Yeah, if their time is consumed with that call then you paid money for that call and —
Christopher T. Anderson: And again back to the original point, not only are you paying money for that call but you’re actually during that moment however long it takes, they’re not talking to a qualified lead.
Maddy Martin: Absolutely or doing other productive work. So you know filling out a basic intake form or following up on a payment that’s passed to you. So we can do all of those things and then not only — one of the most important things that I should say upfront here is that the receptionists are all working from home. They’re using our software to answer phones for all of these different law firms and they are prompted by the software to follow that decision tree, to handle those different calls in the way that each individual attorney has outlined.
This is the way that I want my phone answered, this is the way that I qualified leads. This is the intake form I use and how to go through it. This is how I schedule consultations et cetera.
But that’s only the part that the receptionist interacts with, then the receptionist will write up their notes and what we offer is a direct connection to your CRM, your practice management software, your intake software, your calendar, your payments.
So what happens after a call is completed is that not even a requirement of the receptionist doing anything but through APIs and through software integrations that we’ve built with over 30 companies, we take that information and we put it in the right place in your systems that you’re running at your firm and that happens so that you don’t have that grunt work by getting an email, here’s the information from this new lead. Okay then you or your paralegal enters it into your practice management system, or your intake software, your marketing software. It all happens automatically. That new record is created, the notes are logged, so that when you have that first consultation or the next meeting with your client you can see everything already and you don’t have to create that record or add the notes yourself. So that will waste time too.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. Now so it clearly — but these things are all big time savers. So what I want to get to is not only like that means that to me the most intriguing thing is being able to follow a decision tree, being able to follow a set standard and procedure that you say can be individualized per law firm to really eliminate the waste of time.
But let’s go a little bit beyond. I want to explore a little bit beyond the reception part of it and I’m going to come back and ask a couple of questions about reception. But I wanted like one of the things that you’d said in the first segment was you were talking about also the ability to go beyond and qualify and ask additional questions and do some screening and even do some intake.
What technology is there today that wasn’t there 10 years ago that to enable that to be done virtually?
Maddy Martin: Well, there are a couple things that come to mind to answer that question. So first of all, it’s having not only the software that allows the receptionist to have those prompts to them while they’re on the call but also things that we have programmed as a company that really is AI driven that makes the receptionist more accurate and more efficient during the call.
So one of the ways that we kind of incorporate AI is for attorneys let’s say you only work in certain counties. Then if we have a caller who calls in and they say, I know my zip code but I don’t know my County, we have the ability to say enter that zip code for the receptionist and show up basically green light, this is in a County where this attorney worked.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right, this is good, this is not good.
Maddy Martin: Right exactly and the amazing thing is that like A, that’s super accurate because they’re pulling from a database to determine is that ZIP code in the county and is it approved for that attorney. It’s way faster also and more accurate than saying let me Google that for you, like typically a receptionist, they’re just another human being right, they would say, oh let me look that up for you. That would be a certain first approach but it would be inefficient, it would take more time and it would not necessarily be accurate because who knows what the results are that you’re going to get.
Christopher T. Anderson: Very cool. All right, so I’m talking with Maddy Martin. Maddy is with Smith.ai and we are talking about the importance of improving and enhancing small law firm communications with the world. We’ve been talking a little bit about clients. We’re going to talk more coming back from the segment about overall reception services and also just other communications tools and then we’ll finish up with some great tips for efficiency in 2019. But first we’ll hear a word from our sponsors.
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Christopher T. Anderson: Welcome back, we are speaking with Maddy Martin. Maddy is the Head of Growth and Education at Smith.ai. They are a call routing answering intake service for small businesses, and we’re talking about the importance of communications with law firms. We’ve been talking about reception services and I’m going to pick up the conversation there.
What I wanted to kind of hit you, particularly since you do serve in a marketing function Maddy. One of the things that law firms are struggling with these days are a lot of people that I work with are struggling with is that, everybody’s selling and getting and figuring out ways to get more and more leads, but the quality is not necessarily improving and for a lot of them, it’s going down.
They’re investing in SEO, they’re investing in pay-per-click, they’re investing in social, they’re getting more leads, but not necessarily better quality leads. What do you think is going on there and what can better communication tools do about it?
