You Lost the Client at Your Front Door

You lost that client before the meeting even started.

It happened in the lobby.

Is your lobby a client-killing machine? For many law firms, it makes exactly the wrong impression.

Here are some examples of lobbies that do the exact opposite of what they’re intended to do.

1. The Cheap Ass/Ugly/Plain Lobby

Yeah, I love Ikea too. But your lobby isn’t Ikea territory. The lobby needs to build on the trust that starts with the referral and moves on to the intake call. You don’t want a $2,000 lobby when you’re attempting to charge a $12,000 fee.

I went into the lobby of a midsize firm. It had nothing on the walls—no art. The furniture was spartan, boring, and not in great repair. A tattered copy of People sat next to a Sports Illustrated. This place had no personality, no style, no presence, and no oomph. It was boring, bland, ugly, and unappealing. I couldn’t wait for someone to come get me and take me back.

You don’t need to go hog wild in upfitting a lobby, but there should be a bit of flavor to it. It should have some style. Even Regus creates a decent space at the entry to its executive suites. If you have no style (like me), then hire it. Personally, I use a professional decorator. Make your place feel good. Use the space to build trust.

2. The Frightening Team Lobby

Your employees are likely coming in and out through the lobby. If they’re impressive, then that might be a good thing. If they’re a motley crew of overweight, middle-aged lawyers making what they think are clever remarks to the receptionist, then it’s probably not ideal. You're not helping in the process of turning the prospect in the lobby into a client.

I was in a law firm lobby at 8:30 AM, and the team was streaming by me as they came through the front door. I saw people in jeans. I saw people struggling to hold the door open because they had so many bags and boxes and had to open the outer door before struggling with the inner door. These folks clearly have trouble navigating the universe. They didn’t have that TV smooth walk we expect in the lobby of a high-powered law firm. They had the mildly challenged look of a homeless person with an overflowing shopping cart.

Can we use the back door, please?

3. The Secrets Revealed Lobby

“Bob, it’s Marilyn Smith calling about her drug test again,” said the receptionist sitting six feet from me. Will my secrets be discussed in the lobby too? Putting a receptionist in the lobby and having him greet clients as well as answer the phone is a disaster. You’re putting all this energy into building trust and then you’re killing it with a simple phone call. Why?

The lobby is a chance to build more trust. It’s an opportunity to make the sale easier. Some lobbies have plaques of law firm awards. Some have diplomas and law licenses. Some have notebooks filled with press clippings. Some have videos playing about the firm. That all helps.

What doesn't help is allowing secrets to spill out of file folders with client names emblazoned on the side. What doesn't help is wrapping up a conversation with a departing client in front of the new client sitting nearby. What doesn't help is the receptionist leaving the calendar software open on her computer screen with client names highlighted in bright colors.

The lobby should be about waiting quietly, securely, and comfortably. Let the visitor wait for the meeting without doing anything that damages trust. That’s the baseline requirement.

4. The Noisy Hallway Lobby

Some lobbies are more like extensions or endings of a hallway. The visitor sits in a chair while listening to all the activity down the hall. It’s kind of like the “Secrets Revealed Lobby” except worse. The receptionist, while revealing confidential information, does it professionally. He knows he’s being observed, so he speaks in a somber tone and conveys the information.

The employees down the hall, one of whom may be you, don’t realize that they’re being heard. They say and do things that sound insane. They tell jokes. They make off-color comments in teasing others. They use funny voices. They make themselves seem juvenile and immature. It’s all funny unless you’re in a life-and-death situation and waiting for help down the hall in the hallway “lobby.” If you’re the prospective client, then those folks are scary. You were counting on them to help.

The lobby needs to be sealed in such a way that the activity down the hall can’t be heard. Or the activity down the hall needs to never take place. We all know you can’t stop the activity, so close off the lobby.

5. The Impossible-to-Find Lobby

Recently, I entered a building and struggled to find the building reception desk. I found it, had to show my ID, and was given a pass for the entry/elevator. I headed up an escalator. Then, upon reaching the top of the escalator, the guard sent me back down because I had taken it to the wrong level.

I started over, made it to the right floor, and used my pass to get through a turnstile. Then I was directed to an elevator with no buttons. Thankfully, the elevator knew from my badge to take me to the right floor. Upon exiting the elevator, I wandered back and forth for three minutes trying to find the right suite.

Many office buildings are confusing. You’re not likely to solve the issues caused by the building management. Some of your prospective clients, left to their own devices, are going to get lost. In many buildings with the latest security processes, getting to an office feels like navigating an obstacle course.

The problem with all this confusion is that it diminishes trust. Your clients are hypersensitive. The smallest things set them off. They’re in a vulnerable state. The fact that the building issues are not your fault won’t fix the problem. In fact, you’ll have people show up, get confused, and leave without ever making it to your office.

The solution?

Explain it in advance. Tell them on the phone, send it via e-mail, and then call and remind them. It’s only confusing if they don’t understand it. Do whatever is necessary to make it simple, and that may include providing detailed information on driving, parking, or whatever. Test your information materials by asking clients how it went. Figure out every issue they might encounter and help them before they get stuck. Video is a great way to solve this problem. Give the guided tour of the way to your lobby.

6. The “Who Are You?” Lobby

Let's say you’ve got a beautiful lobby, with muted sound that doesn’t give up confidential information. Let's go further and say it’s easy to find and it’s calming, relaxing, and comforting. Everything about the lobby reassures the prospective client and builds on the trust created by your referral source or other marketing.

The prospective client arrives. She states her name. The receptionist responds with “Who?”

The client isn’t certain as to which lawyer she’s meeting, and the receptionist must now call the intake people to figure it out. All of this is happening in front of the client, who’s starting to wonder whether she’s even in the right law firm. After all, finding this place was confusing.

Disaster. The client wasn’t expected. The system didn’t alert the receptionist of the impending arrival of the client. The client feels unwelcome, unloved, and uncared for. Trust damaged.

Contrast that with “Ms. Jones, I’m so glad you made it. We were expecting you. Ms. Smith is looking forward to meeting you. Please have a seat and make yourself comfortable. May I bring you some coffee?”

Being expected is important. It’s part of the flow that keeps everything moving along smoothly, and it’s another step in moving the prospective client from prospect to client. Being expected maintains and builds the trust that we’re so focused on building.

What First Impression Are You Making?

For many of us, lobbies are an afterthought. We’re focused on our personal offices. We think about the space where we sit all day and strategize for a bigger window. However, the lobby is the first physical impression of the law firm.

The lobby needs to be done right. It’s important. It’s far more important than many of us realize. Fix it. If you’re spending time and money on marketing your practice, you need to remove the obstacles to getting retained. Your lobby may be getting in the way. Don’t lose the client before you even have a chance to meet.

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