What’s Worse: Renting a Car or Hiring a Lawyer?

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I hate renting cars. The rates aren’t always what I was told, they pressure me to buy insurance, they add unexpected fees for tolls, they want me to rent a GPS, and I have to sign a lengthy contract in eleven places. After all that, they run a huge deposit on my credit card and then I get to worry about what will happen if I scrape the car on a dumpster while trying to park behind a restaurant.

It’s a nightmare.

I can’t help but think it’s much like the way clients feel when they decide to hire a lawyer. They jump through hoops to get an appointment which sometimes doesn’t happen for a week or more. They tell their story only to be confronted by a long-winded explanation of the process, the work that needs to be done, the stages and phases of the case, and then they get hit with a multi-page fee agreement written in legalese, which they don’t really understand.

They just want to feel understood and heard. They simply want to trust you enough to know you’ll help. They want to believe that you’ll hold their hand and walk them to a place of safety.

Because I don’t trust the rental car representatives, the whole process is much harder. I’ve heard so many horror stories and complaints about car agencies that I’m feeling suspicious before I even walk in the door. I suspect many of your prospective clients feel the same way about you. A percentage of them go elsewhere, or simply decide not to hire a lawyer, because they don’t have the necessary trust to proceed.

I haven’t owned a car in years. I rent cars frequently. Oftentimes my rentals are booked through Hertz, Avis, National, or Enterprise. Usually, I’m renting in an international location.

They say it’ll be easy–that only makes it worse

These international agencies claim it’ll be easy. They raise your expectations by making all sorts of promises if you join their rewards programs and give them your rental loyalty. You’ll whip out your membership card and zip through the line. Allegedly you’ll be out the door in seconds and on your way.

That might be true at some locations, but my experience has been the opposite. Even when I was in the “President’s Circle” of one of these companies, I bumped into obstacles. “Oh, it’s a two-day rental and the car you ‘instantly’ picked has a license plate expiring tomorrow. Please back up and pick a different car.” So much for quick and easy.

My expectations go up when they make these empty promises of ease and convenience. Then my hopes are dashed when I bump into the reality of the process. I spent an hour waiting in the Avis line in Dublin, even though I had the Avis “Preferred Plus” membership. If my hour-long wait was the promised “expedited service,” I feel for those who didn’t have my special privilege.

The little guy has big advantages

Sometimes I book through small, single-location independents. In fact, lately, I’ve been doing it as often as possible.

Why? Because the service is better. The explanation of the contract is quick and easy (sometimes even over a language barrier), the insurance pressure is non-existent, the cars are typically in excellent shape, and the customer service in the form of local advice and information is more personal.

These small agencies, sometimes owned and operated by just one or two people, aren’t part of a big bureaucracy. They aren’t renting at high volume. They don’t have a big marketing budget. Customer service is pretty much their only competitive advantage.

The independents do special things we don’t normally expect.

During my last week-long rental I received several texts from the guy who had delivered the car. Did I mention that he delivered the car to me instead of making me come to the office and wait in line? The texts were just friendly messages, checking in to be sure everything was going well. These little extras can make a big difference. At the end of the week, the rental guy met us at the airport outside the departures terminal. We pulled up and hopped out, he helped us lift our bags from the back, and he jumped in and drove off. Wow!

You can do it better

The smaller rental companies have a big advantage. The people making the decisions about how to run the business are also on the front lines of the business. They know the customers, they know what works and what doesn’t, they know what matters to the people keeping the business afloat financially. They get it.

Instead of copying the rental car agency down the street, or imitating the Hertz, Avis, or Enterprise model, they’re finding their own pathways to success by paying attention to their customers. They have the insight and flexibility to adapt their system to the needs of the people who are pulling out credit cards to rent the cars.

Many of us get caught up in what the big firms or the lawyers down the hall are doing. In fact, asking the lawyer down the hall is often our first thought when we have a question about how things ought to be done. Unfortunately, the lawyer down the hall probably asked the lawyer further down the hall, or is also imitating the big firms.

You have a better place to ask these questions. You can get better answers than what you’ll get from the lawyer down the hall.

Need help? Ask the person who matters

Your clients and prospective clients know what works. They know what feels good, what inspires them to tell their colleagues about you, and what convinced them to hire you in the first place.

Your clients are a wealth of information, if you’ll just ask. They’re anxious to tell you what they think. Unfortunately, most of us never ask and when we do, it’s after the case is over and we’re seeking a review on Google.

Your clients know what draws their attention to your firm. They know what it’s like to navigate your phone or email system. They know what’s comforting, and what’s off-putting.

Your clients know how much information they need from you in order to trust you. They know how often they need to be updated. They know what you did, or said, or didn’t do, that impacts the likelihood that they’ll send their friends and family to you for help.

Your clients know more about what it’s like to be your client than you do, because you’ve never been your client.

You have the advantage of being close to the client. You can get the input you need to deliver an exceptional client experience. You can quickly and easily fix things, change things, and optimize client interactions. Instead of asking the lawyer down the hall, ask the client. Build trust, create a better outcome for the client, generate more referrals, and you’ll end up with clients who enjoy the experience of dealing with you, rather than dreading it.

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