Posted by Helen Hamilton-Shaw, director of services at Legal Futures Associate LawNet 
Some colleagues and I flew to Scotland last month to visit our members north of the border. Whilst we were sitting in the departure lounge, waiting for our delayed flight, we were approached by someone conducting a survey for the Civil Aviation Authority. Being an amenable bunch, focused on helping organisations improve customer service, we happily took part.
We were asked a series of questions about who we were, where we were flying, why, how we’d booked our tickets and so on.
Most of our answers were very positive. Finding and booking the flights had been easy. Our travel to the airport had been stress-free. Online check in meant we had no long queues to contend with and we’d gone straight through security with no real delays.
We’d had pleasant coffee and breakfast in a clean, modern environment. There were plenty of shopping opportunities, should we have wished to buy duty free at 7.30 in the morning (which we didn’t, by the way).
So why then, when asked to rate our overall experience on a scale of 1-10, did we only score it a 4?
There was one simple reason – lack of communication.
When we’d got through security and found the departures board, we saw that our flight was showing as delayed by 10 minutes. We bought our coffees and sat down to wait. After 10 minutes that had moved to 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, 50 minutes. I’m sure you get the picture.
After 50 minutes the board changed to say ‘head to gate’. When we got there, a different board showed that we were still delayed a further 10 minutes.
With no explanation or communication from the airline, you are left relying on the departures board to find out what’s going on (or not). When that information regularly changes for the worse, you quickly learn that you can’t actually rely on that information channel. As a result you are left not really knowing what’s going on, powerless and frustrated.
When we finally took off, an hour and 15 minutes late, not one member of staff had communicated with passengers about the delay to either explain or provide amended times. Hence our 4/10 score. We were frustrated and irritated.
Lack of communication can ruin an otherwise positive experience. This is not only true for an airline, but in the delivery of all services.
For law firms this experience highlights the importance of open, honest communication with clients, with regular updates about timescales, any potential delays and the reasons for those.
I have no idea why our plane was delayed but just imagine how differently we would have felt if the airline had sent someone out to talk to in person to us, the waiting passengers. They could have explained the situation – say, that the plane was going to be delayed due to the poor visibility caused by snowy conditions in Glasgow; or that there was a technical difficulty with the plane that needed resolving before we took off.
Our reaction would have been very different. But without that information we were just left feeling irritated and unable to plan our day. Once we’d realised we couldn’t rely on the information on the departures board, we had no way of knowing if we’d be there for another 10 minutes or two hours.
Developing best practice communication skills should be at the core of every firm’s client care planning and training for fee-earners.
Good communication leads to better client relationships where both sides feel informed, valued and positive. A client who has had a positive experience with your firm is more likely to come back if they need help again or to recommend you to others; so it makes sense from a business development perspective to ensure the whole firm is focused on communicating effectively.
That’s why we included communication at the heart of our recently launched Mark of Excellence , which is focused on helping our members grow their businesses. Good client service should be about business development too.
Poor or missing communication is one of the major causes of complaints about solicitors, so getting this right can have risk management benefits too.
It’s essential to keep lines of communication open and update your clients regularly to avoid them being left frustrated and in the dark like we were in the departures lounge.