Raccoons and Windscreens

There has been much written – and rightly so – about how ‘suppliers’, or agencies, should treat their clients. Some is serious, some is tongue in cheek, but all have an important message about how to be successful in business, when your business is delivering something to another business.

This success becomes harder when what you’re delivering is intangible. You can’t, for example, rock up with a ten ton weight of websites, neatly boxed up with a delivery note and appended invoice. It’s even harder when the client doesn’t understand what they’ve asked you to deliver. There may be grand, aspirational references to using an open source CMS in their requirements document (if you’re lucky enough to get one) but ask for a definition of ‘open source’, or indeed what CMS actually stands for, and the chances are a blank look of panic will flit across their face, followed by some coughing, spluttering and defensive mumbling about ‘IT’.

That’s fine though – you don’t want to know the ins and outs of how to rescue raccoons from near extinction in urban environments, nor the finer details of how to design a multi-storey car park. And by the same token, your clients don’t need to know precisely how a CMS is built, the minutiae of setting up a disaster recovery plan on AWS, or the exact combination of caffeine, nicotine and sugar that gets your most talented developers out of bed in the morning.

Free Raccoon

© CST 13

What they do need to do, however, is respect the fact that *you* know how to do all of these things, let you get on and do it, and show you some respect while you’re getting on and doing it. I never cease to be amazed by clients who go and search for a ‘specialist agency’ – presumably because they have a specialism and expertise to offer – and then promptly spend the entire project overruling and second-guessing the decisions made by those specialists.

Think about it this way: I don’t take my car in for an MOT and then tell the mechanic what he does and doesn’t need to do to fix it. Or, worse, randomly take things off the list of things that need fixing to bring it within my budget; invariably these are the big things too, because they’re the most expensive. By the end of the exercise my car may no longer have an engine, but boy-oh-boy is the windscreen clean and shiny. (That’s the bit my boss is going to see, so of course it has to look the best…)

Absolutely, there is truth in the epithet that the customer is always right. They’re paying the bills and they can choose what to spend their money on. I very strongly believe though that a good working relationship, where the engine -vs- a clean windscreen conversation can happen in a frank, open and honest environment, is just as much fostered by the client as by the agency. It’s about having a mutual respect and understanding for each other’s position and expertise, being prepared to listen to those positions, and deciding together what is the best option for meeting the client’s objectives.

If the client expects to be able to shout ‘JUMP!’ and demands an immediate response of ‘How high, guv’nor?’ from their suppliers, then the end result be will a breakfast of half-thought through ideas that doesn’t meet any of the original objectives (if, indeed, any objectives were set in the first place).

In fact, in the next financial year, shiny new budget grasped tightly in their clenched paw, I can guarantee you that the client will be sending out ITTs all over the place… Yep, you guessed it – with the key aim of fixing everything not done ‘properly’ by the original agency the first time around.

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Spin, Lies*, and Voicemail Messages

Nearly  a week ago, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones wrote an article about Spinvox, a UK firm that turns voicemail messages into text.  The central tenet of the article was that the service uses humans to convert messages a lot more than it leads people to believe, which leads to a number of questions about the security and privacy of messages transcribed by Spinvox. Within his article, Rory was able to cite responses to the points made from Spinvox, made ‘in a statement’.

So far, so normal. And, perhaps, only of niche interest to people who work within technology or who use the service.

© Serolynne

© Serolynne

However, my eye was caught this morning by a tweet from @Ruskin147 (Rory Cellan-Jones), saying ‘New blog post – Spinvox, we stand by our story’. Hmm, I thought. This might be interesting, and I’m a bit bored. My fingers crept towards the link, and lo, I was reading Rory’s follow-up article on the same story.

James Whatley – who ‘runs social media’ at Spinvox – posted a lengthy and on the face of it comprehensive rebuttal of the original claims made by the BBC. All still as you would expect. Or is it?

The original article by Rory Cellan-Jones was written by a professional technical and investigative journalist, and posted on the main BBC News site. Not hidden away within an obscure techy blog somewhere, right there – on the site of one of the most trusted news outlets in the world. Spinvox’s *only* response is that on James Whatley’s blog. The original ‘statement’ referred to in the original article is nowhere to be found on their site, nor is a statement from anyone more senior than their resident blogger.

Now this is what intrigues me. Regardless of the validity or otherwise of the claims within both of Rory Cellan-Jones’ articles, Spinvox ignores the reach and credibility of the BBC at their peril. Blogging absolutely has its place in the world, and can be an incredibly powerful tool in communications, awareness raising and campaigning, for individuals, not-for-profits and commercial entities alike. And used in the right way, with the right tone of voice and depth of content, can be just as valuable as a traditional PR press release.

However, I don’t think Spinvox has achieved either the right tone or depth of reply. The tone of their response is, at best, flippant. It doesn’t read like – and I’m not sure that it is – a serious and considered reply to important and concerning allegations levelled at them. (As long as they have ‘kick-ass data security standards’, then that’s alright then. Why should I worry?! And aw shucks, you’re right ‘legal stuff never is easy’, so that’s OK, don’t worry about trying to explain it to simple ol’ me.)

Add this to the fact that none of this ‘maelstrom’ has even made it into their News section, and one might be drawn to the conclusion that there is either something to hide, or they just don’t care enough to provide a formal, attributed comment to the accusations made. (Incidentally, nothing has made it into the Spinvox news pages since October 2008, so perhaps only the end of the world or a similar sized event is thought worthy?)

I’m not going to comment on the rights and wrongs of the actual charges levelled, I don’t use Spinvox and I’m not a massive technology geek. However, the quality and type of Spinvox’s response has made me unlikely to ever want to use their service in future.

Sometimes, you do have to ‘go all corporate’ and wheel out the big guns. It’s called picking your battles, and if Spinvox aren’t careful they could very soon find themselves licking their mortal, BBC-shaped wounds and wondering where it all went wrong.

* I don’t know who, if anyone, is actually lying. It just made a nice title. Please don’t sue.