Maddy Martin: Well, I think that it’s a natural thing that happens when you expand your growth channels and you dilute your leads, because you’re broadening your audience. And especially with SEO, what happens is particularly in contrast to the quality of leads that you may be used to if you’re getting a lot of referrals, what happens is that people who are searching online are often less informed, less patient, less — people, I hate to say it, I’ll quote my founder, people don’t read.
So Erin always says this and I totally agree with him, less and less people read. So if your information on your website or your Facebook page is not very shortly summarized on the homepage, this is not an opportunity to be putting up a ton of content, very clearly say what you do and what the next step should be.
So what are your practice areas if you are specific about them and then if you have online booking, boom, book a consultation and then when you have that appointment booking, have people select what they need help with generally because if they don’t find it in that list; hopefully, they won’t submit the form and then waste your time if you’re not going to be able to serve them.
So that’s kind of like a self-filtering mechanism that you can do or your receptionist service can do. But having these — having really upfront information is important, but it is a huge challenge for attorneys because yes, you need to increase your visibility on search.
You want to have highly targeted paid search ads, if that’s something you’re investing in, but I would say increasingly if you’re able to not only bring in these leads but to offer something of value that helps you identify a target audience and then nurture them until they’re ready to hire you or at least demonstrate more expertise so that increasingly you’re more well-known in the community for that service and that helps even more referrals get generated.
Here’s an example. So Conor Malloy in Chicago, has a firm Chi City Legal, that is focused on serving landlords and one of the best SEO place that he has is an eviction notice that he has made available on his website and when someone completes that form, it immediately sends it via email to them along with directions for submitting that eviction notice, which is a service that the landlord needs and they have a very time specific urgent need, right.
And then, there’s tons of data that’s gathered for the law firm around that eviction notice details and obviously anyone who is pleading that eviction notice is someone who is in these areas, they see their address and they know they’re a landlord if they’re completing an eviction notice, and then they have a sense for when the notice is going to be due, and can follow-up with very targeted responses to an audience they know they want to serve.
Christopher T. Anderson: No, that’s brilliant.
Maddy Martin: It’s brilliant.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah that’s brilliant. So it’s a little bit of DIY or a sense of DIY but it puts them right into their marketing funnel, it’s a super highly qualified candidate. I mean this my mind is just exploding with similar things one could do, you could do that in family law, right, you could fill out this custody application, fill out this child support application, you do it in criminal law like how to defend yourself, don’t.
Maddy Martin: Or even like traffic tickets like Amy Gronowski is a traffic ticket attorney, I don’t know if that’s the right place, but she has a traffic ticket estimator.
Like, so if you have the cost of the ticket and then the cost of like contesting it or whatever you need a lawyer for in that scenario, you can estimate around the ticket and what it was for and different data points that she accepts.
So yeah, the options are limitless and that is a service first approach that gives a great experience at the outset and then maybe you have some other resources on your site that talk about your expertise or guidance or advice that you follow up with that person who received the email of the eviction notice, not just to check in but to say here are the things that you should be doing to prepare yourself for a successful eviction, and here are things that can go wrong and here’s how the local law applies.
And you provide that information so that they are educated enough to know they need to hire you as an attorney.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah and that’s beautiful. So as we close this show Maddy, what I want to do, is we’re going to go in two different directions with listeners. The first question I’m going to ask is around whether or not using virtual services can augment already existing reception services, when you already have one.
And then I’m going to flip the script and say well, all right, what about going all the way the other way and virtualizing the whole shebang and including the greeting function. And we’ve only got about five minutes left, so it’s going to be a little bit rapid-fire. But let’s start with that first one, can you augment your current reception capabilities, current intake capabilities by adding on these virtual services?
Maddy Martin: Absolutely. So one of the very first things that you can do make sure you’re not using your personal cellphone and then you can have your calls hosted with a VoIP phone service, the cloud phone system, block that spam immediately, that’s going to help your office get only relevant calls and then you can also have calls ring your office first and then the receptionist as a backup.
So that’s a call saving method, you’ll reduce the number of calls that the receptionist are going to have if you’re a really small practice and your call volume is low, but it’s important to not even let those like three or five or ten calls go to voicemail every month, then those are missed clients. Like you can keep your cost low but have that backstop. So that would be my number one recommendation.
