A day in London leaves me with a pile of e-mails and a heap of tweets – all signs of a lively market, and to be welcomed despite the time it will take to catch up. Add a crusading podcast, a decent lunch, and an interesting meeting and it all adds up to a useful day. But, as an aside, why do some businesses go out of their way to alienate their customers?
I blame Twitter myself. I used to be able to go out for a day and keep up, more or less, with the e-mails as they came in, so that I had only to file them on getting home. These days, that stream is supplemented by a near-constant flow of tweets, a high proportion of which carry links to interesting articles. Again, I can usually keep up with that flow as it comes by. The problem today was that my three meetings had gaps between them only just long enough to walk from one to the other. An alarmingly high number of urban road accidents are apparently caused by people dealing with their e-mails and tweets whilst walking and, interesting and important as it all was, I was not prepared to be run over in the cause. The journey home from London to Oxford appeared to take about five minutes, so I presumably slept through it and was very lucky not to end up in Hereford.
The result, now I am home – on my left a screen full of interesting tweets; on my right an Inbox full of e-mails. I am not complaining, you understand; there are plenty of businesses at the moment which warrant no tweet-flow and generate no e-mail traffic. Besides, today’s stream has included, in no particular order, the following: positive reactions to suggestions which I have floated about e-Disclosure road-shows; progress on a proposed supplement in The Times on legal efficiency; a message with “massive congratulations on the ease and value” of my blog; a link to a white paper which looked familiar before I realised that I co-wrote it with 7Safe; interest in sponsoring the Project from a big player in search; a further step forward on the Women in eDiscovery initiative which we are running; a product release by one of my sponsors; an article from Australia headed “e-Discovery and Enhanced Judicial Involvement Come of Age” which is extremely timely; a US article which uses a post of mine as the starting point for reflections on EU privacy; and some re-tweets of an article I published before I set off this morning. That is a lot to follow up, but it is all good stuff. It will have to wait until tomorrow.
The first event of the day was my podcast recording with CPDCast on the disclosure aspects of the Jackson Report on Litigation Costs. A couple of weeks ago, that would have been a bland recital of Lord Justice Jackson’s commentary and recommendations. That is all in there, of course, but I used the opportunity to promote the crusade which I have been pushing in these pages – don’t wait for the Rule Committee’s sub-committee to retrieve our Practice Direction and Questionnaire from the long grass into which they have kicked it, just get on with it. The aim, if that it is not clear already, is to get lawyers to make use of the existing rules and, specifically, the provision in Rule 3(1)(m) CPR which allows a judge to “take any other step or make any other order for the purpose of managing the case and furthering the overriding objective”, with its corollary that you can therefore ask for any order. You will let me know, won’t you, if you come across judges who find this freedom a little over-exciting? I think you will come across many who will rise to the challenge, encouraged by the (very polite, of course) kick up the backside which Sir Rupert Jackson delivered to case managing judges who are not managing cases.
The recording will, I hope, have a short shelf-life, meaning that I hope that the Rule Committee’s sub-committee pulls its finger out and gets this aspect of the Jackson Report back on track. I have promised CPDCast that I will re-record it as and when that happens.
I went straight from there to have lunch with Stratify, who opened in London in November and are beavering away in Iron Mountain’s impressively secure premises on the south bank of the Thames. This was my first opportunity to go and see them, and is part of a planned series of contacts with those who sponsor the e-Disclosure Information Project to bind them in as allies in the mission to communicate the power of the combination of rules and technology. Sir Rupert Jackson referred expressly to the role which providers can play in this educative role, and it is my job to harness that proselyting power. I will come back to Stratify in a later post.
Another brisk walk took me to my third meeting, which has the potential to bring in another ally with a wide reach. More on that in due course, perhaps, if things develop along the lines discussed at the meeting.
Then home, thankfully not via Hereford, and straight into a rather different example of a solicitor (a retired one in this case) getting to grips with new technology. My 84-year-old father has just acquired his first computer. For those of you unfamiliar with Skype, its contacts list shows when your contacts come online and, as soon as I turned my laptop on, in came a video call from my old man. At my suggestion, he is starting by getting to grips with Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and is slightly aggrieved to discover that he must read most of Alice in Wonderland to it as part of its training. It was taking so long, he said, that he had to keep stopping to have a smoke. My own view is that if he is going to smoke whilst using it then he ought to do so whilst training it. I do not throw this in as mere anecdote, by the way – all those solicitors (and judges) out there who hope to have retired before e-Disclosure becomes the norm might take note of this determination to take advantage of innovation.
The day did, however, bring a couple of anecdotes relating to the way businesses present themselves to their customers, which I pass on because they show how easy it is to destroy such customer relations as you may have.
I was uncharacteristically early for the 9.01 train this morning, and spent some time peering at the ticket machine trying to find the cheap rate Travelcard, which includes the London underground and which can only be used after 9.00am. I spent so long looking for it that two passers-by kindly offered to help me – I suppose the grey hair, the need to stoop to read the damn screen, and the fact that I was peering over my glasses for so long, led them to the conclusion that I was on a day out from the Home for the Bewildered, or was perhaps one of the many foreign but unworldly academics common in Oxford. In fact, as I discovered when I had given up and gone instead to the nice lady behind the counter, that ticket does not become available from the machines until 8.55, that is, only six minutes before the train departs. Railway companies in Britain combine the business morals of mobile phone operators or broadband suppliers with the competence and business acumen of, say, middle managers at the county council. The complexity of the tariff is designed to allow them to boast of the availability of low fares whilst in fact ensuring that you can only find them if you know they are there. By concealing the cheap tariff until just before the train leaves, they hope to trick customers into paying the full commuter rate. The least one might have hoped for from a quasi-socialist government is a war on crooks in suits.
The other example came in the form of a phone call this evening. The caller appeared to be from one of my utilities providers and, I would guess, implies that their bill is in the large pile of paper under my desk. I say “implies” because we never got to the point of the call. The caller wanted me to identify myself. I declined, as I always do, on the basis that if she telephones my number, for her reasons, I have no obligation to identify myself. We argued about this for some time in our respective languages, and I only got rid of her by asking if there was somebody else in her office who spoke English (I once did this to a very Scottish Scot, who was justifiably outraged, but who might as well have been talking Sanscrit for all the sense he made to my southern ear). Why do they do it? What is the point in employing telephone callers who cannot speak the language of those whom they call?
I take calls like this from time to time from the bank where my children have their student loans. It is one of those wretched organisations which perpetually tries to cross-sell other services to its customers. They will not tell me what the call is about, and ask when my son will be home. I solemnly say that I cannot tell them that for data protection reasons, and it throws them completely – they understand the concept, but are not used to having it used against them. It is, of course, quite right that they do not tell me why they are calling. The point of the unhelpful reaction, which might one day get through to them, is that they know very well that the customer is at university in term-time, because the whole relationship exists around the student loan. It is not the fault of the oik who makes the call, but you would think that those responsible for managing the customer relations database would work this out for themselves. I wonder what the weekly cost is in staff and telephone costs of making nuisance calls to the home numbers of a customer base which, automatically and inevitably, will not be at home.