Technology exists to make life easier for people and the stories those people tell are the essence of an effective customer reference programme. 

Having interviewed thousands of companies to document their experiences, inEvidence writer Don Lewis has learned that the unexpected is never more than a phone call away

“You cannot be serious. This one has got to be a joke” was my immediate reaction when asked to ring an Israeli artist who was using his printer to reproduce images on sand.

As chief writer on the inEvidence team, I have now crafted over 1,000 customer case studies totalling some 750,000 words and have interviewed people in virtually every sector of commercial and public life across most countries of the world.

Technology doesn’t discriminate. From Zurich ‘gnomes’ to Ukranian margarine sellers; from Formula 1 racing teams to Parisian café owners, the rich diversity of our clients’ customers is constantly fascinating and they all have a story to tell.

So was that sand printer a joke? No way. Born in the coastal town of Nahariya, Israel, Ira Marom had a close affinity with sand. He discovered that by disabling the fuser on his printer he could start an ionisation process that would transfer the positive electrostatic charge of paper-borne ink to the minute negative charge in grains of sand, thus transferring images. Easy when you know how!

Ira’s off-beat use of technology may seem unique but his innovation is equalled by villagers in isolated Ecuador communities. Cut off from trained medical help, they use portable scanners to grab images of their wounds or rashes. These are then emailed to local Telecentros or Cyber Cafés set up by the Chasquinet organisation where long-distance diagnosis by doctors can avoid the expense of flying patients out to the nearest hospital.

Technology gets into the most unlikely places. As crocodiles ambush wildebeest on their annual migration across the MaraRiver, something else stirs deep in the Kenyan bush. Causing almost as much interest as the big game of the Masai Mara, it’s an office laser printer. Nairobi-based Phoenix Safaris runs the printer at its tented Mara Siria Camp. It’s located 150 kilometres from the nearest powerlines but that’s no problem thanks to the blazing African sun and solar panels!

And when Irish Times journalist Grania Willis took on the Everest Challenge she used her pocket PC to transmit reports back to her paper. She even used VoIP with the handheld to speak live from the roof of the world on Ireland’s Gerry Ryan radio show.

Interview nightmares
Whether it’s writing quirky tales such as these or creating readable copy out of technically complex server, storage, network and telephony implementations, success depends on what the customer has to say. Getting all the facts in a short telephone interview relies on creating an instant rapport but that doesn’t always go to plan.

When a Belarussian university claimed to have the oldest operational printer in the country, I set up an interview with three gruff professors who could only get together late in the evening – too late unfortunately because Vodka had taken over and every comment was unintelligible. At the other end of the scale, I got a great deal too much information from IT Manager Paula who, in her beguilingly low voice, gave me the full history of how she was previously an army major called Paul.

I’m glad that positive customer references are universally recognised as one of the most compelling tools for securing new business because it means I can continue to interview hundreds of interesting folk all over the world.

There’s a saying that ‘every picture tells a story’ but for me, every technical installation does the same. Must dash. Got to find out how our clients are helping the distribution of Avon beauty products in Russia, supporting the oldest bank in Latvia and modernising the Azerbaijan Pension Fund!