You can also whitelist numbers so that they skip over a receptionist service and then come to you directly, so maybe these are existing clients who you know that they’re tolerant of receiving your voicemail and that they know you’ll get back to them within a timely manner. They’re going to be more flexible than a potential client, because they know and they trust you and they’ve established that relationship already. So that is another recommendation that I have.
Christopher T. Anderson: No, it’s great.
Maddy Martin: I know that one attorney actually uses that for opposing counsel because they don’t want to pay for those calls, but it’s up to you.
Christopher T. Anderson: That’s awesome, but no, those are great ideas of about how to augment it. So now let’s look at it the other way. So let’s say, we’re a law firm or maybe we’re just thinking about starting a law firm. I’ve been reading a couple of things about people actually considering virtualizing the greeting function like even when you come in the door, just like have a screen there saying, hi, welcome to the firm. The water is on your right, coffee is on the left, bathroom is behind me. I will let your attorney know you are here. What do you think about going all that way?
Maddy Martin: I think it’s brilliant. I think it’s a way to have a much more sustainable low-cost practice that is flexible. It allows you to work from anywhere, maybe you’re accepting clients across the country, maybe you travel, maybe you just don’t want those fixed costs that an office requires. And frankly, the shared office services that are available at a lower “cost” for people who are in cities and things like that, they just want an office and a receptionist like that’s often not necessarily such a great value for what you get.
So maybe, you don’t want like a sort of — I don’t know, halfway there receptionist who’s supporting in office ten other people. Again, if she’s busy or he’s busy, then they’re not going to answer your calls. So having a receptionist service that is fully virtual and having an office that’s fully virtual, there are virtual bookkeepers and paralegals and in addition to receptionist, you’ll have your phone hosted at your home and you can have a business number that you can pick up on your personal cell phone, so you don’t even need a desk phone at your home.
And it allows you to spend less time even commuting, so you get more time in your day, you get home Internet is totally reliable and fast, there’s no reason you need to go to an office for that.
So I would say anything that makes you more efficient could also allow you to bring your cost down and make your services more accessible to people who otherwise may not be able to afford them.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right and that’s what – yeah, that’s what it’s all about. So let’s wrap this up by asking you for the — we’re closing in, we’ve got six weeks left of the year, what’s your number one piece of advice for solo and small firm attorneys, for listeners to The Un-Billable Hour, who are looking to gain efficiency and improve their responsiveness in 2019?
Maddy Martin: Honestly, I would say that it’s really important to answer all of your calls during business hours. So add the — and this is yes, through phone, but also if people are coming to your website, the contact form is the equivalent of a voicemail.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right.
Maddy Martin: So have Live Website Chat added, it’s a new service that we’re actually offering just this month, we’ve just launched it. And it’s very important to have that not be from an outsourced or broad service that doesn’t sound like someone in your office whether it’s 41:00 or not.
But consider your website the way that you consider your phone system, someone who is first reaching your business, how are you going to be responsive to them and capture them before they bounce whether they’re going to call another law firm or they’re going to look at another law firm website, either way whatever the way they’re coming into you find a way to be as fast and efficient at responding to them as possible.
Christopher T. Anderson: Awesome. Well, that’s great, great advice. And unfortunately that also wraps up this edition of The Un-Billable Hour: The Law Business Advisory Podcast. My guest today has been Maddy Martin with Smith.ai.
Now Maddy, in case people want to follow up with you on some of the stuff we’ve talked about, how can they reach out there in the world?
Maddy Martin: So they can reach us by emailing [email protected] and they can also find us online at Smith.ai, that’s our URL and we have Live Web Chat on our website. So you can ask us lots of questions there or you can call us at 650-727-6484 and you can hear our receptionist in action.
Christopher T. Anderson: Perfect. That’s absolutely perfect, great. Thank You Maddy.
Maddy Martin: Thanks so much Christopher. It’s great being here.
Christopher T. Anderson: You’re welcome, and again this is Christopher Anderson.
I look forward to seeing you next month with another great guest as we learn more about topics that help us build the law firm business that works for you.
Remember, you can subscribe to all the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwork.com or on iTunes. Thanks for joining us. We will see you again soon.
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