Alex Hambrick Ngage Interview
Intake Academy: I’m on the line with Alex Hambrick. He is the vice president of Ngage Legal. He does product development and business development for Ngage. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ngage, they are a chat service. They have a phenomenal service that they provide to lawyers.
Alex was one of the original people who started with Ngage at the ground floor, and he worked his way up to be the vice president. He has been a featured speaker at Great Legal Marketing, the Rainmaker Institute with Stephen Fairley, and the Atlas Conference with Chris Munley.
Alex, thanks for being on the call with us today.
Intake Academy: I wanted to get you on the call because I think there are some really cool insights and stuff that you bring to the table with your experience with clients. In terms of how Ngage works with the intake process, or converting inquiries to cases, tell us about how your product and service works and address that related to the world of intake and inquiries.
Alex: The idea with Ngage is we put a live chat application onto your existing website, and then on our end of things, we have a team of secretaries who we keep staffed 24 hours a day who would monitor that chat for you. Our secretaries are not giving out any kind of legal advice, they’re asking some open-ended questions and trying to get as much information as possible.
The point of the whole thing is we’re just trying to get that visitor to your site wrapped up in a chat conversation before they otherwise might have left or went on and found a different attorney.
Intake Academy: Do you think that a visitor to a website is more inclined to chat or pick up the phone? Do they feel safer if they go through a chat versus actually picking up the phone and calling?
Alex: What we’ve seen is that it’s almost a different subset of people who use the chat versus picking up the phone. For me, for example, I’m not a huge fan of chat myself. If I want to talk to somebody, I’m going to get on the phone or I’m going to meet them in person and talk that way.
But what we’re seeing is you have people – for example, somebody’s at work – and they’re looking around on the Internet and they don’t necessarily want to broadcast to the world to hear over the phone that they, say, got a DUI last night or are looking to sue the person who rear-ended them. The chat lets them be a little bit anonymous at first and, hopefully, get a little bit more comfortable.
Then you also have the people who aren’t sure they even want to hire an attorney at this point. That type of person is definitely not going to commit to a phone call, and they’re also pretty reluctant to fill out a contact form – because everybody’s had that experience where they’ve put their name and number into a contact form, say for insurance quotes, and they just get phone call after phone call after phone call.
The chat is a happy medium between both of those. It’s not as personal as a phone call, but it doesn’t require as much of a commitment as filling out a contact form.
Intake Academy: That’s interesting. What are the three biggest challenges you see lawyers have when it comes to converting and managing inquiries into quality cases? The starting point being someone finds their website or recognizes, “This is an attorney who I should research and look into.” From that point on, what types of problems do you see them experiencing?
Alex: I think the three biggest things that I see all stem from the same root problem: a lack of urgency and almost taking the contact for granted. The biggest issue that I see from the chat side of things is the speed with which the firms that I work with follow up with the potential new client.
Most of the firms I work with are pretty good about things. They get the chat transcript in and almost immediately, they’re calling the person up, but I’ve talked to attorneys who take hours if not even days to follow back up with a person. What we’ve seen consistently – time after time – is the longer you take to follow up with that potential new client, the more likely it is that they’ve gone off and found somebody else.
That’s probably the number one issue that I see. We’re seeing so many chat intakes and we’re getting so much feedback on the quality of them, that’s probably the biggest thing I notice.
The second issue is having an incorrect approach especially when you’re following up with a contact form or e-mail or live chat. You have to realize there’s a good chance these people have filled out a contact form on your site and they’ve also filled out a contact form on three or four other attorney’s sites, and you might not be the first attorney who’s called them back. You have to approach it as though the competition has already gotten to that potential client.
I see a lot of firms who don’t have the sense of urgency and setting one’s self apart and really doing something on the phone to make your firm the obvious choice that the new client should go with. There should be no question in that person’s mind that you’re the right firm for the job.
Finally, professionalism is a big issue. This dovetails with the second one. I talk to attorneys all day long – we have almost 1500 firms that we work with – and I’m pretty shocked at how when I call a firm, it’s shockingly often that the person answering – either the answering service or the employee who’s answering the phone – has a distinct lack of professionalism.
I’ve called numbers where I’ve been put on hold immediately, without even getting a chance to say anything. I’ve called numbers where the person who picks up the phone is clearly in the middle of another conversation with the person sitting next to them.
