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Customer Service: Act or Accept

Customer Service: Act or Accept

After using the established home repair websites – Home Advisor and Angie's List – and getting burned, I decided to do a little research about these sites and found out that I wasn’t alone – go to sitejabber.com; consumeraffairs.com; pissedconsumer.com, to find customer and business’ complaints.

I’ve been taught that anytime there is a pain point in a business-customer relationship there is an opportunity. So I decided to build a portal that would alleviate some - if not all - the grievances that I, as a customer experienced, in addition to the complaints shared by other customers on the sites above.

Our site is called housspros.com. Our portal connects our site users searching for local home repair solutions (AC & Heating; Electrical; Remodeling; Painting and Plumbing) with small businesses that provide excellent workmanship and customer service, but lack the financial resources to “spread the word” and become household names.

Our site is loaded with self-service features that registered businesses can utilize to retain and grow their customer base. Additionally, our site eliminated the biggest ire of small businesses - the pay-per-lead model: where small businesses pay for individual leads, whether they turn into actual paying jobs or not; and pay-to-play model: where the page ranking on a site is rigged to benefit the highest bidder.

On the customer side, our site is stocked with features that will assist the customer in making objective evaluations of businesses in a transparent setting, have access to unbiased ratings, along with providing them with a valuable information resource for all their DIY needs and the ability to snag deals from the businesses.

“If I had known how hard it would be to do something new, particularly in the payment industry, I would never have started PayPal. That’s why nobody with long experience in banking had done it. You needed to be naïve enough to think that new things could be done.” – Peter Thiel, founder, PayPal.

It is with that same naiveté, I started housspros.com. I thought if I can provide a platform where both the customers and the businesses - that form the core base of the website - are treated fairly, honestly and with integrity, they would support my mission of “service before profit”, and respond in kind by joining our site. So far though, I’m disappointed to report that the results have been lukewarm at best.

Based on the latest public figures available (from mid-2014), Angie’s List, the leader in the online home referral space spends $90 in acquisition costs for a single customer. Since I could not get the numbers for the other big player, Home Advisor (a subsidiary of IAC), I would like to assume their costs will be in line with that of Angie’s List. As a matter of fact, I think the acquisition cost of $90 could be similar for the other big players, too, like Thumbtack, Porch, Pro etc.

If the established players with their tremendous name recognition still spend $90 to acquire a customer, my website and I do not stand a chance of occupying the mindshare of a potential home repair customer. It’s not that I was oblivious to this fact when I was building the website. It is with the full understanding of these humongous odds that I still built it. You might ask, why?

The answer is simple: As an anonymous saying goes … “Never be afraid to build something new or better. Remember, amateurs built the ark; and the professionals built the Titanic.” Additionally, I passionately believe in my portal. I believe, if I can create a relationship with the site users based on trust, by laying bare the entire workings of the website to all the concerned parties, and top it off with an urgency of customer service like my pants are on fire, then, maybe, just maybe, they might be interested in partnering with my site.

Because, the established fat cats, oops! I mean companies, have everything going for them: name recognition, tons of loyal minions, I mean customers, and most importantly, deep pockets. Just in case you haven’t picked it up, yet. I’m just one person – no big corporation or VC’s backing me; no well-connected business partners; no employees; no trust-fund with unlimited financial resources. I’m just your average Joe Shmoe next-door. Which suits me fine, because I’m free of all the trappings that accompany the big players: like manipulating … sorry, I mean managing the business to deliver results to be in-line with or exceed the quarterly forecasts; or run the business to please the VC’s so that they can fluff up the business with unrealistic growth and income forecasts and cash out ASAP!; Heck, I don’t even have to deal with a partner(s) whose vision of creating “value”, is a code word for screwing the customers.

Yes, I have boot-strapped this operation with my own finances, but I’m comfortable with that decision, because I don’t have to answer to anyone or compromise on my mission: “service before profit”. Besides, my mission is what separates me from all the other players in the crowded space of online home repair. And I can say it with conviction, that I can, and will, challenge all the players in this space with my web portal because; it is built on the pillars of truth and integrity, and I steadfastly believe, change, no matter how small, can start with one person.

Now, let me address the parties that constitute the online home repair marketplace directly – that includes all the small businesses and the customers who will use the services of these businesses. When the market leader in this space spends $90 to acquire you (the customers), they have to pass those costs on to someone. Unfortunately, those costs are passed on to the small businesses that in turn will promptly pass on those costs to you. Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

So, customers (the small businesses, and the people who connect with these small businesses), break free from this vicious cycle, where these big websites treat you - their existing customers - so poorly, because they want to either cut costs (result: bad service for customers), or improve their bottom line (result: pick the pockets of small businesses with higher fees), and when you both leave, spend 5 times more  to acquire new customers  than it would have cost them to retain you. 

To everyone that is reading this blog post, I understand your fear of change but I challenge you, with the words of George Addair, “everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” And as Peter Drucker, the management guru put it, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” I’ll conclude with this final thought: “Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” –Warren Buffett. So, for once, take a detour from your comfort zone, your routine, and take a flyer on something new, like my website. I’m confident you’ll like it.

Image Source: tumblr.com



Last Updated: 2017-10-26 20:01:43

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