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Let's Talk About Home Services

Sushrut Munje, Founder & MD, Hammer & Mop
Monday, September 28, 2015
Sushrut Munje, Founder & MD, Hammer & Mop
Over the last year, the home services space has seen an encouraging amount of activity with managed services platforms and marketplaces getting funded to scale. These enterprising companies aggregate service providers on the ground and offer customers a standardized service quality, standard pricing and easier availability. However, organizing an unorganized market has never been quite easy, and lessons are learnt after multiple experiments.
Trust is Paramount
While every business is built on trust whether you buy vegetables or ride a cab the levels go up when you're sending people to someone's home and most intimate spaces. While on boarding 3rd party vendors (electricians, plumbers, carpenters and AC technicians), their documents and backgrounds need to be verified. If possible their residences need to be visited and police records need to be screened. While you can be protected legally by having a limited liability form, we have to assume moral responsibility while delivering home services. An insightful article in the newspaper Mint on TaxiForSure founders comes to mind which described a scene at the police commissioner's office after the Uber rape incident. The TFS founder was asked point blank What is your business model? Do you take responsibility? We should be in the position to reply, Yes sir, we do.
Because Responsibility Gives You More Control
Quality control is an essential part of survival here, because you may win a first time customer due to a glitzy advertisement. To have them come to you again, you need to deliver on the promises made. To have them refer you to their friends and family you might need to delight not with discounts, but hardcore service quality. We cannot expect 3rd party vendors to be answerable to us. However having a strong training process, an incentivizing program, direct communication of rewards & penalties has the desired effect. Have them tied into your upside and downside. Offer them tools to deliver better, help them make more money in the process. This is easiest when you employ like many of the managed services providers are doing with their lock-in & exclusivity deals. A true marketplace enables choice and interaction where empowering vendors helps.
Technology is the Means to an End
Unless and until we send robots to fix things or develop smart surfaces to fix/clean themselves we are going to depend on human beings with individual instincts for offering services. While technology ensures smooth communication, location tracking and seamless payments we cannot avoid focusing on how people behave, what makes people come to work, making them work for a certain CTC and having them care enough for a menial job. Making one's hands dirty by engaging with field teams and building sustainable solutions ground up helps build robust solutions against problems faced by customers.
The Real Problem
Fortunately (or not), the problem is multi-layered. While it's difficult to find providers there is friction in communication, gaps in understanding, no parameters in service quality and lack of ownership in front end executives. The executives are underpaid, uneducated and would rather be doing something else had their fortunes (according to them) been better. While home services players are doing the right thing by offering them jobs and more money, the work is still not being seen as dignified. Discounts are not helping the customer value the services being offered, they are not paying enough for something that costs as much. Youth is not keen on being trained as handymen, and that's where the real problem lies. The sector needs a major upheaval on a psychological front. While aggregators are doing their bit by ensuring more jobs we might need to find a way for customers to pitch in with empathy and respect.
Do the Tango with Customer Service

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