New features enhance collaboration in Google Docs

When you are working on a document as a team, life gets a lot easier if you can see all the comments from all the key players in a single location. There’s little more frustrating than trying to keep track of the different revisions, only to find out that you’ve made updates to the wrong document.

Google Docs is one of my favorite ways to share documents with my clients and now, it’s even better. Google has rolled out a new feature called Discussions that lets users of its productivity service discuss shared documents in real-time.┬áThe upgrade is aimed at helping users resolve issues faster.

You can now hold threaded conversations within a document using time stamps, profile pictures and @mentions. Now you know who said what to whom and can track in a single location.

To keep all the players on top of changes, Google notifies users of new messages via e-mail when they are mentioned in a discussion. This helps keep participants involved in the document . . . rather than going off on side discussions in email.

Discussions is being rolled out to users (you probably already have the capability). Just remember: you have to create a new document to take advantage of it — you cannot apply the feature to old docs.

Darn those “bothersome” clients!

Recently I’ve been following a few threads on the LinkedIn, including one on sharing media lists with your clients.

I stated my opinion on that in an earlier post.

However, what’s struck me most about the ongoing discussion is the disparaging way that some of these practitioners talk about their clients.

This is the comment that really made me stop and go, wow.

I would not want my hard-earned relationships with my media friends “sullied” by bothersome clients.

I hope this woman’s clients don’t read that forum. They might not “bother” her with their business if they did. It makes me cringe for her.

Maybe I’m just especially lucky, but my clients are smart, savvy and accomplished. I can’t imagine they would do something so egregious that they would embarrass me and ruin my relationship with my media “friends.” I like to think of my relationships with clients as partnerships. We work together to accomplish a defined goal.

I also can’t imagine that my media contacts, many of whom I’ve known for decades, would shun me if a client where to call them and say something stupid. Sure, they might call me and poke fun, but they wouldn’t cut me off. Editors need us as much as we need them — today every newspaper and magazine is short staffed and if we bring them stories that are relevant and well written, they will always take our calls.

Really, we must remember that our clients are the people who pay our bills. We work on their behalf. That shouldn’t involve ridiculing them or making disparaging remarks. If a client really doesn’t appreciate your skills or talents then don’t work for them. But don’t make fun of them behind their backs.

A life experience that I could have skipped

I’ve worked in the public relations industry since 1982, in my own consulting firm since 1991. I guess I’m lucky that until this past year, I’ve never had a serious problem with either a client or a vendor.

That has changed. I’ve been locked in a dispute with a web programmer that I hired to create a personal business (a fun website) since the beginning of the year.

One of my attorney friends has told me that everyone needs to live through a lawsuit once. That it’s part of life’s essential experiences. I must say that while this hasn’t progressed quite that far, it’s something I could have easily lived without!

I’ve always thought of myself as a fair person. I try to give my clients good value for their money and, if I sometimes underestimate the difficulty of a particular job, I live with it. When I’ve hired people for client work I’ve also tried to be fair. Many times I’ve gone back to clients and asked for more money when I’ve seen how hard people have worked on their behalf.

For several years I dreamed about building a website that would let me turn a favorite hobby into a small business. I didn’t have a lot of money to invest so I chose to hire a local web programmer who was known to several of my colleagues. He hadn’t built a site exactly like I wanted (it is a database driven site, so not as simple as a standard site), but he expressed his desire to expand his capabilities and collaborate with me on the development.

We agreed to proceed in phases. Each phase had a budget which was submitted to me in writing. I approved it. If something changed, he sent me an updated budget to discuss. This system worked fine.

Until it didn’t.

When we started the fourth phase of the project he gave me an estimate that gave me pause. It was considerably more money than I had anticipated and more than he’d originally told me I’d have to spend. We discussed it at length. He explained why he felt this phase of the work would be so expensive and eventually I agreed. The phase took several months to complete. There were frustrations when essential functions (such as search) just weren’t working the way they were supposed to.

Finally, those problems seemed to be solved. I started to talk to him about the final phase. The one that would turn my dream site into a real viable site.

