When did our world turn so uber-chic that venture capital dollars flow to hipster companies that only list a person’s first name on the company bio page? What’s so "rah" about the “sharing economy” that basic contact info such as phone numbers doesn’t exist? And please don’t try and convince me that eating 4 raspberries from an espresso cup justifies the $8 price tag because it has been presented to me to enjoy as part of some “experience.”
Puh-lease! The “experience economy,” the “sharing economy”… I’m over it.
Recently, Team MetalMiner (a sister publication to this one) decided to revamp its regular monthly sourcing and pricing forecast report on the basis of discussions with large metal buying organizations.
Several Spend Matters and MetalMiner team members (our parent company is called Azul Partners) suggested I try a freelance website such as PeoplePerHour (PHP).
Done. Here’s what happened and what I observed initially:
- After a basic registration process, the platform and workflow (workflow is a generous term – it’s really hosted email) matches buyers (me, in this case) with sellers of a range of skills and services.
- I was specifically seeking a graphic designer with B2B experience.
- After posting a small proposal to create a mock 1-page template, I selected a designer.
- From a B2B marketplace perspective, it’s brilliant, I will give them that.
- And all worked perfectly well – my designer was quick, high quality and I got back a design that we ended up baking into a larger design. The designer raised a $180 invoice that I promptly paid via credit card all through the site.
So far, so good.
But Not So Fast…
Now I needed to create the entire report template. In this case, I created a proposal but awarded the proposal straight to that first designer. We collaborated a bunch of times and I received a great report. The designer then went to create an invoice and I clicked on it, paid a new agreed-upon dollar amount (over $1k) and saw the green “your payment is being processed button.”
That was May 11.
Here is a brief synopsis of what happened next:
- May 15 – I receive a note stating payment did not go through. The note said, “See what went wrong,” with a link. Here is a screen shot of the request of what they needed:
(Please note that the third check-mark didn’t apply to our situation) and I misinterpreted the second item as being an "or" and not an "and."
THAT WAS MY MISTAKE!
- May 18 – I received no more communication from PPH, but my seller sent me an email stating that my driver’s license was not legible.
- May 18 – I send First Annoyed Notification to PPH asking why I wasn’t notified that my documents were not legible and why my seller was the only one notified (especially since the seller could not possibly fix the situation).
- May 18 – I receive a reply with a pretty vague instruction as to the problem:
- May 18 – I submit a clear photo copy of my license on the document payments page (please note: I still miss that a piece of mail is still required – I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been asked to prove residence with a piece of mail for at least 20 years when I got my first apartment in Washington, D.C.!) Seriously, I’m CEO of a business. This is nuts. We’ve processed $75K credit card transactions ourselves before over our virtual terminals. This is not necessary. Alas, I then submit a reply to the help ticket asking when the payment will be processed.
- May 18 – I get a reply back stating that I need to re-review the documents page and resubmit a clearly visible license (e.g. the “standard customer service reply template is what came back to me”). Please note: nobody said, “Lisa, you are missing the utility bill or piece of mail to prove you aren’t an imposter!”
- May 21 – I receive another reply from the Help Desk (remember, there is not a phone number or a last name to be found. No address, corporate office – nothing) restating the same chain letter from the customer service rep: “I also checked and saw that you have sent us some of the documentation required, yet at a rather illegible and poor quality. Could I ask that you re-scan, in color, and resend the documents as required, so we can process your payment swiftly and without any more delays?”
- May 21 – I send a nasty email to the CEO of the company whom I tracked down via social media (he does have a last name).
- May 22 – I received a reply from his henchman as follows:
My name is Michael and i[sic] am the Customer Support Manager here at Peopleperhour. My CEO Xenios has forwarded your message to me in order to better assist you.
I am sorry to hear that you have had a bad experience using our platform. Our goal is to have all users happy with the services that we offer and to provide the best available support.
I have read through the entire issue and at this point i[sic] will have to say that i[sic] am not sure why there is a claim that we are unresponsive as i[sic] can see that our agent Sriram answered on Monday and Tuesday to your requests for ticket #[sic] #419349 and that Dimitris has also responded on #420190.
The reason for the payment not being authorized is that we are waiting for some specific documentation from you as has been specified in the emails that the above agents have sent. These documents are essential for us to process security measure for the safety of all users and they must be provided under PPH Terms and Conditions. I am sorry if you feel that this should be made into some kind of a documented version of your experience through an analyst, but i[sic] do see every effort to explain what is required and prompt responses on our side.
Please feel free to contact me should your need any further questions answered.
- May 22 – please note: though the henchman cleverly blamed me for all of this, he still signed his email without a phone number. At least he figured out that the customer may have forgotten a document. So on May 22, I now see what the confusion was.
Lesson Learned For Me. But for Them…?
If services like PPH expect to ever make it big in the corporate world, they’ll have to make some substantial changes, including the following:
- They will need customer service staff empowered to think critically and solve problems, even problems that don’t fit a pre-answered FAQ template response.
- They need to respond quickly and comprehensively and not miss communications – remember, PPH failed to send me any notification that my document was rejected until after I contacted them.
- They will have to make their lists and communication of what they require crystal-clear – go in the help community and you can see others have struggled as well.
- Services like PPH say that the money you put down goes into “escrow,” but it’s not clear if that actually happens. There should be clear policies and procedures for how escrow accounts work so that sellers can at least receive partial payment.
- Though first-name bios may be totally hipster, as a procurement professional from a tier-1 automotive firm told me last night, “That reeks of lack of traceability.” And without traceability, there is no accountability and without accountability, well, I wouldn’t waste time going after B2B markets.
- There has to be some more efficient payment gateway that these services companies can use. We at MetalMiner have NEVER required a piece of mail to process payment.
It’s a shame that this experience has left such a bad taste in my mouth. Like I said, from a B2B marketplace perspective, these folks are onto something – I loved the services I received, but from an experiential point of view, this is more than a nascent industry. It’s embryonic and not ready for prime time. But at least it’s focusing on the fundamentals as compared with Blur Group and capital markets hype as my colleagues pointed out. Still, I would have hoped for more from an HBS grad launching a venture like this.
Note from Jason Busch, founder and managing director of Spend Matters: I read this piece and had to laugh. Neither I, nor Andrew Karpie, Peter Smith or Pierre Mitchell, who all cover services procurement, including VMS providers and now freelancer management systems (FMS) for Spend Matters, had anything to do with Lisa’s selection of PeoplePerHour (Peter, in fact, wrote a book on the topic: Buying Professional Services, published by the Economist).
We dropped Lisa a few names to check out initially (as she notes), but we did not make any final recommendations or work on the evaluation side. The deeper irony is our CEO did not go through the proper “procurement channels” in our firm, nor follow the mandatory 5-step sourcing process … she is a maverick spender. What can I say?
More important, Lisa’s experience is a bit of a shame because knowing how alternatives work, including UpWork, Freelancer.com, Outsource.com, and Lionbridge, I think what happened was atypical of many of these services. Moreover, MBO Partners has made a name for itself serving the interest of suppliers (first) – perhaps PeoplePerHour could learn the supplier-side of customer service from them.
The analyst team here looks forward to digging into PeoplePerHour (if they’ll let us) after this “incident.” We don’t want to cloud our entire audience on them or this market in general. There will be growing pains, but hopefully PeoplePerHour can address them. After all, the final design deliverable Lisa got looks great. The matching part worked, at least!
But I agree – at least provide a phone number to call in all communications as a starting point.