I recently got a call from a friend who was charged with a misdemeanor traffic violation in Ohio. It was a big deal, because he drives a tractor-trailer for a living and needs his Commercial Driver’s License. I could see that he was caught up in a sticky situation, and I was determined not to let his career go down the tubes over some stupid traffic ticket.

I set about finding a lawyer to handle his case, and I wasn’t looking forward to the task, to be totally honest with you. After years of working with colleagues who simply didn’t have it together, I expected to get poor customer service. Sadly, I was not surprised. My first call went directly to phone-tree hell. Like a fool, I remained on the line in the hopes that one of the options would direct me a live person. And by live person, I mean someone who speaks English and knows something about the type of cases the lawyer handles.

Unfortunately, the phone-tree was nothing but a mirage, an illusion that teased and tantalized from afar, but turned into dust the closer I got. After picking option #2 to indicate that I was an attorney, I had some hope. If they were smart, I thought, they would quickly sort out the attorneys and answer our calls immediately in the hopes of getting some business (the exact reason I was calling). My spirits were lifted even higher when I selected the next option, to speak directly with the lawyer’s assistant. That’s when it all turned from pudding to poop.

I was invited to leave a voicemail. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I cannot stand getting messages on my phone. Sometimes I listen to them (often long after they are left), but I never leave a voicemail,with one important exception (discussed later). Perhaps I am unreasonable. If so, fine. Studies have proven without a doubt that most of you feel exactly the same. People who are directed to voicemail rarely leave messages. If you hate getting the runaround as much as I do, you probably are sick and tired of the lousy customer service that has become acceptable to many business owners.

Poor Customer Service is a Red Flag

The next firm I called had a live answering “service.” My call was answered, but I was told the lawyer was out of the office. When invited to leave a voicemail, I politely declined and asked the attendant to take a message. Apparently, this was asking too much. She told me my only option was to leave a voice message, but she was wrong. I created my own option by hanging up and dialing the next number on the list. I can’t imagine how much time I saved by going to Plan B instead of hoping for a call back. Why even bother to spend money on an answering service if they are only going to send callers to voicemail? The next firm I called had a receptionist who put me on hold—the old-fashioned silent hold that makes people wonder whether the call was dropped. Studies show that hold music—or any kind of recording at all—will keep people on the line much longer than the silent treatment. Then I got dumped to voicemail and hung up.

Nothing is more frustrating than deciding what you want and pulling out your wallet only to find that nobody cares enough to show up at the cash register and take your money. Do lawyers still think that people will chase them around like they did when Matlock got started? No, the client of today doesn’t have time to waste sitting around waiting for service providers to get their act together. That’s why I run my practice in a way that is totally different from the pack of wannabes who still don’t get it.

Our Staff is Knowledgeable and Dedicated

My staff knows that they are expected to be helpful and competent, which starts with answering the phone. We know that our clients aren’t calling to chitchat; they have a serious problem and want a solution—right now. My receptionist is more than just a glorified message-scribbler. She will answer your calls, and depending on your situation, will transfer your call to a paralegal who can answer your questions, educate you about the legal process, discuss your defense options, and detail the various costs you face. If you need to speak directly to me, you will be connected as soon as possible.

I understand that no system is perfect, so I check the quality of our customer service nearly every day by calling the office myself. I rarely get sent to voicemail, and when it happens I leave a message directing the staff to call me immediately to account for failing to pick up (my voicemail exception). In most cases, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation (sometimes all our phone lines are busy at the same time, probably because clients who got good customer service before keep calling back). I can’t promise you that my staff is perfect, because there is always room for improvement.       

But my promise to you is this: If you call my firm and receive anything less than the best customer service experience possible, you can contact me directly at [email protected], my primary e-mail address. While I certainly can’t fix the world and all of the many problems that confront us, I do not have to tolerate mediocrity here in my own little corner of the universe (and neither do you). If you want VIP treatment and refuse to submit to the frustrating ordeal that most firms impose on people, this is your chance to opt out of the rat race.

If your criminal record and your future are important to you, you must retain a lawyer who will protect them as soon as possible. Over half of the lawyers I called in Ohio to help my friend were too lazy to answer their phones or even hire someone to do it right. As George Ross (Trump’s right-hand man) once told a failing contestant on The Apprentice: “If you can’t even be trusted to take money, how can you be trusted to do anything else?” Call me right now at (804) 835-5127 to stop worrying and get the answers you need. You’ll be glad you did.

Charles V. Hardenbergh
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