One of the things I love about working in a small office that is totally open – as in, all eight of us are sitting together all day in one open space – is that everyone gets to be a part of the conversation if they want. It also means that everyone gets to share the moment with you when someone says something on a conference call that is so utterly stupid, so jaw-droppingly dumb, so totally unbelievable that all you can do is just look around the room at each other in silence.
Being on conference calls in our office is like being a contestant on Silent Library. You’ve got a whole call to make it through without making a sound, or at least an inappropriate sound. My skills are constantly challenged with this, but a call we had yesterday upped the ante.
We were on a call with a client that included four members of their staff, another vendor we work with regularly that had two or three people on the call, our team (which was only three of the eight of us but, as I’ve mentioned, everyone gets to play along), and a third vendor who is relatively new to the project. This third vendor was represented by someone I”ll call Nancy. Nancy is a recent addition to the team because our client had earlier this week requested a new account rep. The previous account rep had appeared to be very confused about the project overall, as well as technology-challenged. This is not a good trait for someone working on a web project. Here’s an example: At one point on a conference call last week, this woman said out loud that she couldn’t figure out how to distribute a link to a web page to everyone who was on the call. That conversation went something like this:
Client: Phyllis, do you think you could show us the page you’re talking about?
Phyllis: Ummm….hmmm….I just…I don’t know how I could get this link to everyone…
Client (incredulous): What?
Everyone else on the call: How about you email it?
So we’ve got a new rep, and we’re hoping for more information and some actual knowledge of what the project requires and how to make it happen. As a team, we need to make changes to a web site that’s already live. We need to know what we can and cannot do with their forms, and what they can and cannot do with our design. Nancy seems to understand all this. But I’ll tell you one thing she doesn’t understand: What NOT to say on a conference call with your client and multiple vendors.
Here’s how the call went with Nancy:
Client: So Nancy, what we need to know is can you match Upside’s design or do we need to provide the pages to you, and can we redesign the way the forms look?
Nancy: Well our contract for hours has expired, so I’ll have to ask permission to do that. I’ll have to get permission to look at you as an ‘at-risk’ client and assess what you need. We’ll need some hours in order to do that.
At this we instantly hit the mute button and stared at each other with gaping jaws. No one said a word because we inherently distrust the mute button.
Client: Okay. Do you think 40 hours would be enough?
Nancy: Oh. Well. I think so. I think that would be more than adequate. But I’ll have to call you back to talk about this more because this meeting wasn’t on my calendar and I have another commitment at 10:30.
It was, oh… 10:15.
Client: Okay. Well, let’s go ahead with 40 hours and then you can just let us know when you are available to talk some more.
By this time, everyone in my office had stopped to listen, heads shaking in amazement that someone would go on about “expired contracts” and “at-risk” client status A) in front of other vendors, B) without any actual discussion of what might need to be done on the project, and C) on a conference call the first time they are brought in to handle this account.
I admired our client’s diplomacy. I know her well enough to know that she wasn’t thrilled with what she was hearing, but she also knows that sometimes you have to muck your way through before you can really move forward. Listening to her reminded me to resist having a knee-jerk reaction; to “keep calm and carry on.” Listening to the other vendor reminded me what sets our business apart and what – I hope – our clients like about working with us.
Our company’s approach to doing business is this: If we quote you a price, that’s the price. It’s our job to get it right. Let’s talk about the project before we talk about the money. And for god’s sake, if you need to make a change to the budget, make a personal phone call or send a private email. Don’t air your business on a conference call in front of other vendors whom you don’t even know.
And I’ll tell you another thing about our company: This group would be damn good at Silent Library.