That’s a type of thing that’s a little bit harder to quantify, but we’ve all had that happen before, and it’s never a good experience. I can only imagine a potential client calling in – they have a truck accident case, or something – and that’s their first impression. It’s not a good one.
Intake Academy: That makes sense. When somebody goes through a chat and they are either expecting a call back or they are really on the edge of making that decision, on a scale from one to five, how ready are they at that stage? Five being red-hot, “I’m ready and interested; you are very high on my list of my decision-making process,” and one being, “I’m not interested at all; I just filled that out for the heck of it; I’m just doing research.”
I know this is going to vary across the board, but typically when they’re in that mode, on average, how hot are they, how ready are they at that stage?
Alex: I would say it varies between maybe two and four. You don’t really get very many fives, because if somebody is pumped and ready and they’re going to pull the trigger, I would say most of the time, they’re going to pick up the phone. That’s what you do when you’re ready to make a decision.
The idea of the chat isn’t that we’re just capturing these people who would have contacted you anyway; we’re getting the people who are on the border, who aren’t necessarily 100% sure. Because of that, we don’t have very many ones either. If the person isn’t sure, they’re not going to give their contact information; they’re not going to say, “Here’s my number, call me.”
If they’re a college kid looking for help with a class project or somebody who needs medical advice and found this lawyer’s webpage, they’re not going to open the door to get called by an attorney.
Usually, it’s somewhere in the middle. I would say people usually start off as a two, and throughout the course of the chat, depending on how much they open up, they can go anywhere from staying at a two to moving all the way up to a four.
Intake Academy: So how that relationship is handled, how that communication is handled, is vital based on where they are in the decision-making process. The experience that they have with the firm, if it’s not a, “Wow, this was great! I can tell they want to develop a relationship with me! It’s not just about screening, I’m not just another number or case for them!” that’s going to make a big difference for those types of leads.
Alex: Absolutely. With chat especially, it’s pretty easy to capture the people who are interested and warm and ready to go. It wouldn’t be that tough to set up a chat and have your staff monitor it and only get the people who are already interested and would have e-mailed you or would have called you anyway.
Where the tough part comes in is knowing how to deal with the people who are on the edge. That’s where our clients have found the chat to be particularly useful: getting those people who otherwise would have left, otherwise would have kept shopping around, otherwise would have taken a week or two to decide if they wanted an attorney and most likely never find their way back to your website – taking those people and turning them from visitors into actual contacts.
Intake Academy: That’s good. Let me circle back to the three challenges you mentioned. The first was speed – the follow-up and response time, getting back to these leads. Second was having a system or a process, an understanding that when you get back to them, the process that you take them through. The last one, which dovetailed into it, was professionalism. You mentioned you’d be shocked at how unprofessional or how much lack of empathy there is.
How do these challenges impact the law firm, and why are they such a problem?
Alex: They take away opportunities. For the most part, the business of a law firm is a numbers game. You get as many contacts in the door as possible, and you try to convert as many of those contacts as possible into cases. If your staff is taking three days to follow up and they’re putting people on hold for ten minutes, you’re going to have a lot fewer opportunities to get new clients.
There are some firms who are not necessarily looking to take on more business and they’re happy with where they’re at, so possibly for those firms it’s not that much of an issue. I get the feeling that it’s that attitude of, “We’re happy with where we’re at,” that ends up translating to the lack of urgency and the lack of empathy and just taking the contact for granted.
Most firms – especially if you’re listening to an interview like this and you’re actively looking to improve – probably don’t have that attitude; you’re looking to grow and to get as many cases as possible. It stands in the way of that goal.
Intake Academy: What are three action items or strategies that any law firm could use to overcome or prevent these challenges?
Alex: With speed, it’s both simple and complicated. The simple answer is call people back faster. The complicated answer is how you do that. I understand that there are a lot of firms out there who don’t have a staff of thirty who can drop everything and call somebody back.
I’m not an expert on the operations of a law firm and staffing, but I do know that when I get an e-mail from a potential new client, I’ve got a pretty packed schedule but I still find time to call that person and try to make some business happen. I think a lot of that is just an attitude adjustment, and just making it a goal to call people back as soon as possible.
