How to Prevent Problems with
Returned Phone Calls
by Trey Ryder
Lawyers who fail to promptly return phone calls can be the source
of great frustration to the person who left the message -- and the professional
responsible for attorney marketing. One reason is because the caller might
be sitting around waiting for your return call, which might not come for
several hours or even days. If you're responsible for marketing legal
services, make sure your lawyers return calls promptly.
You can help prevent bad feelings about returned phone calls
by (1) explaining to your clients how you handle return calls in your
office, and (2) training your receptionist to take messages in ways that
minimize callers’ frustration.
WHAT TO TELL CLIENTS ABOUT RETURN PHONE CALLS
When you accept a new client,
1. Promise your client that you will always return his call as
soon as you reasonably can. Simply making this statement provides the
assurance your client needs and pre-empts his concern that you’re
trying to avoid him or that he isn’t important to you.
2. Explain that you prefer to return calls at times when you
are not super-busy. This allows you and your client to carry on a productive
conversation without interruption so you can give your client your full
attention. Clients usually respond well to this because they conclude
you are simply waiting until the best time to call.
3. Explain to your client why, on occasion, you may not be able
to return a call for (whatever period of time). Perhaps a deposition or
trial might keep you tied up for one or more days. Or you may be presenting
a seminar, traveling, or working outside the office. Whatever the reason,
clients are much more understanding if you ask them to appreciate the
demands on your time and to please be patient, always reassuring them
that they are important to you and that you will call at your earliest
You can even say something to help the client relate to your
situation, like this: “You have probably had days that you wish
were 48 hours long just so you could get everything done.”
Usually, at this point, your client agrees with you and may even
give you an example of just how impossible his schedule is from time to
time. (Make sure you listen while your client tells his story because
he’s making your case for you.)
You continue: “That’s how my schedule is any time
I’m involved in a trial.” Or, “That’s how my schedule
is in the office nearly every day.”
At that point, your client begins to appreciate what things are
like in your office and will usually cut you some slack, without feeling
4. Tell your client when you like to return calls. Some lawyers
promise to return calls in the same half-day the message was left. Others
wait and return calls at the end of the day. If your client knows what
to expect, he is less likely to get hot under the collar when he doesn’t
receive your call within the first hour.
5. Ask your client to tell your receptionist if his call is urgent.
This way, the receptionist can try to find you or someone else in your
office who can help the client until you return.
6. Ask your client to please call again if he hasn’t heard
from you in (whatever period of time). Explain that someone might have
lost or misfiled his phone message.
7. Tell your client that he is free to ask your secretary for help. Your
secretary may be able to act on the client’s request right away,
giving the client a quick response and saving you the need to return the
TIPS TO HELP YOUR RECEPTIONIST ANSWER THE PHONE
1. When a client calls at a time you’re not available,
ask your receptionist to set a specific time for the return call that
is convenient for both parties. When you treat a returned phone call like
a phone appointment, the caller knows exactly when to expect your call.
This saves the caller from sitting around waiting for your call, all the
time wondering why you haven’t called sooner. If something comes
up and you can’t place the return call as scheduled, ask your secretary
to call the person and ask to reschedule the phone appointment.
2. Ask your receptionist to inquire about the nature of the call
so you can have the file in front of you when you call back. Your receptionist
might say something like, “Ms. Simpson asked me to inquire about
the subject you want to discuss so she can have your documents in front
of her when she returns your call.” Make sure the receptionist maintains
an attitude of helpfulness and doesn’t sound as if she is trying
to pry or screen the call.
3. Ask your receptionist to inquire whether the matter is urgent.
If so, the receptionist should find someone else in the office who can
help the caller or calm the situation until you return.
4. If you expect to be out of the office for an extended period,
ask your receptionist to explain this to the caller so he doesn’t
think you’re trying to avoid calling him.
Your preventive measures -- combined with your receptionist’s
skills -- ensure that your client knows his call is important, that you
are not avoiding him, and that you will return his call at your earliest
You improve your attorney marketing efforts -- and make marketing
legal services much easier -- when lawyers return phone calls promptly.
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