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One Decade Down: Clients

Part Five - Clients[1]

Wed Feb 24 16:59:15 2016


This is a bit of a story, a bit of a history, a bit of a documentary, and hopefully some entertainment and theatre about Shadowcat Systems.

We are ten years old and to celebrate that fact I want to write ten unique little pieces about Shadowcat that hold as a memory of our first ten years and a celebration of that decade down. All of these pieces are scheduled to be released throughout the whole of our 10th year

The Customer is always…?

We know how that popular cliché concludes and if we are honest it is impossible that someone is right all the time. Most people take this to mean that the customer should always be treated as if they are never wrong and therefore they are ‘in the right’.

There’s a lot of value on placing appropriate concern on a customer/client/partners statements. Treating them as valid, useful and helpful is the minimum that we should be doing. But being ‘right’ implies so much more.

right (rʌɪt/)

  • adjective
    • morally good, justified, or acceptable.
    • true or correct as a fact.
  • adverb
    • to the furthest or most complete extent or degree (used for emphasis).
    • correctly.
  • noun
    • that which is morally correct, just, or honourable.
    • a moral or legal entitlement to have or do something.
    • restore to a normal or upright position.
  • exclamation (informal)
    • used to indicate agreement or to acknowledge a statement or order.

When we say the customer is ‘right’ we are assuming ‘correct’ or ‘true’ we might even think that we are conveying the correct ‘moral entitlement’ but are we really?

One of the things that we have been lucky with in our wide association with many companies, and in several cases repeat or long term partnership, is the understanding of what is actually ‘right’. We use ‘right’ to indicate a fact, something that is correct, we rarely use it to state someone’s moral position or status.[3]

We are lucky that for the most part our clients don’t confuse us using facts, being ‘right’, with a disregard for their position or respect of them. We are lucky in that they don’t place emphasis on their ‘rightness’ just because they might be a paying member of the conversation.

It could be argued that this is a product of the type of people who we have the fortune to deal with, and there is a certain validity to that argument. When you deal with technically minded, or with people of a logic or scientific background, there is generally more division between what is ‘correct’ and what is a ‘respect’. You can respect an opinion while believing the opinion is wrong or invalid, and that doesn’t (or rather shouldn’t) reflect on the person expressing such an opinion.

When we deal with people with a less clinical mindset we have either been fortunate, or maybe they are shaped by leading good technical teams, as they have a similar understanding.[4] In some perverse manner the fact that we have worked with people who can see ‘right’ as correct and not as a positional authority makes it more ‘true’ or ‘positive’.

Our Clients[5]

We have worked with many people over the ten years we have been sailing the Shadowcat seas.[6] I honestly believe that each job or project has taught us something, we have gained some learning or understanding and in that way everyone we have worked with has enriched us in some way.

Without making a breach of my normal practices (see the note [5]) below I would like to thank all the people and companies we have worked with. Some of the people we continue to work with, many of them we have stood in the trenches with or beaten off those alligators together,[7] we have worked with for many years. It has been a great deal of fun and proverbially ‘interesting times’, I hope it will long continue in the same vein.

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[1] So the first crises of this post arrives in the sub-title. I kind of hate the way the word ‘clients’ is often portrayed or associated. I was told by a good friend who works in the Social Services sector that there are very few people who use ‘clients’ in their experience: ‘Social workers, beauty services industry, prostitutes...[2] are the people who use that word a lot Mark’. So what do I call them? Customers, really sounds like I am running a shop. Partners, well for many of them that’s how the relationship grows and where we end up at, but to start it isn’t the case and for some we only supply a short, limited, service. And I will be honest, client to me is more about a professional service, which implies you are at least practiced and proficient at your services.

The whole point of clients is that it is a service industry word. The association with, what some would perceive as service sector or social services is commonplace but maybe shouldn’t be given any weight. There’s a whole argument about legitimising a negative understanding of a word by only associating it with something you perceive as problematical.

I like this definition: “a person or organization using the services of a lawyer or other professional person or company”, which is the first one you will likely see if you search for the word.

[2] Literally their words not mine.

[3] I wish it were true that every conversation or person I have worked with, or known, in ten years has been the same, but that would be untrue. However I have rarely met people who I didn’t find merit in their stance, and I have been fortunate in being respected for our position.

[4] This isn’t to imply that we don’t behave respectfully of position or history, just that we try to reduce bias based on socio-cultural constructs.

[5] I do have an issue though. I don’t normally talk about our clients. I know it is common to put logos and links to clients on your web site. I know some people consider it essential. We have been asked for references from new clients, or lists of people we worked with over our history.

However we often work with sensitive systems, material and very professional people. Using that as a way of self-promotion, valuation or validity had always felt a little off. It is just a feeling. I am not trying to claim any moral superiority for not doing it, in fact I am likely to be wrong for not doing it. I should perhaps re-write copy and put those links and lists up. But in this post I am not naming names there is no need. What are your thoughts?

[6] Well we work in what we call a ‘castle’ we might as well claim a sea somewhere as well.

[7] Read Matt S. Trout’s excellent piece: The Wild Bill Protocol