A few years ago, I was working with the team at Spidertracks. We had tools for everything. The tech world these days is prolific and if anything is true it’s that there is a tool to do everything. Get you out of bed, remind you about your mother’s birthday, help you shift money around, manage your tasks, document something, message someone on the other side of the world, spam hundreds of unsuspecting individuals with emails from the safety of your desk.
At the time, the Spidertracks team was a great believer in having the right tools for the job, as am I. If you want to screw something best you have a screwdriver. And screwdrivers we had. Lots of them. Phillips head, flat head, torx, pozidrive, square drive. The list was endless.
"Hm... which is the right one...?"
Something bizarre happened along this road to tool freedom that triggered a realisation within me. In the middle of a bunch of overloading tasks (no doubt on my Kanban board) the bizarre episode something went like this.
“Hey James, did you get the message I sent you?
“Sorry, which message?”
“I sent you a Slack message. Actually I was asking if you read my email. I emailed you about a Jira ticket. I need you to update a Confluence page. Did you get it?”
The tools! If it were possible to trip over the tools it was happening. All of these tools are great for various purposes.
Jira is a great task/project management system.
Confluence is a fantastic data repository.
Email, well, it has its uses.
In this case, there was a small piece of info required to keep a person's day on track. I exploded. Aside from managerial ineptitude on my behalf, the situation was evidence that as a company we had forgotten to do the most basic things well. Sometimes we forget that the most powerful tool for getting a job done is just to behave like a human. (As an aside, it's this moment that inspired the core values of Cradle, which are to be better and be human).
As a leader, the buck stops with me, so after my outburst of "Why can't you just talk like a human! I'm right across the desk from you!" I began taking much more notice of how we communicated. When you think about a company of around 20 people, there are 190 distinct one-to-one relationships. Each of us is busy trying to get work done for all sorts of other people. But how often do we check that we're doing the right thing before we charge off and do it? More importantly, how often do we check that the person we have asked to do something truly understands what it is we are asking for?
As I began asking these questions I focussed my attention on the outside world and how we were interacting and communicating with those outside our walls as well. Did our customers have the same frustrations with us that we had within our own team? Did we email them links to our support site after they'd spent time trying to call us on a phone? Did we lose business because they couldn't speak to the right person?
Failing to communicate properly isn't a great way to treat anyone!
Sadly, the answers to these questions were often yes. We had lots of tools and yet we were forgetting that for our customers, sometimes they just want to talk to us. Talking is a fantastic way to build relationships. In mere seconds of talking you can convey more meaning than you ever will by sending a thesis by email. You get to have a few seconds of small talk and build the foundations of a relationship. More than just conveying words and rational thought between two people, the emotions and human aspects of the interaction can come to life. Trust develops.
What we needed was a tool so that people felt compelled to call us knowing that when they did they'd speak to the right person. They'd hear a familiar voice and within minutes they'd be on with their day. We needed a tool so that understood who was available to take that new sales call from someone in Guatemala without making them learn enough English to jump through the menus. We couldn't find one. Nothing existed for the small business with people and customers all over the place. Everything was expensive and still didn't work.
Since we started Cradle, we have continued to be guided by this desire to help humans have better conversations with each other, by making phone systems work for people. The chatbot and tools obsessed world has also developed and many businesses are embracing the old-fashioned conversation, with the added bonus of knowing just how valuable a phone call is to their business, their customers and their team!
Editors note: This post was updated in June 2021, to correct some grammar, update some facts and make it a bit better to read. Thanks for re-reading if you've been by before.