Do you want to get a promotion, make $500,000 per year, appear on Oprah, or have 10x the number of customers?
Be careful what you ask for.
GetFriday, a personal outsourcing firm in India, was thrust into the limelight when The 4-Hour Workweek hit #1 on The New York Times bestseller list, and their client numbers jumped by almost 1000%. Outsourcing your life was now in fashion.
It’s not simple to handle unexpected massive demand, and this was reflected in complaints from new users who were frustrated with waiting lists, response time issues, and mistakes. New personal outsourcing services popped up to fill the demand, and the niche industry of personal outsourcing is now big business.
I asked the CEO of GetFriday, Sunder Prakasham, to explain the problems and address the criticisms. Below is his letter to me, an excellent description of the growing pains many of you will face if you become “overnight successes” or get sudden primetime exposure.
Here is an analysis of all the negative posts that went on your blog about GetFriday. (attached excel sheet)
As you would see all of them relate to 2007 when there was a wait period and we were playing catch up. And there are going to be complaints if customers have to wait.That is gone since 1st Jan.2008. We are now taking on clients immediately though we have kept a sane ‘within 5 working days’ as the upper limit to take on clients. So that issue is non-existent now. There is a team that keeps collecting feedback information on the web, so that we can address it if the issue is genuine.
Coming to talk about developments at GetFriday and the key challenges we are currently facing:
GetFriday has ramped up its manpower and infrastructure at an extremely fast pace in the last 2 months, so much so we are now ahead of the wait curve and can now take on customers immediately. We have invested huge sums of money into IT infrastructure development and a world class CRM system that places us, leagues ahead of any others in the pack when it comes to delivering on any kind of tasks on a large scale. Small teething problems are expected when something new is implemented and some customers are going to bear the brunt of such issues and may go away unhappy. We have tried to keep all our customers informed of all the changes happening internally from time to time, so that they understand that it is all for the better. New office spaces have been added and we have decent spare capacity to be able take on work on the fly. We have a good management team in place that can handle further growth. A lot of development took place in a very short time, just like a lot of growth happened in too short a time. So there are going to be problems we need to contend with, here are some of them.
Culture and Relationship
I have reviewed a lot of feedback on the web myself and understand from customer feedback that one of the biggest issues facing GetFriday is that of understanding culture. Now this is a real issue and no matter how much of training I give about the American culture through classroom sessions, reality is that we live in different cultural zones. At no point of time has GetFriday professed that we use Indian assistants who are ‘American’ or any ‘other culture’ ready. We do our best to ensure that we train people and try to set the expectations right with the customer. The basis for a successful relationship lies in understanding at the outset that we are different and then work towards sharing each other’s culture and making ‘work’ work. How successful that will be shall depend on whether the people who transact, the client (American or any other culture) and his assistant (Indian) are open about it. I think the culture thing is being given too much emphasis, because though I may not understand my Israeli client’s culture thoroughly, if I have a good relationship and we are open about diversity then I should be able to understand the pulse of the customer and deliver on the client’s needs. That is fundamental for any cross cultural working relationship. It worked for us when we started GetFriday and I think that is the way we would like to keep it going. And BTW, we should have clients from 30 different nationalies being served by GetFriday at this point of time.
Given the spate of work that has come our way, most of our assistants had focussed on pure delivery of tasks and not much on the relationship management aspect. This we found was the biggest problem for us and hence we have taken steps to fix that problem. Am not giving out specifics of this because we have seen other services blatantly copy everything from tariff to processes to our manuals once it is on the web. ;-)
Quality of Service
Keeping the quality of service really high as we grow rapidly has been a huge challenge. There were some bloopers here and there, which happened in the past. It was really a choice between losing the client on a wait period to taking them on sooner (because they wanted it immediately after reading Tim’s book and couldn’t wait) with a little compromise on quality (because the assistant was not trained enough). Was a Hobson’s choice though we did our best to tell clients that waiting was better. Now with the capacity crunch being handled and well within our control, we have really been focussing on improving the quality of service. A good quality of service needs to meet client’s expectation to a reasonable level. People who have been with us for more than 2 months, stick with us for a long time. There are customers who are as old as 2 years still using our service. It is the initial period that is the most trying, both for client and for the assistant. We have put a fix for this problem as well recently. In order to continuously provide a good quality of service, we take feedback from customers plus we have internal systems that rates the quality of tasks selected on a random basis.
There were many clone sites that started service after seeing the popularity of GetFriday and thought that there was an incredibly quick buck to be made. Some of them whom I don’t wish to name but are referred by users on your blog are sites which are complete clones. I couldn’t help laughing my head off when I came across a site that had copied and put up our user manual verbatim on their site. Someone had used the find and replace technique efficiently, but apparently forgot to remove our support email id. Another one is trying to gain popularity through using our brand name in the headline of all their free web PR releases. They are listed high in google because of the word ‘getfriday’ in it, but I can’t see how customers would bite and try out a service that uses such unethical means.
For the moment, we focus on real feedback on our service from real clients. And we ensure we listen to them and fix them. The rest, we would rather ignore.
On the whole, I think GetFriday is in a lot better position than most others to understand the challenges and tackle them head-on.
If a client is open-minded and willing to invest a little time in the relationship at the beginning, he/she will reap a lot of value over a period of time with GetFriday.
If you have any further concerns, please do let me know.
Posted on: March 12, 2008.