Should you give your clients your cell phone number?
Sharing your cell phone number with clients is a hot topic in the back hallways of the courthouse and among other professionals. Attorneys, solopreneurs, financial advisors, healthcare professionals, accountants, and others have to weigh the pros and cons of being accessible by cell phone.
I’m a criminal defense attorney. When I first started practicing in 1994, I couldn’t be connected enough. I carried a pager. Then a cell phone. Then a smart phone. Eventually I felt overly connected, like I had become my own 24/7 call center. Along with cell phones came an expectation of immediacy, particularly with texting. The problem is not all client communication requires an immediate response, but all cell phone communication is immediate.
Other problems arose. Incoming calls and texts just appear as a phone number unless you add a client’s information to your personal phone contacts, something I’m not willing to do. This means phone roulette. When texts come in from just a phone number with “when’s my court date?” often my first response is, “Well, who is this?” Even worse, if I need to text a client, I have to remember their number or dig around my texts to find the thread. Sometimes it’s easy, but often it’s not; especially if it’s been a few months since the last text. Texting to nothing more than a number also raises serious concerns about sharing sensitive legal information to the wrong person. Still, there are important upsides.
Why you should be more accessible
Coming from the perspective of a solo attorney, one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard over the years from clients is they can never get through to their attorney. Attorneys are notorious for putting on a good dog and pony show to land a client and then playing duck and hide. Or as an old timer told me once, “five down, see ya around.”
Despite some of the potential drawbacks outlined above, texting can alleviate anxiety with your clients and build a stronger bond. Sometimes they just have a simple question and a couple of texts can put their mind at ease without the formality of scheduling a meeting. It is the unknown that creates anxiety and if they don’t think you’ve got their back, tensions will rise.
Moreover, can you afford to not be there? If you are a solo like me, competition can be stiff and people get finicky. Being reasonably available is essential to growing your business. Clients greatly appreciate a quick note. Then there are the practical necessities like finding each other at the courthouse, coffee shop, etc. The conveniences are compelling. Plus just being there is part of the hustle. Never lose sight of the fact that there are plenty of competitors ready to take your clients.
Alternatives to throwing your cell phone number to the masses
Google Voice is a free voice and messaging service that provides you with a local phone number that you can map to your cell or any other number. A Google Voice number can act as an alias which can then be forwarded to your cell. There is a simple toggle to turn off forwarding. But you still have the organizational problem of needing to add clients to personal contacts within your Google Voice account or hope that you can remember phone numbers by heart. Providing a phone number that sits on top of your real cell phone number has some benefits, but it’s still a phone number that rings your cell, and once your number is out there, it’s out there and you’ve lost control over who can reach you by cell.
Facebook Messenger is also a free voice and messaging service that is tied to social media. With the message button right there on your business page, Messenger is particularly well-suited for customer service. Messenger allows you to send automated replies and the Away Messages function lets customers know that you’ll get back with them soon. But the message organization in Messenger is less than optimal and Facebook keeps track of how quick you are to respond to messages and makes that information public. Plus, the availability controls are all or nothing. You’re either available to everyone all the time or you’re not. Facebook Messenger is great for restaurants and retail, but not so much for ongoing professional conversations.
WhatsApp is yet another free voice and messaging service, but connecting through WhatsApp requires sharing your cell phone number. WhatsApp recently released WhatsApp for Business which is an Android-only app that was released in January, 2018. It is a layer that sits on top of your existing WhatsApp account that enables calls and texts through WhatsApp to your cell phone through a business profile. You can use your business landline phone number to verify your account. However, there are no controls over who calls and texts other than blocking and calls and texts may still come through simply as a phone number and not a name.
monikur is an app designed specifically for professional/client mobile communications. Full disclosure, monikur is my project that I started in early 2017. Connecting happens by name through a digital business card, not cell phone number. Because of how monikur connects, you gain access to certain controls. First, access to your cell phone is by invitation only. You, the subscriber, decides who gets mobile access. Once connected, connections are automatically organized by name without any need to manually add clients to contacts. “Office hours” determines when the subscriber may be reached through the app and chats can be exported to PDF for record keeping and billing purposes. If and when the relationship ends, you can simply delete and they will no longer have access to your cell.
monikur is a specialized texting app made specifically for attorneys and other professionals. 7 day free trial and always free for your clients!