By Cynthia Hetherington
Logistics of Communicating
Without a fundamental application of the principles of CRAWL, an investigator may have a short career, because she or he will not see return business, will become frustrated over inconsistent reports, and will not understand why the phone is not ringing. In this 6-part blog series, we will teach newbies how to CRAWL and help seasoned investigators refine their skills. Last week [link] we discussed hot to Communicate effectively and sincerely. This week, we explore the logistics to Communicating.
Establishing Criteria and Expectations
What is the Big Picture? Find out what the client wants. Examine what outcome he is seeking. Talking to clients in a professional yet sincere manner allows the investigator to understand the final goal A key question to always ask during the initial interview with the client is “What outcome are you expecting from my investigation?”
Do not promise him a particular outcome; it may not be obtainable or legal. I always explain to my clients that “I will do my best to support their position but there are no guarantees.” In either event, I will report my findings.
Establish goals for the following:
- Report style
- Time constraints
“How fast and how much” are generally the first questions you get from a client. But your final product development should be based on “inexpensive, complete and time sensitive.” Some clients have ongoing cases that can take months or even years, and turnaround time is not the major factor. These longer engagements allow for expert work within decent budgets. Still, these long-term projects should be set up with short-term goals.
When working with the client, do establish expectations for immediate, mid- and long-term goals. For example, your short-term reporting may consist of interviews and some database research. The client is informed that he will get a call and subsequent update by email within a few weeks. The mid-term goals may be for on-site records collection and deeper research needs.
The client should understand this may take from several days to several months, depending on the records needed and the scope of the investigation. Lastly, the final, in-depth report delivery could be promised a month or longer from your original sit-down engagement.
Here is an example of timing: Conduct a preemployment background check on a retired military professional. Immediately, you can inform the client on your validations of certain information such as a check of the Social Security Number and current address. Perhaps in a week or so you can report on any criminal records as well as courthouse filings (litigation, judgments, etc.) you have uncovered. Finally, your client needs to understand that military records themselves can take several months to obtain from the government agency, and not to expect an exception.
Informing the client of your time constraints in advance and putting this in your letter of engagement from the outset will always help to keep you on schedule and will make the client happy knowing the dates and expectations. Knowing the time constraints will also keep you motivated. And, any time there is a problem in retrieving information that affects your time budget, inform the client immediately.
Similar to time, it is important to inform the client about your budget For example:
- Itemize the financial cost details within the letter of engagement.
- If you are working on an hourly rate, does it include database fees and vendors? If not make sure the client knows he is paying your hourly rate plus these additional research fees.
- Inform the client if you are working with several rates. For example, researchers may work at $200 per hour, while an attorney will be reviewing the folio at a rate of $450 per hour.
It takes some experience to understand how many hours it will take an investigator to conduct a particular investigation. Even with a best guesstimate, some cases that seam easy and direct at the onset often tum into long-winded investigations no one could have predicted. As with the time budget, if you see your case is going to exceed the budget, inform your client prior to continuing, Even the best results will be met with criticism when the final invoice arrives at twice the price.
It is also possible to set a per-project price approach, instead of working on an hourly rate. This can be very successful for repetitive work. A per-project price allows your client to budget for their case needs. A good example is pre-employment checks. Most costs are known ahead of time, so most pre-employment searches come in at the same price every time. Domestic due diligence on small companies is also somewhat predictable and can be quoted in one lump sum.
Does the client want a formal report that can be submitted to management, or is court-ready deposition required? These reports tend to be reviewed by a peer investigator or an attorney before being submitted. An informal report will give the client the details of request, without the hours and budget spent on formalities or a review by counsel. Final report style is very informal; as requested, you convey the information gathered to the client via email, fax, face-to-face, or in a phone conversation. It is important to record the details of this conversation for your records, just in case this information is called into question at a later time. In the case of a phone call or an informal report, always follow-up with a fax or email restating your findings, then file it in your case file.
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Cynthia Hetherington, MLS, MSM, CFE, CII is the founder and president of Hetherington Group, a consulting, publishing, and training firm that leads in due diligence, corporate intelligence, and cyber investigations by keeping pace with the latest security threats and assessments. She has authored three books on how to conduct investigations, is the publisher of the newsletter, Data2know: Internet and Online Intelligence, and annually trains thousands of investigators, security professionals, attorneys, accountants, auditors, military intelligence professionals, and federal, state, and local agencies on best practices in the public and private sectors.