Maintaining a professional attitude over the phone is not very difficult when a client is in a pleasant and agreeable mood. But, if you do enough legal work, you will from time to time have clients call you who are less than thrilled with your services, and in some cases are downright irate. These are the calls that really test your professionalism.
How you manage upset callers can considerably impact your business. Handling them poorly can result in short term consequences for your firm, like losing a client’s business, and long term consequences, like getting your firm a negative review online. An angry customer can do a considerable amount of damage to your reputation, and the facts back this up.
According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, news of bad customer service reaches more than twice as many ears as praise for a good service experience.
While the aggravated legal caller can often be hard to predict, there are a few things legal professionals can do to mitigate the situation. It should be noted that the below tips are general best practices to follow and may not be successful in every legal context.
Listen First and Be Courteous
When a client calls up and begins suddenly yelling about you or your services, it can be easy to take it personally, and immediately turn argumentative. As a legal professional, we do not doubt your arguing abilities. But, while a defensive attitude may serve you well in the courtroom, it can often backfire over the phone, causing your already agitated customers to become even more upset.
Even when you know logic is on your side, you should approach each interaction with a caller by hearing them out. Let your customers say their piece, and while doing so, keep a calm tone of voice and be polite. Doing so lets a caller know you actually do care about their issue, and can set a much more friendly tone for the rest of the call. Eventually your customer should run out of things to rant about, and then you can begin engaging in a real discussion about resolving their problem.
Avoid Making Quick Judgments, Instead Ask Questions
It is important that you enter all legal phone conversations with an open mind. Do not just assume a customer is wrong with their complaint from the start. Carrying that attitude can result in you coming across as arrogant and unreasonable. If the customer enters a call with a similarly stubborn attitude, you are not likely to get much accomplished during your discussion.
Instead of making assumptions about why a customer is upset, ask them for more information about their problem. Be sure to ask fact-finding questions, and not ones that question a caller’s reasoning or emotional state. Gathering more information about a customer’s problem can help you offer a better solution to your client, and show your callers that you’re actively working towards fixing their problem. Really listening to a customer’s complaints, will also provide you with invaluable insight on how to improve your service in the future.
Don’t Play The Blame Game, Just Move Forward
Giving your upset clients an opportunity to vent is important, but you always must maintain control of the conversation. Doing so can be challenging when a customer enters a phone interaction with a certain agenda in mind.
When calling your office, frustrated clients will often want to:
- Continuously argue about who is at fault
- Blame your firm for problems that are out of your control
- Harp on events that have already happened
- Make things personal, and question your legal abilities
It can be easy to fall into the trap of wanting to defend yourself from brash accusations made by your clients, but your goal should be to push the conversation away from the four above things as quickly as possible. With many of your perturbed customers, this will not be an easy task, but is a must for keeping a conversation from becoming toxic.
Once you have a solid understanding of what exactly your customer’s issue is, avoid offering excuses for what went wrong, and instead try to move the conversation forward with solutions.
This can be accomplished by using phrases like:
- “I was not aware of that, but would be happy to investigate the situation further.”
- “That may not be possible, but what I recommend we do instead is…”
- “I’m sorry that this happened, but I think it is important we continue to move forward in the best interest of your case.”
- “Let’s not further waste your time with discussions about the past, and instead talk solutions.”
If doing this fails, and a client continues to be verbally abusive, it may be time to give them a bit of a wake up call. While you should always avoid being verbally abusive yourself, you do have the right to let a caller know that their behavior is out of line, and ask them to refrain from making rude remarks.
Keep Working Towards A Solution
If a client is going through a legal crisis, they likely will want to avoid the stress of having to switch lawyers. You also probably would like to avoid losing a client you’ve already sunk hours of your time into. When it comes to disagreements between attorneys and their clients, finding a mutual solution is always the preferred outcome, so do your part to keep the lines of communications open between you and your client.
What to do before finishing your call with a frustrated client:
- End the conversation on a pleasant, or at least civil note.
- Offer a future time to discuss the issue more if needed.
- If you have come to an agreement on an issue, be sure to go over it with them one last time before the call ends. Let there be no confusion.
While you may not be able to satisfy every disgruntled customer, following the above tips should help you come to an understanding with a great deal of them.
Need Additional Phone Answering Help?
If your firm finds itself dealing with a high number of aggravated callers we recommend you consider teaming up with a legal answering service. Answering services will have trained legal receptionists available to pick up your phones 24/7, and will make sure that angry callers always feel heard and never ignored.
Answering services also cut down on things clients find aggravating, such as:
- Their calls and messages being ignored
- Their case information being recorded inaccurately
- Their appointments being incorrectly scheduled
Investing in customer service help can be a great call for your firm, as it ensures that all of your office’s calls are always conducted with the highest level of professionalism possible.