Your employees and the people working for you, they’re not just following your lead, but they’re following the directive that you pass down to them. If you don’t tell them, “If we see a potential client coming in, you need to call that person A.S.A.P.,” they’re not going to do it – plain and simple. Enforcing that is another story altogether, but I think in terms of something you can do today, just making that a priority is a pretty simple one.
The last two are a lot more complicated. Teaching your staff the proper urgency and salesmanship and empathy, that’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. I think the answer to this dovetails into the professionalism side of things. I think the best thing you can do is audit yourself.
I’ve talked with attorneys who will call their own firm and pretend to be a new client and see how things go. I’ve had many firms work with a secret shopper or a mystery caller – anything like that where you can audit your own processes.
The key is being brutally honest with yourself and with your employees, because when it’s time to make changes, you’re going to hurt people’s feelings. The person who dropped the ball, you’re going to have to call them out and say that they were the one who dropped the ball. If you have behavior that needs to be fixed, you’re going to have to hurt people’s feelings, and that’s just how it is.
You’d be surprised at how many firms I’ve worked with who are extremely reluctant to implement these types of changes for that very reason: they don’t want to ruffle any feathers, they don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.
That leads the way to a lot of self-deception, where you sugarcoat the mistakes and you sugarcoat the errors because you don’t want to make somebody feel bad. We all like to think that we’re straight-shooters and not afraid of telling people the truth, but time and time again, I’m surprised at how sensitive not just my clients are, but I even catch myself doing it. That’s just something that you have to recognize in yourself and fix, so that way, you can be honest when you appraise your business and your business processes.
Intake Academy: A lot of good insight; well said. There are a lot of different reasons why people are so sensitive to that. Asking people to change, behavior modification, changing habits is not an easy thing to do, and there are lots of reasons for that in terms of why someone would not want to hold staff members or team members accountable. There are a lot of complex answers to that question, but I think you’ve addressed it pretty well.
How does Ngage directly address these items and make a firm’s life easier and more productive?
Alex: The main goal of Ngage is to get you more “at bats.” Going back to that scale you used earlier, most of the people who contact you from your site are probably going to be in that two to four range, and it’s the same way with that chat; you’re just getting more of them. It gives you more opportunities, and as a result, it tends to really highlight the shortcomings in your process. But at the same time, it also makes those shortcomings not as big of an issue, because you’ve got more opportunities to work with. If you swing and miss a few of them, because you’re getting so many more opportunities, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.
It’s a good thing and a bad thing. Where there are issues, it makes things more apparent because you’re having that many more phone calls and that many more e-mail conversations, and ultimately that’s how Ngage helps: it gets you more “at bats.”
Intake Academy: For any clients who are Intake-certified, who have gone through Intake training on our end with the Intake Academy, and they have resolved and they are addressing the intake process, the empathy, the connecting, the relationships first, business second – all the things that we teach and the listeners and the readers of this will pay attention to and know – the Ngage tool becomes X times more valuable, because now they really are prepared to maximize it and leverage it.
It’s a phenomenal tool and you’re going to get more opportunities – you’re going to get more “at bats” – regardless, but you’re going to be even better off in using a chat. You’re going to be more prepared to use a chat tool once you’ve gone through this Intake training program. Would you agree?
Alex: Absolutely, and that’s why I love working with your company. There’s certainly a little bit of me being self-serving here, because when our attorneys are better at following up and better at handling intakes on the phone, it makes us look better. It’s better for us, it’s better for the client, it’s great for you all – it’s good all around.
I think anything attorneys can do to improve that intake process is huge, because I see, day-in and day-out, all the varying deficiencies in that process. They don’t teach you how to run a business in law school, and it shows.
Intake Academy: This has been great stuff. I think there’s a tremendous amount of wisdom in everything you’ve shared with us. If somebody wants to learn more about Ngage or to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Alex: I’ll give you my direct line. If anybody out there wants to give me a call and ask some questions, its (512) 589-2451, or you can send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our marketing people got cute with the spelling; it’s the word “engage” but without the “e” on the front.
Intake Academy: Great. Alex, it’s been a pleasure talking with you. Is there anything in closing you’d like to add to the interview? Nuggets of wisdom or advice for our listeners?
Alex: I think we’ve pretty much covered the biggest things that I see. We touched on a lot here.
Intake Academy: Thanks so much for being on the interview.