Monday, September 9, 2019
Editor’s note: This article was written by Sabine Hilten of EZ Legal ED.The opinions expressed here belong to Sabine Hilten.
When I started my business 12 years ago, I had a website that cost me five dollars a month, a cell phone, and a car. My website didn’t have an option for credit card payments so I met clients at their homes or on the road (literally). I’d get a call on my way to a serve, arrange to meet the caller at the nearest fast food joint, get the papers and the payment, and be on my way.
Because I was out serving morning, noon, and night, there wasn’t a lot of time for questions but I learned pretty quickly that’s not a good way to do business. I also learned two rules about communication. First, there are different types of callers and not knowing what type you’re talking to could sink your chances of converting them to clients. Second, the first conversation sets the tone for future conversations and the relationship as a whole. Now that I have a new website and rarely meet clients in person, these rules have an added significance.
For even more tips about how process servers can effectively interact with their clients on the phone, check out our article How to Answer the Phone: A Process Server’s Guide to Phone Etiquette.
Tone of voice contributes to the overall “picture” of a person. Tone of voice is especially important for process servers who rely on telephonic rather than in-person communication. A caller’s first words can reveal hidden agendas and biases. Often, they’ve already made up their minds about what they want, how they want it, and what they’re willing to pay—even those who say, “I’ve never done this before.” Attempting to influence callers’ decisions by discussing anything not related to what they want won’t change their minds. In fact, it may alienate them. That’s why it’s important to know what kind of caller they are.
Some callers are in such a rush to get their documents served that all they care about is “When can you do it?” Action-Oriented callers differ from other callers in their willingness to spend money. Proceed with caution since their liberal use of money as a lubricant to get the job done signals their desire for a speedy outcome and impatience with procedures. In fact, if a caller offers an exorbitant amount of money for a serve that normally costs a fraction of that amount, that’s a big red flag indicating there’s more to the story than he or she is willing to tell.
The first thing Bargain Shoppers say is, “I need a quote.” Callers who just want a quote will keep calling other process servers for a quote until they find a rock-bottom price. Bargain Shoppers just want a good value for their hard-earned money, but “good value” doesn’t necessarily mean “cheap.”
Service-Oriented callers are not biased toward fast service or a low price. Instead, they want options. They may not need all of the options to accomplish their objectives, but feel more confident about process servers who offer other services like skip tracing and stakeouts. They want assurance that their needs will be met even if their needs change. Service-Oriented callers also tend to expect highly personalized service, such as frequent status updates via phone, text, or email. Even when there is nothing to report, it’s important to communicate with them because you can bet they’ll be calling you if you don’t.
When callers are reluctant to answer your questions, that’s a clue there is something you need to know that could affect how you do the job—or if you should even accept the job. Some callers are very selective in supplying information during the initial phone call. Over the years, I’ve discovered there are two reasons for this. Either they’re afraid the price will go up if the true extent of the work is known, or they’re afraid servers will reject the job if it’s perceived as difficult. Asking questions reminds callers that the results they get depend on the information they give.
Turning callers into clients requires clear communication regarding procedures, requirements, and costs. For example, here is how you handle interactions with the different kinds of callers:
Action-Oriented Client: Reassure the client that his or her case is important and you will give it the attention it deserves. Make sure the client understands that if circumstances change, this may affect the timeline. Discuss the types of situations that can affect deadlines such as the person being served is out of town and, since the documents can’t be sub-served, you will have to wait until he or she returns.
Bargain Shoppers: Reassure the client that you understand the scope of work required and the importance of working efficiently. Make sure the client understands that if circumstances change, the changes may affect the price. Discuss the amount charged for other work that may be required, such as skiptracing and stakeouts, in the event the job changes. If the client doesn’t want to pay for the work, the work will not be done. Also emphasize the importance of quality work and what is included in your standard prices.
Service-Oriented Client: Describe the services available to the client in order to complete the job and how and when they are utilized. Discuss the frequency of updates (hourly, daily, or weekly) and the type of communication (phone, text, or email).
Wise process servers consider callers’ biases before committing to a professional relationship, no matter the potential brevity of that relationship. You may survey your current schedule and decide you can’t handle the hand-holding a particular Services-Oriented client may need. Or you may be skeptical that an Action-Oriented caller really understands the variables and timeframe in serving a defendant who works odd hours and lives in a condo with a concierge. There are often dire consequences in accepting a job when you’re uncomfortable with the client for any reason, whether it’s angry calls or emails, stop-payments on checks or charge-backs on credit card payments, or vicious online reviews available for all to see.
This brings me to a bonus third rule about communication: never let one client’s desperation or preconceived ideas interfere with your work for other clients or you’ll wind up with no clients. Sometimes, the right thing to do for yourself and your current clients is to decline a new job if you suspect it will demand more than you can give.
Ideally, process servers and their clients have a partnership, a sense that “we’re in this together” to obtain the desired results efficiently and ethically.
Sabine Hilten is a certified process server and the Qualifying Party for her own private investigation agency. She is the lead instructor and administrator at EZ Legal ED, LLC, which provides online continuing education to legal professionals in the United States.