Then I got a new invoice from him for the just completed phase. The amount was more than twice what I had agreed to pay. I was — and still am — stunned that someone, especially someone with whom I worked for a year, would send me an invoice for what represented more than 100 hours of his time without ever discussing it with me. I consider the work to have been part of the scope of the project. It was programming. Something that could have been outsourced to India and done for a pittance. Had he come to me and explained that he was having problems that he would charge me for . . . I could have taken control of the project and decided what it was worth to me. Instead, he said nothing. He simply handed me a bill.

I paid what I had agreed to pay. I even offered to pay 15% of the overage. It didn’t satisfy him and so far I’ve gotten no satisfaction, either. In fact, I’ve gotten the everything but. Every month I’ve received letters trying to intimidate me into paying the overage and demanding interest on funds (not) owed. I’ve been threatened that I’ll be liable for attorneys fees, collections fees, etc. I’ve received a letter from a collection agency. I’ve learned that despite the exorbitant overages (that I haven’t paid) and the amount of money that I paid, I was left with a website that was rife with errors . . . that I’ve needed to pay another firm to fix the problems. At that time I discovered that many of the changes I’d been told were not possible were indeed just simple programming. They’ve been fixed for a relative pittance.

By a professional.

I am embarrassed that after so many years of evaluating vendors that I so badly miscalculated on the skill and integrity of someone who was supposed to work on my own project, the one that I cared the most about.

I’ve looked at the laws in Massachusetts and am contemplating whether it’s worth the emotional energy and the additional funds to consider a suit against him. I’ve gone through the exercise of consulting a lawyer and am fully aware of how quickly legal fees would add up. Mostly now I want him to go away. I want to put my project aside until I can look at it without feeling betrayed. I’d like to get my dream back.

Anyone in the Boston area who would like to avoid the problems that I encountered are welcome to contact me so that I can share the name of person with whom I am in dispute.

Adobe update

What update? I’ve never heard a word back from Adobe technical support.

At this point, I’ve given up. My client has figured a way to “work around” the problem with the software and it was raising my blood pressure too high every time I tried to get an answer to my problem.

The bottom line? Adobe doesn’t care enough about Contribute to provide decent technical suppor!

Is Public Relations in a Golden Age?

According to Larry Chase, in his latest issue of of Larry Chase’s Web Digest for Marketers, Internet marketing is giving Public Relations an additional boost.

PR packs new punch online.

The Internet has brought a golden age to Public Relations. Pre-Internet, there were bottlenecks between those who wanted to reach an audience with news and the target audience.

You had a fixed number of newspapers, magazines, radio and TV outlets, networks, etc. But, with millions of people using Yahoo News, Google News, RSS feeds, blogs, email newsletters and the like, press releases have a new, reinvigorated life online.

If you send a newsworthy press release, you can reach the end user, news outlets and the blogosphere all at once.

But, wait: It gets better. You can track the success of that press release. You can see how many Tweets, blog mentions or pickups by syndicated RSS feeds it collects.

Press releases enjoy a new life because they are (when done right) content-driven. People turn to the Internet for commercial as well as editorial content. Display ads don’t convey as much information as a press release.

I certainly agree with much of what he said. However, I don’t think that the advantages provided by the Internet stop at press releases. In fact the ability to reach your customers and prospects directly through Websites, forums and blogs provides a level of access previously unparalleled.

What happened to customer service?

In this economy you’d think that anyone with a client or customer would bend over backwards to keep them. I had an experience lately that make me think that the message just isn’t sinking in. Or maybe these folks have so much work that they don’t see the need to focus on customer service.

The first case involves my father, who recently moved to an independent senior living center in Manhattan. On March 3 he wanted to change his meal plan for the month and was told that he had to wait until April because the month had started.

It took me two phone calls that day to convince them that they could — and should — make an exception if for no other reason than he is on a three-month satisfaction guaranteed lease agreement. Once they saw the explicit relationship between the meal plan and potentially losing a resident all was fixed but their knee-jerk reaction was no, it’s too much trouble.