Should I Give Clients Access To Service Providers Contact Information?
As the owner and only employee of my completely on-line 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.
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.) :
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.
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.