How Quickly Should You Respond?
August 27, 2012
It’s not surprising that surveys we conduct show a direct link between how promptly a lawyer responds to text messages, phone calls and emails and higher scores from clients when asked if they have received fair values for fees paid to the law firm.
Surveys we’ve done also reveal prompt lawyer response to client inquiries also enhances your client’s willingness to refer prospects to you and your firm.
What is surprising, however, is what period of time clients consider to be “prompt”. Also illuminating is what clients expect when a lawyer responds promptly.
Surveys of a representative cross-section of a firm’s clients— clients that are big , small, emerging , new, long-standing and able-to-influence others– are a key part of the research we do when we write marketing plans and conduct best practices reviews for both boutique firms, lawyers with torts practices, and for corporate, transactional and defense groups. Over the past several years, we have completed numerous mailed and e-mailed client service surveys. In sum, we have nearly 2,000 law firm clients who have answered the question: “What constitutes ‘prompt’ when returning your emails and phone calls?” The answer:
- 23 percent expect a response to their email or phone within 1 hour;
- 23 percent expect a response within 4 four hours;
- 41 percent find a response the same business day sufficient, and
- 13 percent say the next business day constitutes prompt response.
One hour?, four hours?, really?
It’s been true in every firm we have surveyed over the past several years. The expectation doesn’t seem to vary significantly by region or by type of practice.
A bit puzzled by the one-hour and four-hour standards, we decided to ask our law firm clients if we could talk by phone with several survey respondents about this shift in speed of response to inquiries.
Closely-held business owners and in-house counsel told us an “out-of-office reply” on your email or voicemail was a good touch. However, they also wanted information about who else they could immediately contact . They want to know when you’ll return or be able to respond, too. What clients would prefer is that a real person reply to them.
But what exactly do they expect in an hour or four hours?
We learned that clients don’t expect detailed answers to their inquiry in this compressed timeframe, and they don’t expect work product either. They only expect you to acknowledge contact occurred and explain when you will get to work, or when you will be back in touch with them to substantively address the matter. The lawyer doesn’t even have to respond, a legal assistant or colleague can if the lawyer is indisposed.
That makes it a best practice for firms to have a policy that someone is monitoring an indisposed lawyer’s email and voicemail. The reason: the clients we talked to universally said they know their lawyers have 24-7 access to high speed Internet, transcription services for voicemail, and a phone on their hip or in their purse.