Sometimes, the hardest part of solving a problem is recognizing you have one.
This was something that was brought up by Harlan Schillinger on The Rankings Podcast. Harlan was finding that a lot of his clients were coming back with the same request:
"Give me more leads"
To which he would reply:
"Well, what'd you do with the last ones?"
And while many saw this as a simple supply issue, Harlan recognized that something more complex was at fault. To investigate this, he started recording and auditing intake calls. And this proved that his clients didn’t need more leads, they needed to handle their existing ones more effectively.
So if you think your intake isn’t quite up to scratch, you could also try auditing your phones. But how do you run a successful audit? And what should you look out for? We’ll cover that, and more in our guide to running an audit.
What matters most?
Before you can start assessing others, you need to have a framework to assess them against. If you’re a well-established law firm, you may already have an outline of what makes a great intake call. But if you’ve recently started a dedicated intake department, you might only have a nebulous idea of what “great” is.
Think about your potential clients’ experiences and how you want them to feel on a call. What is it that would be most important to you if you were making first contact with a new firm? Some elements you might consider are:
- Tone – how friendly is the call-handler?
- Knowledge – how well does the handler understand the query topic and your firm’s ability to assist?
- Empathy – does the handler respond to the client appropriately? Do they remain professional or do their emotions take over?
- Helpfulness – if they can help the client, do they give them the necessary information they’ll need to continue? If they can’t help, how well do they deliver the news? Do they recommend a referral partner?
- Efficiency – do they rush calls or do they take a bit too much time to process information? Do they go through data capture at a speed appropriate for the client?
- Notes and documentation – look at their notes too. Do they capture all the necessary details in their notes and documentation? Do they forward clients to the correct people, departments or referral contacts?
These criteria might evolve over time as you find out what does and doesn’t work for your staff and clients. But once you do have an ideal intake model in mind you can employ a gap analysis.
The Gap Analysis
A gap analysis is the process of assessing your staff against a set of criteria important to you. In this example, the criteria would be tone, knowledge, empathy, helpfulness, efficiency and note-taking. For each one you would assign a maximum score or a scale (100% or -5 to +5) and grade your call-handlers. You also have a section for your comments on what you did and didn’t like and where they could improve.
This lets you judge everyone on the same scale and against the same criteria. And now you can see where your staff are falling short. It shows you the gaps. Now you can find out what extra support they need to bridge that gap and become a better call handler and you can monitor their progress audit to audit.
Assign an auditor
Depending on the size of your firm, you might conduct the audit yourself or you might delegate it to another. Whether you or someone else audits the calls, make sure that you instill in them (or yourself) the values that you wish to promote in your intake team. You’ll have the gap analysis criteria to help you, but it’s also important that your auditor is au fait with the image you want to project out to your clients.
The auditor will ideally be experienced in (and a superstar at) handling intake calls. This will help them understand the challenges other handlers face and they will be able to spot areas for improvement. The latter point is hugely important as there will always be room for improvement. And having someone experienced in this role will have a better insight into how others can improve and what support they might need.
Whether you or someone else audits the calls, they need have empathy. No one really likes being assessed or having their faults pointed out. That’s why you need an empathetic person to be able to praise people for what they’ve done great and tactfully tell them where they need to improve.
As with most things in life, keep on top of your audits. Schedule them regularly and as frequently as you can. And you should schedule them even more frequently for new hires to make sure they’re getting up to speed. This is vital as the cost of hiring wrong can be astronomical.
Regular audits will also give you an idea of the effect different initiatives are having. You might try out something as small as a new greeting or as big as a change in the way you direct calls. Either way, frequent audits will let you know what works and what doesn’t work.
Also be organized in the way you roll out policy changes. Make sure that your intake handlers know when you’re introducing something new like a change in script or a change in the types of cases your firm handles. There’s no point giving staff feedback on something they did wrong if they didn’t know it was wrong in the first place. So implement changes clearly and use the audits to monitor and enforce them.
And have your guidelines, your firm's values and gap assessment printed out and ready to go for each audit. This is a very basic tip, but having your reference materials at hand will make it much easier to objectively assess someone and site the guidelines you assess against. This is especially true if you are carrying out the audit rather than a dedicated auditor.
Most importantly, tell people how they did in the audit. Audits aren’t there just to tell you how the calls are going. They’re there to indicate what your staff are doing well and what they can improve on. So let them know.
People love praise so applaud them for their strengths and let them know where they’re excelling. Give them details like how accurately they capture their data or how quickly (if that’s important) they process a call. But also give them the feedback they receive from happy clients. It’s all well and good getting a high score, but real-life praise goes a long way to help job satisfaction and motivation.
Conversely, give them the bad news too, but do so tactfully. Use your empathy and understand why they might be struggling in certain places. And use your gap analysis to contextualize how their performance currently is and what they need to do to get it up to your standards. Use this information to establish a support plan and bring their weaker skills up to your required level.
Audits are a great way to make sure that the standards and procedures you value are upheld. Carrying them out regularly and frequently gives you an excellent, ground-level view of the client experience and can highlight areas of improvement for your staff and your firm as a whole. So save all of your audit data. Use it to track progress and maybe even unearth some problems you didn’t even know you had.