Should I give clients access to my service providers contact information?

Discussion in 'Growing and Managing a Business' started by Boballoo, Aug 27, 2012.

  1. Boballoo

    Boballoo
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2012
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    2
    As the owner and only employee of my company, it truly is a difficult task to see beyond the four walls of my office and into the minds of my clients and service providers. I am redesigning my website/business from the ground up. I provide a variety of services worldwide with the help of my freelancers. Although I have tens of thousands of freelance providers and thousands of returning clients it is mostly automated so I have kept it as a sole proprietorship and I am the only employee. It’s lonely at the top, and the bottom, and I find it very difficult to give myself advice . . . because I often don’t listen. So, I am turning to you to help me come up with a solution or at least some new input into a problem that has been rattling around in my brain since the business was conceived in 1998, and I promise I will listen to your advice. In fact, I am hoping you will provide me with new insight into the problem.

    THE PROBLEM:
    Given that the freelancers individually agree, should I allow direct contact (the exchange of email addresses, telephone numbers etc.) between clients and freelancers a la Odesk and others?

    At present, I do not allow this and I never have. All projects, all messages to and from clients, all invoices etc. are individually monitored and approved or rejected by me. Contact information included in messages is removed with a warning sent to the offender the first and second time. Further attempts to circumvent the rule result in suspension and then removal of the account. This system allows me to provide a level of quality control for my clients and direct intervention in a project, should that be warranted.

    Here are the pros and cons, as I see them from my tiny window on the world, of allowing direct contact between freelancers and clients (access to or the exchange of email addresses, telephone numbers etc.) :

    Pros:

    1) The system becomes very convenient for both freelancers and clients as they do not have to login every time they send a message. They can simply send a messages from their email client or webmail if they are on the road.

    2) Clients will save $ because freelancers will be able to charge less as the percentage I take from each project will be much lower.

    3) Freelancers will make more $ because the percentage that I take for each project will be much lower.

    4) All of the above will lead to more projects from more clients and more freelancers who register.

    5) Much less work for me as the system can be almost completely automated.

    6) Potential for additional income from “membership” fees if I charge a fee to freelancers for including their contact info in their profile.

    7) Potential for additional income from “membership fees” if I charge a fee to clients for access to those freelancers who have agreed to allow their contact information to be shown.

    Cons:

    1) Once the client and freelancer have each other’s contact info there is a great possibility that I will lose the client and all future projects that client might create.

    2) I lose all control over the quality of the service provided and the quality of the communication between clients and freelancers.

    3) No matter how much I tell clients, “You are in charge of your project,” and “When selecting a freelancer it is buyer beware,” if they feel they have not been treated well they will invariably blame the system or the company at some level, not the freelancer. (I don’t blame them. See below for more on this.)

    4) The percentage I get from each project will be much lower as I am not involved.

    5) There is an ongoing and controversial discussion around paying or not paying for work through membership fees. However, this may be a side-issue specific to the solution I choose, such as offering memberships.

    As if that wasn’t enough, here are some additional points.

    In fact, I agree with clients who blame the company for poor service from a freelancer. That is one of the things that bothers me about Odesk. They take no responsibility for the work of the freelancers they allowed on their system. I believe the company has a responsibility to test and screen the freelancers before the client ever sees their online profile. (Just so you know, I do have tests and strict screening procedures in place.) Clients are more likely to place blame on the company for a poorly done project in the case where no direct contact is permitted, but in that case, I have some control over it, as all communication between clients and freelancers is monitored by me and I can immediately rectify any problems the moment they arise and step in personally if I feel the client is not being treated properly.
     
  2. Business Attorney

    Business Attorney
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Premium Member
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Mar 22, 2009
    Messages:
    604
    Likes Received:
    289
    Although the Pros are very valid points, I think the Cons outweigh the Pros. It seems to me that you will lose repeat business from clients (point 1) and your margins will be squeezed on the clients who remain (point 4). Even though you will lose a degree of control (point 2), I think clients who have a bad experience will still blame you (point 3). You'll be penalized by the client when things go wrong but you won't see much reward when things go well (again, point 4)
     
    • Like Like x 1
  3. UTMediaGroup

    UTMediaGroup
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2012
    Messages:
    67
    Likes Received:
    2
    I agree with Business Attorney, if you give your clients your freelancers' contact information, they won't need you anymore. You are the middleman and this is your business model and it's how you make money.
     
  4. diggersjohn33

    diggersjohn33
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Dec 22, 2011
    Messages:
    13
    Likes Received:
    1
    I completely agree, but it does depend upon the relationship you have with your clients and contacts.
     
