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5. Confessions of a cyber conveyancer

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In the light of recent scares about the use of technology, while others grab their pitchforks to protect their Sacred Paper, I knew that to offer more innovation, I had to take a punt. Enquiries

After all, I didn’t know if something was going to work unless I tried it.

I’d learned from the best – Microsoft’s first couple of versions of their products are never exactly barnstormers.  It normally takes the third attempt when it would actually work.  You really didn’t want to use versions 1 or 2 of Windows, Word, Excel, or Powerpoint.

We’d always stored as much data as we could as we knew it reduced the risks involved, especially in the tricky area of enquiry handling.  I like to call this “The Black Hole of Conveyancing” because no one actually has a clue about what’s going on here. Years later, we’d stored hundreds of thousands of these questions, which was a great idea but it only went part of the way. Our legal assistants were wasting hours rekeying answers our clients were giving us. Then, to make it worse, clients would call us up and ask us what we were doing for our money – after all, they were answering the questions the buyers were asking.

Which was sometimes a tricky conversation.

I figured we were spending way too much time on this; where we were acting for clients selling their properties, we always needed them to answer the enquiries. Why not just put them on our portal so our clients would be free to answer the questions themselves.

It sounded like a good idea but obviously, there was no science whatsoever to back this up.

We didn’t know whether our clients would embrace this way of working. What would happen if they just ignored these questions and told us to deal with them ourselves? We didn’t want to lose our personal touch, but we had a hunch that people might like the idea of doing stuff themselves.

We could have waited, run a bunch of tedious pilot tests with some “tech-savvy” clients, and gauged their reaction. The problem was, supposing the technology was fine for them, but not for other clients. We simply had nothing to go on.

Instead, we decided to put all the enquiries live on our portal and see what would happen. We didn’t know whether it would work, but we figured we’d wait and see if people liked it.  If they didn’t, we’d switch it off.

Really quickly.

It was quite a risk because a few thousand clients use our portal every day and if they found it difficult, they’d call us up and complain.  Which was the last thing we wanted because when you’re trying to improve your service, more phone calls are definitely a step in the wrong direction.

We made a video that showed clients how to use the feature and one morning our lawyers ticked the “Show Client” tick-box and waited.

Our clients thought it had been there all the time and simply replied to the enquiries and raised more themselves.

Which was a bit of a surprise.

We’d introduced a major process change for thousands of people, and no one batted the eyelid. Actually, I don’t know who was more surprised; us designers or our lawyers who found that we had eliminated so much of their administration at a stroke.

Which brings us to the point of the story.

One of my favourite pastimes is boring my colleagues with the expression; “it’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission” and this is particularly true with technology.  When it comes to rolling out a new process, sometimes you just have to try stuff and see if it works. If it doesn’t, make sure you can fix it quickly, or in the worst case scenario, have an easy way of undoing the change.

I genuinely believe that we must be prepared to fail quickly – after all, we can’t afford to worry so much that it stops us from trying things in the first place.

Peter Ambrose is the Managing Director of The Partnership, as published in