“Client service” is often cited as a differentiator for lawyers and law firms, but seldom do we think about its front line: the reception area. Because it’s a face-to-face action, a visit to your reception area will tell your clients more about your firm than a clever tagline or snazzy logo ever could.
Are you selling your firm as creative and innovative, but greeting your visitors with stodgy furniture and magazines from the Carter Administration? Worse, are you touting “exceptional client service” in your marketing materials, only to leave clients cold and ignored in a sterile waiting room?
It’s time to align your reception area with your brand. (Unless your brand is “rude and outdated,” of course.) Some tips to make your best first impression:
- Create a relaxing environment. Visiting a law firm is often a stressful experience; show some empathy by taking that into account, as well as the inherent obnoxiousness of waiting. In “The Psychology of Waiting,” Psychology Today shares that “occupied time feels shorter.” Give visitors reading materials, television or music. (Don’t turn the TV to political fare or unpredictable reality programming. When it comes to music, think instrumental and mellow.)
- Coordinate a welcome. Let your reception staff know your meeting schedule and empower them to greet your visitors. Hearing “Oh yes, you’re here to meet with Jane Doe, she is expecting you” is so much nicer than the old “And you are?” If you do not have anyone stationed at the desk, make a sign with a greeting and instructions for your visitors; they should not wonder what they are supposed to do.
- Manage expectations. Psychology Today also reports that uncertainty makes waiting seem longer. If the attorney or paralegal will be late to the appointment, the greeter should apologize and give a reasonable estimate for arrival.
- Tend to technology. The Lawyerist recommends providing a charging station with universal cables and a guest Wi-Fi network.
- Consider the kiddos. Sometimes life happens, and your clients will have their children with them. As The Lawyerist points out, “If you don’t plan for children, they will always be disruptive … with a little planning, you can minimize the disruption.” Keep some emergency crayons or blocks on hand. Parents will thank you.
- Remember who you are. What’s your firm identity, and how can the reception area support that? If you are an authoritative corporate firm, national business magazines make sense. If you’re serving startups, think “Shark Tank.” Just like your brochures or website, your reception area should back up the brand.
Above all, be human: Think about your own pet peeves when you visit a doctor or accountant, and try to avoid those. For fun, I asked my Facebook friends what irritated them about reception areas. The major offenders:
- “A bowl of that awful hard candy assortment that features butterscotch and those gross strawberry things, pens with plastic flowers attached, weird magazines.”
- “Cheap-looking fake plants, especially if they haven’t been dusted. Same goes for live plants. If they are dead, don’t have them out.”
- “Oldies music played too loud.”
- “No coffee at 9 a.m.”
- “Magazines in bad shape, like torn or with the address labels cut off, like they came from someone’s house.”
- “The pens with the stupid flowers. For *&%$’s sake, we’re not going to steal your *&%$ pens. That tells us you don’t trust your clients.”
- “Flower pens. And waiting forever. And old or regionally specific magazines. Bad or slow wifi.”
The flower pens hit a collective nerve, to be sure, but one commenter made the most meaningful point: “Would it be a big deal to acknowledge someone’s presence and greet them? Would you walk past a guest in your house and not speak to them? People in your reception areas are guests.”
Photo credit: Chair, © 2016 Dean Hochman via Creative Commons. All rights reserved.