I was out walking with my son a few weeks ago, along our local high street. We are very fortunate to have endless options of coffee shops/cafes, all within a short walk of each other. On this particular day, I noticed that one of them had closed down. It was no real surprise though – while I am quite sure it sold coffee of the same standard as some of the others, that the staff were helpful and friendly, that the prices were reasonable, but….I had never been in. Why? Well, the shop front looked a bit dated, and the tables and chairs a bit ‘basic’. As I say, there are lots of cafes within close proximity, and in those circumstances, customers like me will make a split second decision, possibly even subconsciously, based on first impression. Hence, the café that looks a bit old fashioned doesn’t attract customers when there are other choices.
Think about this example in terms of your law firm, whether you are similar in the sense of being on a busy high street in a local town with other solicitors geographically close by, or in an ‘online’ sense. What first impression would potential clients get of your firm? What does the shop front look like? Does it need a lick of paint, or to be modernised a bit? Is your logo old fashioned? How does your website look and function? Is it easy for people to contact you? Can they get hold of you outside of office hours? And what about the first impression a potential client would get if they went to the next stage and actually walked in the door, or phoned with an enquiry? Who answers the phone? How quickly do they answer? Are they polite/welcoming/enthusiastic? Are they knowledgeable about the services you offer? Do they know who to put the call through to?
All of these things make up the first impression a prospective client gets of your firm, and they will make a decision on whether to instruct you, based on them. They are crucial to the success or failure of your business. It doesn’t matter if you are the ‘best’ lawyer in town, or provide the greatest value for money – the prospective client will not use you in the first place unless you get the first impression right.
Improving some of the issues above will involve spending money, but many will not, other than the time commitment for internal training. A couple of hours spent training ‘customer facing’ staff is well worth the investment of time. Talk them through the different types of work you do, who does it, how it is priced, who new enquiries should be directed to etc etc, and they will be far more knowledgeable the next time somebody calls with an enquiry. Bring in some external trainers to explain the importance of first impression, telephone manner etc – just make sure you pitch it as a development opportunity for them, rather than it being perceived as a criticism of the job they are doing at the moment! If required, and if you can justify the initial investment, consider updating your office/shop front/marketing materials or website - it may well bring a return many times the sum invested. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
Back to my local high street…I was walking there again this weekend. The same shop had been taken over by new owners, and re-opened as a café. The new branding looked good, they had some nice tables set up outside, and it looked busy with customers. I went in this time.