Communicating clearly with clients is key to building trust. Many disputes that arise between firms and clients result from miscommunication rather than misconduct or negligence.
Different clients have different needs. Some may require additional time set aside so that you can thoroughly explain how you will proceed. It is a good idea to have an initial conversation with your client to help you establish whether they may require additional support. Taking the time to build trust with your client and clarify their understanding reduces the risk of disputes and ensures a better standard of service.
Always take care to communicate clearly and in plain language that is free from jargon. Tailor the message according to your audience. For instance, you may need to explain things more simply to a consumer client than you would to a commercial client. RICS produces consumer guides for some common areas of residential work and residential legal issues that might help to explain processes and procedures to your clients.
Your clients may have a preferred method of communication. It may be beneficial for you to adapt your approach to meet this preference; for instance, some clients may prefer a phone call to an email.
As regulated firms move towards digital forms of communication and away from paper-based letters, they may wish to explore alternative ways of communicating with clients. Remember to consider the legal terms of business of any social media or messaging apps: they may not allow business use. Also consider the security of any information you send and compliance with data-protection legislation.
Regardless of how you communicate, make sure to:
With new forms of communication, working hours can become blurred. To manage their expectations, it is a good idea to indicate to clients when they can expect you to pick up and respond to communications.
When the language you and your firm operate in is not the native language of the client, consider whether you need to translate materials and communications. You should consider the benefits of translation and balance these against the associated risks. Translation can be costly, and there is a risk that you cannot verify the accuracy and quality of the translated materials. For this reason, you may opt to keep communication in one language, but ensure that it is written simply and clearly so that it can be translated by your client if necessary.
Think about cultural differences in communication; for example, some cultures are more direct in communication than others. Different communication styles can be read as rudeness or a lack of clarity.
Neurodiversity can also affect how people communicate. Try to understand and adapt to clients whose communication style is different from yours, both in how you communicate and respond.
It is always good practice to communicate changes and manage your clients’ expectations.
The nature of written work delivered to the client will be dictated by the nature of the assignment. The size and scale of what you deliver should not exceed the needs of the client and the purpose of the work. Being clear with the client from the beginning about what you will deliver helps to avoid misunderstandings later. The written work should demonstrate fulfilment of the client’s requirements as agreed in the terms of engagement.
Written work should be in simple language and in terms that the client can understand. Unavoidable jargon should be explained.
Kate Charrington MRICS is a director of Projekt 3, an RICS-regulated firm that supports surveyors to deliver high standards in their working practices. She gave three examples of how a survey she reviewed provided great service to the client.
‘A survey should achieve real clarity. All pictures should clearly convey aspects written within the text. They were annotated clearly, and the captions further illustrated what the image was there to show. In other words, the pictures supplemented the survey, rather than acted as an “add-on” or replacement to the text.
Surveys and/or valuations can sometimes be difficult to decipher. For example, sometimes you can be left with questions such as “which wall do you mean?”, “which damp section are you referring to?” and “which window is broken?”.
This survey managed to clearly articulate the location of elements and their related defects. The surveyor was specific and logical in what they wrote: it was clear to the reader where they would find the problem, and the reader didn’t have to make guesses based on inadequate identification.
The survey used accessible language; where needed, they explained terms plainly and, if appropriate, used images to convey information.
Ultimately, you didn't have to be a surveyor, engineer or a member of another profession within the built environment to understand the product and service you had paid for.’
‘This surveyor clearly understood the level of survey they were providing and what that meant in terms of the service they needed to deliver.
Re-reading terms and conditions is a really good way to remind yourself of the expectations a client purchasing a survey has. A number of the surveys I read either go beyond the level of service required or, on occasion, fall short.
This surveyor used formatting clearly to align themselves to the parameters of the survey and it made for a great reading experience – it provided the client with everything they needed to know (and had paid for).’
‘Surveys are not just assessments of buildings: they are a way of painting a picture of a property in the mind of a client – they provide context. That's why “pre-flight checks” are so important. While a survey identifies defects, it also considers a property in the context of its surroundings. This is where local knowledge, expertise and understanding of the “big picture” really play their part. Whether you are talking about mundic, bungaroosh, landfill sites, flood zones or radon etc., you have to effectively convey information that is useful to the reader and support them to make the right decision for their needs.
The survey was a joy to read, not just because it did “what it said it would” or because it provided clarity on the property: the survey took account of the environment in which the property was located and conveyed to the reader what this might mean for them. It didn't make judgements on perception of an issue but, rather gave factual insights.
Additionally, context throughout a survey doesn't just mean being clear on a location of a defect – as stated, it is about the bigger picture. Therefore, where cross-referencing would benefit, do it. It doesn't take much but can make all the difference to a reader who wants to refer back to issues that are connected (which they so often are). This survey did just that and it worked wonders.’