How communication lapses can destroy the reputation of a small professional services firm
My personal computer's hard drive failed the other day. I did not expect this hardware failure to result in a great contrast between communication styles from two different professional services firms.
I subscribe to Fancy Hands, a virtual assistant firm. They are a quintessential efficiency-based professional services firm. I use their services for when I want the results but not the process. Like finding a local shop for local people to replace my computer's hard disk.
I filed my request by email, and within a day, a virtual assistant had called all the shops in Bellingham. They provided price quotes, reviews, and contact information for each shop they called. Each of the local shops was either an owner-operator or a small efficiency-based services firm.
I took my laptop to the top-rated shop in Bellingham, which had offered the most competitive price, including labor. The technician seemed competent, understood that I'd like a fast hard drive with just the operating system re-installed, and they agreed to honor the price quoted to my virtual assistant. They called me in a couple of days, and I picked up the laptop, thinking I'd restore from backup and be back online.
The new hard disk started failing after two days. I figured the technician would apologize; we'd agree the new hard disk was a dud, they'd refund the initial cost of the disk, and I might pay a bit more for a different or faster disk as well as installation services. I'd recommend a business that makes a mistake and corrects it in a professional manner.
I called the shop's number, but no one answered, and the voice mailbox was full. I sent a text message and had no reply. I drove past the shop a couple of times over the next two days to find that the shop was dark, but there was no sign indicating something was wrong.
I asked that a virtual assistant at Fancy Hands try to contact the shop so that we could straighten this out. Again, Fancy Hands replied to me nearly immediately and set to work on trying to contact the shop. After three days, eighteen phone calls and an email, the virtual assistant asked if they should keep trying.
Having lost a week to this episode, I called my credit card company, and they recommended that they file a dispute. I wished them the best of luck in connecting with the local shop and provided the call logs that Fancy Hands had produced without me even asking. And I took my laptop to the second shop Fancy Hands had originally found for me.
A significant portion of new business for small professional services firms comes through referrals. How many times have you as an individual consultant or professional services manager let an email sit in your inbox for a day or two, from a frustrated client? Alternatively, chose to let their phone call ring through to voicemail rather than answering? Or they gave up in a convoluted IVR system that your operations manager recommended as a 'cost savings measure'? Moreover, what is the reputational risk to your business when that disaffected client becomes a 'Detractor' on the Net Promoter Score spectrum?
People learn more about businesses from their handling of errors than their successful projects. My reason that I would not recommend this local shop has nothing to do with their technical skill - even new hard disks fail. Rather, their lack of follow-up and communications was the problem. If you have an unhappy client, do everything that you can to make it right before both parties resort to contract language. Small professional services firms cannot afford the negative publicity from detractors.