Lee Rosen 2016-12-22 12:12:33
Hang Up How to make client phone calls more efficient. You’ve brought on an assistant, stream-lined your technology, and adopted systems designed to keep you focused, productive, and efficient. You are doing things you’ve read about. You only check your email twice a day, you batch your calls, and you’ve minimized interruptions. You’re getting more done than ever before. Life is good. You’re a machine. You are seeing the results in your monthly accounting reports. Yeah, life is really good, but—there’s one thing driving you nuts. The Bane of the Phone It’s call time. You’re ready to roll, you’ve got a list of clients to call, and you pop on your uber-sophisticated noise-canceling headset. You’re like the pilot of the International Space Station. You look cool, you’re in control, and you’re a master of the universe. And then the call starts … and it goes on … and on … and on … and on … and the client will not let you off the phone. Your incredibly efficient day just turned into muck. You’re trapped in the swamp of client communication. Instead of being the pilot of the space station, you’re pedaling a cruiser bike that’s slipped too far down the beach and is now stuck in the part of the sand covered in water. You need to get off this call. You need to wrap it up. You need two things: The client to feel good about the call and having had a chance to talk to you, and you need to do it quickly. With all of your efficiencies and systems, you still haven’t figured out how to get off the phone, right? You say “hello,” and the client starts talking and talking. You could play a video game on your screen while “listening.” You could read a novel while “listening.” You could compose a symphony while “listening” because it goes on forever. Your Three-Step Action Plan How do you get the client off the phone without making him or her feel cut off? How can you leave the call with the client feeling heard and understood until it is time for the next one? How can you get off the phone so you can get on with the next client? Here’s how. 1) Initiate. Calls are shorter when they are your idea. When you wait for the client to call you, leave a message, and wait for your return call, you’re guaranteeing a longer call. The client has had time to expand his or her list and get wound up. The waiting turns the call from an opportunity to get a quick answer into the need for a main event. Initiating calls makes them go faster. The client hasn’t had a chance to get agitated or to compose a list of issues or grievances. Making the call allows a quick update to remain quick. Some lawyers will argue that initiating calls simply isn’t possible due to the pressures of the day. They believe that they are stuck in reactive mode because they are overwhelmed by the number of calls waiting to be returned. That’s true. Initially, getting ahead of the calls will take twice as long. But once you’re the call initiator instead of the responder, you’ll save time without clients turning short calls into marathons. It also has the added benefit of making the client feel cared for because you took action rather than simply waiting to respond. 2) Listen harder. You may love to do other things while on client calls. In fact, you may have used the “that typing you’re hearing is me taking notes” line when playing an online game or working on a report. But being distracted turns a short call into a much longer one. When you’re distracted, the client doesn’t feel heard. There’s an intangible quality to the way you say, “I hear you” that comes through. If you’re distracted, the words don’t work—they don’t have the same impact. Your lack of focus, interest, and connection are apparent. The harder you listen, the shorter the call. 3) Promise action. Every call should result in a promise. You don’t have to pledge to move heaven and earth, but you need to promise something. The commitment will serve as your exit, an implied, “I’m going to do this so I’ve got to go do it now” that gets you off the call. It’s how you’ll wrap up and leave the client with the strong sense that things are happening and the case is moving forward. Action is the game. We do things. We move forward. We check in even when there’s nothing to check. We keep the matter moving forward. Sometimes even the weakest of promises will do the job. “Yep, he said he’d decide in October, but I’ll stick my head in his chambers when I’m over there tomorrow, and I’ll say hello. You never know. I’ll let you know what happens.” The client just needs to know that something—anything—is happening. Inaction is rarely perceived as helping to solve the problem, so you’ve got to find some action you can take, promise to take it, make it happen, and then proactively alert the client as to the outcome. Then you’ll promise the next action during the next call. Promises are the new “end” button. It will get you off the call quick. Get Your Calls Down to Three Minutes What you need is for your calls to work like a bowl of Fiber One Cereal (my breakfast of choice). All that fiber allows you to eat fewer calories while feeling more full, and the meal is healthy. Your calls need to end faster while more than meeting the client’s needs. With practice, you can talk less for less time, listen for less time, and still achieve the same or a higher level of client satisfaction and happiness. Lawyers burdened by long calls can learn to make them shorter. Make it a goal. Use your stopwatch and time the calls. Keep a record and watch your progress. Initiate the calls, listen as hard as possible, and then promise action. You’ll soon see 30-minute calls turn into three-minute calls. This article was originally published on divorcediscourse.com. It has been edited and reprinted with permission. LEE ROSEN practices family law in North Carolina. His blog, Divorce Discourse, is a five-time ABA Blawg 100 winner and was named to the Blawg 100 Hall of Fame in 2016.
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