Time to free the phones

How are you being served?

Why do lawyers and hotels insist on charging over the odds for telephone calls? Stuart Crainer blows the whistle.

The legal profession has declared itself immune to the customer service revolution. It is above such trifles - or so it seems to think. Take my experiences.

I wanted some legal advice, so called a local solicitors. The receptionist sat patiently by the telephone and let it ring. Some companies insist that a phone is answered within three rings; legal firms tend to take a more relaxed approach. Eventually, the receptionist barked the firm's name at me. I explained my situation. With her hand inexpertly cupped over the receiver, she conferred with a colleague: "He says he wants to talk to a solicitor ... Now, it's not wills or conveyancing, so who would that be?" A few minutes were spent in earnest discussion of who was the most appropriate partner. I was then put through to the wrong one - "I don't why you've been put through to me" - but eventually found a friendly solicitor.

Once again, I ran through the details quickly and asked whether we could arrange a meeting. The solicitor was positive, and we set up an appointment. I then asked what his rates were. "We charge pounds 100 per hour," he said. I was briefly silent, regretting my career choice. The solicitor took this for doubt - which it was - and added, "Of course, I won't charge you for this phone call."

Staggering, really. If you are a plumber you should try it next time a prospective customer calls. "My charge for mending your cistern is pounds 50, but I won't charge you for the two minutes we've spent on the phone."

In many ways, the white-hot heat of technology has bypassed the legal profession. Solicitors tend not to have answering machines - or else they employ receptionists who are such megalomaniacs that they do not deign to switch them on when they disappear at exactly one o'clock for lunch.

Solicitors also manage to have the most expensive phone lines in the world. Simple local calls appear on their invoices as calls which have apparently been diverted to Australia by way of a reverse charge conference call to Caracas. The normal postal system is also eschewed by legal firms. Instead, they use their own system which, as you would expect, costs a lot more. While you and I pay 26 pence for a first-class stamp, solicitors pay at least pounds 5 - and the letter always takes a lot longer to get there. And you can rest assured that the more important the document, the slower it will be.

Hotels have a similar approach to telephone calls. Their extraordinary mark-ups must mean immense profits. But what are we paying for? It is an additional service, the hotels would say by way of justification. This is ludicrous. In 1998, having a telephone in your room is hardly a luxury. The annoyance - let alone the outrage - such charges cause customers cannot be worth it.

In the long term it must be preferable, both for hotels and for solicitors, to increase charges by a few per cent and make calls free. Who knows, it might even provide a competitive advantage.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick