Guidelines for instructions and intake

Updated 3 weeks ago by Justin Maxwell

We want you to have a great experience withย Smith.ai. You hired us to answer your calls and chats to make life better for both you and your clients. In order to do that for you, we need your help in creating great instructions for our staff. One of our greatest assets is our reception staff โ€“ real live humans answering your calls and webchats.ย  And since they are humans they do make mistakes from time to time. When our staff make mistakes, youโ€™re unhappy with us (and you can lose leads or clients), so letโ€™s prevent that. We can help prevent mistakes by using the right training and creating great processes.

We analyzed our mistakes made in 2018 that resulted in client dissatisfaction, misspellings, and incorrect decisions. Here's what we found:

  1. Unbounded, open-ended questions, such as "tell us about your problem," result in more errors, more time wasted for the business, and fewer bookings than deterministic, criteria-based intake.
  2. Lengthy, confusing intake increases likelihood of abandonment.

But if you step back and look at some of the most efficient intake in the business, it seems like common sense. Call a toll-free billboard-ad traffic-ticket lawyer sometime. You'll hear exactly what efficiency and optimization sounds like!

As a result of these findings, we've made some sweeping changes to how we interact with your callers. For criteria you want us to ask for qualification, we'll automatically fit them to our guidelines. For questions you ask in your own hosted intake forms, we need you to follow the following guidelines:

Avoid any unbounded, open-ended questions

This is consistently the biggest source of errors in our qualification process. When we ask, "How can I help you?", "Tell me about your problem," or "What are you calling about?" it kicks off an all-out scramble for salient details. The caller can talk for ten minutes and we can either be drowning in TMI or still have not captured the qualifying elements. Over three quarters of our false positives (that is, when we pass on a qualified client and you push back) are a result of misconstrued or confusing details later clarified when you speak with the client. That's because the long, free-form answers should be part of a discussion...with you. Where you can ask questions based on your expertise.

๐Ÿ‘Good

๐Ÿ‘ŽBad

"Hi! How can I help you today? Are you calling about a parking ticket, a DUI, a moving violation, or something else?"

In this example, we set boundaries through options.

"Hi! How can I help you today? [wait for answer]"

"The attorney wants me to get your info to them as quickly as I can, so can you please tell me the high-level summary in 1-2 sentences?"

In this example, we set boundaries through answer length and urgency for their benefit.

"Please tell me a bit about your case."

What this means for you:

  • Any unbounded questions you want us to ask will be converted to bounded/deterministic questions.
  • If we identify any unbounded questions in your intake forms, we will provide recommended improvements. You will need to update them for us to use them.
  • If you wish to keep using these questions in your intake forms, you should create alternate forms that follow the above guidelines for Smith.ai to use in live-chat and call-answering scenarios.

Avoid multiple-choice questions with more than three options

Maintaining short-term memory is hard. Maintaining that on the phone is even harder for your potential clients, especially when they may be short on time or calling while driving. You need to approach the intake process like a conversation, not like a web form (which we'll get to in our next topic). Therefore, limit your multiple-choice questions to three options, with a fourth option for "something else," which gives the caller an opportunity to answer.

๐Ÿ‘Good

๐Ÿ‘ŽBad

"Are you calling about residential disputes, commercial disputes, or something else?"

Then, based on the answer to 1, narrow it down further.

"Is your issue about civil litigation, real estate disputes, property disputes, land use, commercial disputes, trespassing, breach of contract, collections, or misrepresentation?"

What this means for you:

  • We will work with you to break your multiple-choice questions up into decision trees.
  • If we identify any multiple-choice questions with more than three options in your intake forms, we will provide recommended improvements. You will need to update them for us to use them.
  • If you wish to keep using these questions in your intake forms, you should create alternate forms that follow the above guidelines for Smith.ai to use in live-chat and call-answering scenarios.

Intake forms with questions designed for web visitors don't work for live conversation

Many of you have do-it-yourself (DIY) intake forms on your website. That's great if your visitors fill them out (and even better when you have our Live Chat installed). But the questions are designed for one-way information, not a conversation. For example, this is a field on one of our clients' forms:

That is not a conversation our receptionist can have with a caller; it is a form label with options. Consider how confused you would be if someone read this to you, verbatim. Likely it would result in your asking, "Wait, can you please tell me my choices again?" or simply telling the receptionist your situation and asking them to categorize it for you. This type of questioning results in high caller frustration, which increases the likelihood of abandonment (the caller hangs up or does not complete the intake).

What this means for you:

  • If we identify awkward question phrasing in your intake forms, we will provide recommended improvements. You will need to update them for us to use them.
  • If you wish to keep using your web forms, you should create alternate forms that follow the above guidelines for Smith.ai to use in live-chat and call-answering scenarios

Don't frustrate your clients with redundant questions

Related to the above advice, it's important to remember live intake is a conversation with your potential new client. We see significant jumps in caller frustration, and reduction in successful intake when:

  • An intake form has a question we've already asked the client
  • The client is asked for information they expect you/us to already know

What this means for you:

  • Redundant questions in your intake forms will still count towards your overall intake question time and count.
  • If we identify redundant questions in your intake forms, we will recommend you remove them.
  • If a client becomes frustrated due to redundant questions in the form, you accept responsibility for the lost lead and acknowledge we advised best practices.
Smith.ai offers two forms of intake: Standard (2-3 questions up to an average of 60 seconds, included with your base plan) and Extended (5-6 additional questions up to an average of 120 seconds) for an additional per-call-per-month fee. For more information, see our Reasonable Use Policy.


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