The data, and our own personal experience is very clear on this topic. Businesses that have their phones answered by a live person completely outperform businesses that use an auto-attendant (Press 1 if you're a new client, press two for a directory, etc) or go straight to voicemail.

Here are some statistics about voicemail and auto-attendants:

  • 67% of customers have hung up the phone out of frustration they could not talk to a real person. (Source: American Express Survey, 2011)
  • 75% of customers believe it takes too long to reach a live person. This often includes phone trees or automated systems. (Source: Harris Interactive)
  • 72% of callers who reach an automated answer will hang up (and potentially call a competitor) without leaving a message. (Source: Consumer Reports)
  • Customers form an impression of a business in the first 7 seconds of contact. (Source: Forbes)

Our Story

At The Modern Firm we had an auto-attendant phone tree through RingCentral that was super simple. Just three options: press 1 for sales, press 2 for client support and press 3 for a staff directory. If someone didn't answer within 5 rings we had friendly voicemail greetings that went to our email for quick follow-up. For years we received new client leads by phone and naively assumed all was working well, until the day our owner dove into the call statistics reports. We learned that, despite the simple setup, month after month, 50% of callers hung up if they didn't get a live person. Further, many hung up even before making a selection from the initial prompts!

The day after discovering our 50% drop rate we switched to a live receptionist service popular with attorneys named Call Ruby. Now, every call was being answered by a professionally trained receptionist and overnight our leads through the phones literally doubled! We made this change two years ago and the double leads was no fluke, it has maintained week after week ever since the switch.

If your office has an automated system handling your calls, you absolutely need to find and analyze your call logs and statistics. There is a good chance that a significant number of callers are hanging up without you ever knowing they called. That's the big danger of automated call handling, incoming calls are happening and callers are being forced to make choices before your phone makes a peep. Without reports you are flying blind and there is no data to challenge your assumptions about how things are going.

Wage War on Voicemail

Voicemail Makes People Angry

Voicemail Makes People Angry

Across the board, survey after survey shows that people hate voicemail. With a live receptionist you can all but eliminate voicemail by having the receptionist take a personal message when you're not available and deliver it by email or text. You can even have the receptionist follow a script and ask situation specific questions to get more information about the prospective client. The simple act of asking a few questions starts to build the relationship with the prospective client and helps you prepare for the return call. You can even set rules so that if questions are answered a certain way, perhaps indicating the caller needs urgent assistance, the receptionist will know to be more aggressive in trying to reach you by calling your cell and home or sending a text instead of just trying your office line or taking a message.

We personally have our phones live answered from 8am to 9pm, Monday - Friday. If we're not available the receptionist will take a personal message and ask some questions. This means that during normal business hours, coast to coast, no caller or employee has to deal with voicemail.

Should An Attorney Be The One Answering The Phone?

Many solo and small firm attorneys try to do it all themselves, including answering incoming calls. There are a surprising number of things to consider with this issue and our friend, attorney coach Roy Ginsburg, has provided an excellent blog post on this exact topic. Here are some quick take-aways on why an attorney probably should not be the one answering incoming calls.

  1. Not interrupting current work to answer a call gives the attorney time to concentrate on what they're presently doing. Learn more about the concept of switching costs here.
  2. Returning a call vs. instantly picking up the line allows the attorney to properly prepare for the call.
  3. Returning a call promptly creates a positive impression.
  4. Attorneys answering the phone can create an impression of not being busy, which can lead to negative assumptions by the prospective client (i.e. This attorney must not be good/in-demand if they've got time to answer phones).

Of course there are some important caveats that exist in practices that cater to people with urgent issues (i.e. criminal law). Again, I encourage you to check out Roy's post "Don't Answer Your Phone" for all the details.

Key Take Aways

  1. If you are using a phone tree, don't assume it's all working great like we did. Find your call log reports and make sure callers aren't hanging up or slipping through the cracks.
  2. If you don't have a receptionist, seriously consider a service like Call Ruby. At first blush it may seem expensive, but they are a fraction the cost of an employee, cover extended hours, and if your story is like ours, may significantly increase your new client contacts. We spend about $6000/year on Call Ruby and have experienced an additional 120-150 leads a year as a result. It's money well spent.
  3. Do your best to eliminate voicemail.
  4. Decide who is answering the phone and set rules to protect attorney time and promptly respond to new clients.

In the following weeks we'll be answering more questions about handling calls and client service. If you have a question you'd like to submit to us you can do that here. And of course, if you need help with any of your web or marketing needs we're just a friendly call or email away.