I often sense that those in our industry are afraid of hearing not-so-complimentary feedback.
Which is too bad because that kind of information is good as gold to your business.
You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge or that you may not even know is wrong.
So when clients who are otherwise rational, thoughtful people take the time to give their honest input on things that are offputting to them, we should listen.
I’m not saying we have to throw ourselves off a cliff, much less drop everything and completely change our businesses or approach, at the first hint of any discontent, nor that every client’s personal beef is legitimate.
You do have to know how to discern between valid, reasonable gripes and those that are just ridiculous.
For example, a client who complains that an Administrative Consultant won’t design their website and provide shoppingcart support (because that’s like asking a plumber to fix their car), much less lump it in with their administrative support, is nothing but a cheapskate who wants something for nothing.
That’s not a gripe you need to pay any mind to because it’s like expecting a plumber to fix their car. That’s not the business we’re in. They’re barking up the wrong tree.
However, when a client has repeated unsatisfactory experiences and complaints that aren’t outrageous, that tells us there is a disconnect going on.
If you belong to my association and/or are a regular reader of this blog, you’ve frequently heard me call this the “misalignment of expectations and understandings.”
It would behoove us not to listen and examine this feedback to see where we can bridge the gaps.
That disconnect might be related to the client (and our marketplace as a whole) not knowing how to choose the right administrative partner.
They might have only shopped by price instead of skills, qualification, fit and value.
They might be trying to make an employee out of you (which is the wrong expectation entirely, but which signals that you haven’t done your job of educating them properly).
They might have too much on-demand needs or expectations. Their business and workload might be at a level where we are simply not the right solution and they really need an employee.
All of these kinds of things point out that our industry still has much work to do in the way of properly educating and setting expectations in our marketplace.
The other side of that coin is that we ourselves need to understand the business we’re in so we can recognize the ramifications of setting wrong or unsustainable expectations and the subsequent consequences that leads to.
For example, too many people in our industry are telling our marketplace that they have the same level of responsibilities as an in-house employee.
That’s insanity and a ridiculous, impossible expectation to set in clients, not to mention a surefire recipe for failure of the service provider-client relationship.
Clients need to either hire an employee, or seek an alternative.
But as with any alternative (which means “not the same things as”), there are going to be trade-offs and differences in how you work together.
I recently heard from a business owner who has tried unsuccessfully working with several people in our industry for the past five years whose feedback I found to be very valid.
We actually ended up having a really nice conversation on the phone. He is a perfectly nice man who has very reasonable concerns and has had difficulty getting his business needs taken care of.
One of the things I educated him about was that trying to make an employee out of someone in the administrative support business (business being the operative word here) doesn’t work and in fact is illegal.
For that reason, he simply has to take his idea of on-demand stuff out of his expectations. Because that’s just not how things work in a business-to-business relationship.
Even if an administrative service provider (and it’s usually a newbie) were to take that work on like that, eventually as her practice grew, it would become more and more difficult, and eventually impossible, for her to sustain the ability to work together in that capacity.
Ours is about leveraged, strategic administrative support, not beck-and-call instant support like an employee.
We also talked about working with the right professional for the job.
I referred back to my plumber/car mechanic analogy: If someone needs their car fixed, why are they calling a plumber?
I’ll often hear from clients who weren’t happy with the website they had a virtual assistant design for them, and I’m have to be frank with them: Well, what did you expect? They aren’t web designers. Just because someone owns Photoshop or Dreamweaver doesn’t make them a designer. Why didn’t you go to the proper professional in the first place?
Or they’ll complain that they didn’t get quality writing out of their virtual assistant, and I have to ask them: Well then, why didn’t you hire a real copywriter? These people aren’t writers. That’s not the business they’re in. REAL writers/copywriters know what business their in and advertise themselves as such. They don’t market themselves as some kind of cut-rate gopher or jack of all trades.
That’s why it’s important to understand it’s important to know what business you’re in and what you’re not. Trying to make a mechanic out of a plumber is not going to help anyone.
I addressed his complaint that virtual assistants often don’t have the skills they advertise. I agree with him. I’ve experienced some of the same things.
I’ve worked with many over the years who should not be in business taking anyone’s money.
We’re an unregulated industry and there are too many people looking to make a fast buck who don’t have the background or skills to be doing this work who can hang out a shingle overnight.
But this is also why it is the client’s responsibility to choose properly.
If they want to take the cheap way out and expect five star skill, qualification and service at a McDonald’s price, they are living on Fantasy Island.
These are things he was also realizing himself.
I gave him some ideas on what to look for (for one thing, someone who has well thought out business policies and procedures for working with clients; even someone who has the skills, but not the business foundation and systems, is going to have equally unhappy clients), how to leverage the support in a better way, and how to discern when someone is not the right provider for the work and to seek other solutions instead.
After talking with me, he changed his mind about being entirely through with our industry.
Once we bring expectations and understandings into alignment, our industry and clients and the marketplace at large will be more on the same page and much happier with each other.
Okay, here’s this client’s feedback…
“Danielle, I am hoping you can read my email without trying to strangle me! I’ve been a subscriber for several months to your newsletter. But I think I am done working with Virtual Assistants. And I have worked with various Virtual Assistants for five years. Spent a lot of money, didn’t really get too far.
“I’ll admit, the first two years, I was a major part of the problem. I was not very clear on what I wanted the Virtual Assistant to do. But for nearly the past three-plus years, I’ve had enough experience where I can say that many Virtual Assistants:
- Do NOT have the skills they advertise.
- Do not have the expertise with products and resources they say they do.
- Rarely complete work on time.
- Have a difficult time estimating how much will be involved in a project, which slows everything else down.
- Suffer from the loneliness factor. When they get someone on the phone, it becomes a gabfest…and I’m paying!
- In constant “education mode.” They need to spend all weekend getting up to speed on a tool you need them to use (which they professed they had working knowledge of).
- You become their guinea pig
“I have also found that if you are somewhat flexible in deadlines, a “nice guy” or easygoing, the other clients of the Virtual Assistant will soon take (re-allocate) much of your Virtual Assistant’s prime working time.
“It’s also (to me) become a major red flag when a Virtual Assistant volunteers “Oh, I can do that, too!” (like answer your phones).
“Because of all the reasons above, I can no longer find Virtual Assistants to be a viable option at $45/hour. Many Virtual Assistants are far too over-priced. And I have paid Virtual Assistants amounts like $30, $35 and $40/hour. You do NOT get what you pay for.”
Let’s discuss… what do you think about all this?