  5. daytrader

    daytrader
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2009
    Messages:
    1,678
    Likes Received:
    216
    Agree. If you still want to earn with the help of the list of providers you have, why give them away. Keep in mind these service provider under you have their own clients too.
     
  6. RevaxMedia

    RevaxMedia
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2012
    Messages:
    129
    Likes Received:
    9
    I would not give them access unless you get them to sign a NCA or NDA.
     
  7. lwonnaco

    lwonnaco
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2012
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    8
    I am a prime example of why you should not reveal your service provider information to any freelancers or your clients.
    I will go into overdrive mode and eliminate you from my profit equation so I can make more more faster and quicker. For example, I was paying a woman $1,500 each month to bring in the contact information off all new business licenses for the 3 surrounding counties. Once each week I got in all new leads for my product/service, imported them into my contact manager and hammered out sales. Business fell off, I cut back on budget and took a good hard look at how she could possibly get her hands on this information. I figured it out, stopped paying $1,500 that was actually free to the public and took a more-hands on to my business. Not only that, but I put out a message to my friends, support and extended team exactly where to go to find these leads so they could get in on this. I'll take a wild guess and say that she not only lost me as a customer, but in this little county, she probably lost a couple more.
    Don't ever reveal your service provider information to anyone.
     
  8. even

    even
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2012
    Messages:
    89
    Likes Received:
    0
    Ethically it would be wrong, never give out information that is not your, nor haven't asked permission from the owner's contact information. -secretstaff.com
     
  9. Jay

    Jay
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2010
    Messages:
    155
    Likes Received:
    25
    I say no, keep on doing what your doing and if you need some help, just hire someone to help out. Could be a family member, a spouse, anyone really that would be willing to work within your budget. If listed in your ToS, the company should not be held liable for the quality of service the clients receive from the freelancers because no direct contract has been made between you and the freelancers. They do not work under you, your website simply makes finding and selling ones services simpler through the website interface. Ultimately it is the choice of the client on which contractor they would like to hire, they should do their research by looking at portfolios, etc before making the final decision on who to hire. In short, I feel that you should keep running the website the way you do because afterall, part of the motive behind owning your own business is to gain a financial profit out of it that you are happy with. If clients are able to see your contractors personal info, they are able to simply do the deal behind the companies back to both gain a financial gain and waive any fees your company charges. Being a sole proprietorship, there is a risk that you can gain a financial disaster.
     
  10. Boballoo

    Boballoo
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2012
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    2
    As I mentioned in the original post, it would only be with the explicit permission of the freelancers. I am a very careful and cautious for ethical and business reasons when it comes to the protection of private information that someone has entrusted me with.
     
  11. Boballoo

    Boballoo
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2012
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    2
    Thank you Jay, and everyone here for the replies which I was only able to reply to today. As for the the legality of responsibility, I agree with you but that doesn't hold much water when it comes to the company's reputation. I would not be satisfied if there is even one dissatisfied client . . . so perhaps that answers my own question as I would lose the level of quality control I have now. I will post more on this when I have answered each of your welcome replies.
     
  12. Boballoo

    Boballoo
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2012
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    2
    A few new ideas

    Thank you everyone for responding to this thread. I am sorry to take so long to reply, but I truly appreciate your input . . . more than you know.

    I was surprised at the unanimous agreement NOT to divulge provider's contact info to clients, but perhaps the actual situation was not made clear by me. There are a few very profitable examples of companies that do provide user contact info, or at least do not go out of their way to stop the client and provdier from communicating directly. Odesk, and Guru are two. (From my research, Odesk does about 4–5 times as much business as Guru.) I think the volume is the key. They do million$ and the added value they give to their clients (see below) and providers (see farther below) is how they stay profitable (see even farther below) and keep the clients and providers coming back.

    1) Added Value for Clients (incentives to return).

    a.) The money the client negotiates to pay the freelancer is kept safe in an escrow account by the company and held until the client is satisfied the work is done. If the client is not satisfied, the company then becomes the arbitrator for the dispute and takes a fee for that service.

    b.) On Odesk, only on projects paid by the hour, the client gets a detailed minute-by-minute accounting of the freelancer's time via screen-shots taken by an application on the provider's computer which all providers must install and use whenever they work on the client's project. The provider cannot bill for time not accounted for by screenshots of the provider's work. However, it must be easy for a provider (especially if he/she is a computer whiz) to fake this minute-by-minute accounting and I sometimes wonder why Odesk puts so much faith in it, or at least they do when speaking to the client.

