There I was, last Wednesday, minding my own business, catching up on the latest instalment of the Wagather Christie court case, when my phone rang. That would mean only one of two things. Either it would be a client wanting to discuss why their case was taking so long, or a colleague asking me to call a client to discuss why their case was taking so long.
Only this time it wasn’t.
It was my colleague who explained that a client had complained that they’d submitted a question through our Enquiry Explorer on our portal but it hadn’t saved correctly. The client was understandably annoyed because this was an important part of our service.
Now, our portal is used every day by thousands of people, so if something was not working, we’d soon know about it. Right?
Or would we?
Technology is a beautiful thing
I spend a lot of time explaining that technology is the key to improving the house buying and selling process, which usually results in arguments between “the process is broken” brigade and the “we need more experienced lawyers” faction.
To be clear, when it comes to providing service, whether it’s delivering a pizza or completing a multi-million pound property deal, it is the interpretation and reporting of data whose provenance is proven that makes the difference.
The decisions we are taking in our lives are increasingly being made by technology which means there are risks. Rather like those drivers getting lost in the Cornish countryside because they chose the wrong “Oxford Street” on their satnav.
Vigilance is key
Technology is key but we cannot afford to be complacent.
How often do you hear people say “my system has decided to go slow” or “it’s misbehaving today” as if the machine is having an off-day. Machines never make mistakes by themselves but they do react to external changes. That slow running machine could be caused by an application not releasing memory due to a clash with another application that did not shut down properly because of incorrect handling of an error.
Which is exactly what happened with our Enquiry Explorer last week. Since going live in June last year, our clients have used it to raise thousands of enquiries, so clearly they love it. Our lawyers love it. Agents tracking case progress love it.
Given the seemingly endless amount of love flowing around our platform, we made the heinous mistake of not checking regularly that all of its functionality, including the ability for clients to raise their own enquiries, was actually working.
That’s why, when the client complained, we held off pushing the big red “Don’t Panic But There May Be A Bug In A Client-Facing Element Of The Portal” button ( note to development, we should shorten that ) as we needed to check if it was user error or there was an actual issue.
Obviously, we were convinced it was the client who’d made the mistake. They’d probably been using an old Nokia 3310 ( younger readers will need to Google that ) so we could chalk it up to user error and get back to the Rebekah and Colleen show.
Only it wasn’t.
It was our problem and it turned out we’d broken it a month ago.
Our lawyers had asked us for a “drag and drop” function to help make managing enquiries easier. We made the change and everyone was happy. However, we’d broken one of the golden rules of software; if you don’t test it for every eventuality then it will not work.
We had broken a part of the client portal and we didn’t know about it.
The good news was that it only took an hour to fix and all was well in the world once more.
So what’s the lesson here?
The ability for clients to raise their own enquiries is a vital part of our service and yet we had no idea we weren’t offering it because they worked around it by using our messaging system.
It’s easy to become complacent with the use of technology and assume it will always be there and work in the way we expect.
It’s not clear what the impact of Rebekah Vardy’s inadvertent dropping of her mobile phone into the North Sea which could have in the trial, but it’s worth remembering that we need to keep a beady eye on technology as it can sometimes come back to bite us.
Peter Ambrose is the owner and Managing Director of The Partnership – a boutique legal provider specialising in the delivery of transparent and ultra-efficient conveyancing services.