Tick-tock... five minutes pass and you begin to get the feeling that the new client isn't going to show. This keeps happening, it's the third time this month. The internal dialog starts... "I mean sure, if this was online dating it would make sense, but not in the professional world of my law practice. Is it me? Do I need to improve my website profile pics? Let me check my breath. Did I inadvertently say something offensive? Are my phones working right? I should have sent them a reminder but I didn't want to seem pushy or desperate. I should have asked more questions about them. Wait?!... is this online dating? Oh, my."
We've all experienced it, the slow ticking of time as the realization sets in that a potential client is a no-show, they're in the wind. And with that no-show goes the opportunity to help someone, to solve a problem, to earn income and to make a connection that would likely lead to more referrals. Not only is there the missed opportunity, there was expense. The clicks you paid for on Google, the advertisements you run, the shuffling of your schedule, the time you spent prepping. If your office is busy, the time you committed to the no-show could have been given to another client. The no-show is a triple-whammy. No income, no future income, just expense.
Today we're answering the question of how to reduce no-shows. This issue has come to us from Bel Air, MD bankruptcy attorney Uri Stern and the Tampa Bay, FL divorce attorneys at Harris, Hunt & Derr. Some factors that impact the no-show rate, such as your chosen area of practice are out of your control. But there are many strategies and techniques you can deploy to make no-shows a thing of the past. And, since we're often helping our clients with online marketing for their law firms, we want them to have as many successful appointments as possible.
Certain areas of law have much higher no-show rates. Bankruptcy, estate planning and family law are all areas that involve having very tough decisions to make and uncomfortable topics to discuss. Clients here tend to be more apathetic, unless their hand is forced, and that increases the odds they'll drag their feet on working with an attorney. As a practice skews more towards work that is solving pressing problems, saving money, creating opportunity and serving more businesslike people, the no-show rate naturally goes down. A 0% no-show rate is unrealistic, because, well, life. But, if you're experiencing a higher than 20% no-show rate then some or all of the following advice may help.
When a client makes contact with your office try to spend some time connecting with them. Start the relationship, get them to invest some time in telling you their story, be interested in them. Though it's not the same as them paying you money, time spent is them putting skin in the game. Spending 10-15 minutes connecting over the phone is way more personal than simply processing them through to schedule an appointment. You should be focused on them, free from distraction and caring.
The purpose of connecting is two-fold. First, you want to genuinely connect and have them feel good about talking with you. There is an art to this and many lawyers I speak with could benefit from some fine tuning here. Try reading Daniel Pink's "To Sell is Human" or Dale Carnegie's "How To Win Friends and Influence People" or ask around for a referral to a local sales coach. Second, we want the potential client to hesitate and feel guilt about not showing up. They're more likely to feel guilty, and a loss of their own time, if a more meaningful connection was established.
Trading 15 emails to schedule an initial appointment or phone call is annoying, time consuming, and not the way to create connection. At our office we use an online scheduling tool called Calendly. It interfaces directly with our calendars in Google (works with Outlook/Office365 too) to create an easy online scheduling page that shows real-time availability for appointments so that people can book an appointment (within the specified constraints) in just 30 seconds and sends reminders. The scheduling page can be embedded in a website or via a link sent by email. ScheduleOnce is a similar tool we've also used and recommend.
To do scheduling with a more personal touch, which is advisable with new clients, you can call them to create the meaningful connection, then use Calendly on their behalf to schedule the initial appointment. For existing clients you can email them the link, which is a huge time saver. Another interesting alternative is an artificially intelligent scheduling assistant called X.ai (www.x.ai). It basically handles the ping-pong of scheduling meetings for you but struggles somewhat when the email dialog goes off script. You can see a sample interaction here.
Do not allow yourself to experience any anxiety over sending appointment reminders. You're not being pushy, you're not looking desperate, you're being courteous and professional. Everyone's time is valuable. Depending on how far out the appointment is booked, one to three reminders is appropriate. A confirmation email, a reminder a few days out, and a reminder sent 18-24 hours in advance is a pretty standard template used by professional and medical service providers.
Reminders can be sent by email, text or phone. And they can be personal or automated.
Email reminders with online rescheduling options are automatically sent when using tools like Calendly. They also embed calendar invites so that the meeting can be put on your client's calendar software. If you're not using scheduling software, a simple email personally sent by you or your staff works well.
Text message reminders have become popular in the health care industry due to their near 100% open-rate. For attorneys there are reasonable solutions from AppointmentAid as well as Rodeo Reminders, which integrates with Calendly. You can also send reminders directly from your mobile phone as long as you don't mind sharing your number.
Personal phone call reminders are our recommendation for new clients. This will remind them of the connection you've already made and give the opportunity to react on the fly should they need to reschedule or express hesitation with showing up.
A sample workflow with new clients may look something like this:
Just because a potential client misses an appointment doesn't mean they're lost. It's worth a follow-up phone call or two to make sure they didn't just forget or have an unavoidable conflict come up. Remember too that sometimes, meeting with an attorney can feel like admitting failure, especially in a situation like a divorce or bankruptcy consultation. Sitting down in a law office and confiding problems to a professional may make them seem more real, and some people struggle to take that step. Other times a prospective client may call for an appointment in a moment of crisis, only to feel better about their situation by the time the appointment date arrives, even if the problem they called about initially still needs resolution.
A follow-up call accomplishes a few things: it tells the client that their appointment was important to you, it lets them know you care why they couldn't make it, and it gives the opportunity to reschedule. Not every no-show will be redeemed by a follow-up call, but taking the time to check in can make the difference between keeping a good client who's having a bad day, and having them eventually show up in another attorney's office.
We hope these tips help keep your no-shows to a minimum. If you have a question you'd like answered about the business side of practicing law, you can submit one here. And, of course, if you'd like help with your law firm marketing, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.