    2) Added Value for the Providers (incentive to stay)

    a.) Money is kept in escrow so, if the provider does the work as requested, and keeps track of all his/her work via minute-by-minute screenshots, they will get paid. (But as I mentioned above there is still the risk that the company will side with the client and the provider has lost two weeks he spent on the project as well as losing a client. There are many stories on the net about Odesk providers in this situation. Frankly they seem unhappy — to put it mildly without the #%$@&^*%%$@$#^& that sometimes accompanies their complaints — rather than pleased with the system.

    3) Incentives for the Company (profits).

    a.) From my experience and observation it is the client who usually wins in the arbitrations and that smells fishy to me, from the freelancers point of view anyway. However, that is probably how the clients are attracted or compelled to stay although, when you think about it, it's not much of an attraction. (The client doesn't get the work done as requested, is two weeks behind in schedule, and still has to pay money (arbitration fees) to the company. Does the client trust that company next time they need a project done?)

    b.) The company gets hundreds of thousands of dollars held in an escrow account. Of course they are making money somehow with that free money to help boost their credit with the bank. (bank account interest? short term safe investments? But I imagine if it is a true escrow account there would be limits to what they could do with it as it is not their money, but I know for a fact that Guru simply uses a payPal account that they call their "SafePay" account. No limits whatsoever on what they can do with that money during the interim between the beginning of a project and the end.

    c.) The company profits from projects that go pear-shaped. In Guru's case, it is a $25 fee for arbitration. That doesn't sound like much but all they really do is send an email to the client asking for their side and one to the provider with the same question. That part is all automated. Then they look at both stories for a couple minutes and make a decision. If one side does not respond in a specific time period, the entire process is automated and involves no human interaction. If Odesk does say 1000 projects a week and 2% go sour, that's $2000 per month in arbitration fees. All of these numbers are conservative estimates.

    Finally, in the system I had thought about (not yet "planned to use"):

    1) Those providers who wish to have their contact info shown, would be required to pay a monthly membership fee.

    2) Clients who wish to contact providers directly, would also be required to pay a monthly membership.

    3) Those providers and clients who did not wish to join, for whatever reason, would be allowed to contact clients and providers respectively through a specially coded system on my server that received all mail to and from clients and providers for each project, removed the client's or provider's email address depending on the intended recipient, and replaced it with a coded email address specific to that project so that the client and provider could send email back and forth without either party ever seeing the other's email address. Of course there would have to be scripts in place to check for things like telephone numbers and email addresses, names, site URLs mailing addresses etc. (I realize that this checking system is not perfect, but it will be, and already is "good enough". It is just a matter of fine tuning the script. Look what happened with machine translations. Several years ago we laughed at it and said it would never fly. Now Google gives us all free translations for our websites and Amazon translates the page for you in whatever country you are in (if you wish). Yes the translations are still laughable, but we CAN understand them . . . and translators are crying in their sleep).

    4) One final controversial note, as an honest man (that's not the controversial part . . . I hope), and perhaps a naive one, I would be happy to be rid of clients and providers who show their dishonesty by trying to circumvent the system to save a buck. I don't want them. I certainly don't want dishonest, or even just sneaky, people dealing with my clients and I would rather not have to deal with dishonest clients . . . but sometimes I find out too late. I truly believe there are enough honest people out there for me to make an honest buck. (I can hear you typing already.)
     
    • Like Like x 1
  13. Boballoo

    Boballoo
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2012
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    2
    Thank you for your reply. I am partly convinced by the answers to this thread and I am especially concerned about the loss of control it would involve and the subsequent lowering of quality in the final product/service if I were to allow direct contact as I would be cut out of the loop but would still hold some of the blame, as you mention. The above points you make are very true and probably the heart of the matter . . . but I still wonder why Odesk and Guru allow people to contact each other and I have come to the conclusion that it is because they want things to be totally automated. They don't want to be bothered with reading several hundred or thousand messages in a day to see if they contain contact info. That is the only reason I can see and the fact is they are making money, lots of it.

    Thank you for responding. For the protection of my clients, all providers are required to "sign" by submitting an online NDA. Not too sure about the legally binding nature of this type of online submission, but that is all that is feasible in this situation.

    That's a good point. Thank you for that. Of course I knew that but had not really connected it to the present situation/discussion. That's what I mean about making decisions from inside the box without a window — even the simplest thing may escape the veteran's notice until a new viewpoint is brought into the discussion. Thanks again. I love this forum!
     
    • Like Like x 1

Share This Page