As a customer or client, does it matter if you like the companies you work with? If they get the job done and the price is right, do you care very much if you like the people? Looked at from the point of view of that company, do you care if your customers like your business and its people as long as they send the work along and pay the bills? It is not much of a spoiler to say that I think it does matter.
The subject comes up because of a profile in Modern Counsel about NightOwl Global and its CEO Andrea Wallack. Called NightOwl Global Is Dedicated to Discovery, it describes NightOwl’s business and the principles which drive its approach to getting the work done for clients.
Much of that is common to any successful provider of eDiscovery services – skills in industry-leading platforms, the ability to develop proprietary software to improve workflows, a clear business offering which solves real problems, and a global presence, are all required components for success as an eDiscovery provider. You need more than that, however, in an industry where clients are particularly demanding (a GC facing a powerful regulator, for example, is always a demanding client), and where consolidation has lined up some very big players as competitors. You have to be more than just good at the job to be thriving after 30 years in discovery.
My own connection with NightOwl (as with most players in eDiscovery) is with the people NightOwl invites me to interview. One of the reasons why I started doing these interviews was to draw attention to people as individual players as well as to their companies. It is quite hard to differentiate between companies when the services, the tools and the price lists have so much in common. What does make a difference between them is the people, and I like to talk to the people who do the work and connect with the clients.
Most of these interviews have been on technical subjects – I can chart the development of analytics in eDiscovery, for example, through my interviews over the years with Kelly Atherton, NightOwl’s Director of Analytics and Managed Review, who is always focused on the client benefits rather than just the technology. The most recent one is here. The best explanation I have recorded about the importance of language skills in cross-border discovery came from NightOwl’s Susanna Blancke in this interview from last year – NightOwl Global has office or data centres in London, Dublin, Dusseldorf, Munich and Hong Kong, as well as in various US locations, and cross-border issues makes up a significant part of its work.
I pick up something else from these interviews, though. People like to work at NightOwl. They value the attention to diversity and the make-up of teams within the company. Attention is paid to what clients want – not “how do we sell more”, but finding out what makes the experience a positive one for the individuals at the clients who share the ups and downs of a discovery project. Andrea Wallack puts it like this in the Modern Counsel interview:
“If you want to take a Christmas holiday or go to your child’s recital, you need to have confidence that these high-stakes matters are in the hands of competent people. “You need to know that their team is an extension of yours and going to be on top of essential details any time that you’re away from your desk. And that’s the kind of peace of mind that we strive to provide for our clients.”
All this helps makes up the “proper company ethos” to which Andrea Wallack refers. It also goes towards creating an attraction for clients which is almost subliminal – not the stuff of marketing materials, or bullet-points on a website, but a feeling that these are decent people to work with.
That brings me back to my opening question – compared with technical ability and sensible pricing, does it matter if you like the people you work with? I think it does, and that “likability” is an underrated component of marketing. Perhaps I would say that – I earn my living helping people come across as agreeable as well as competent – but NightOwl makes that look natural, and it shows in Andrea Wallack’s interview.