I often sense that the Virtual Assistant world is afraid of hearing not-so-complimentary feedback.
But I think that kind of information is as good as gold. You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge or that you may not even know is wrong. So when clients who are otherwise rational, thoughtful people take the time to give their honest input on things that are offputting to them, we should listen.
I’m not saying we have to throw ourselves off a cliff, much less drop everything and completely change our businesses or approach, at the first hint of any discontent, nor that every client’s personal beef is legitimate. You do have to know how to discern between valid, reasonable gripes and those that are just ridiculous.
For example, a client who complains that a Virtual Assistant won’t design their website and provide shoppingcart support, much less lump it in with their administrative support, is nothing but a cheapskate who wants something for nothing.
That’s not a legitimate complaint because Virtual Assistance is not the same thing as Web design. If a Virtual Assistant chooses to either not do that work or, if they do, charge separately for it, they are perfectly smart for doing so. We’re running businesses here and the idea is to make money, not give valuable service away for free.
But, when a client has repeated unsatisfactory experiences and complaints that aren’t outrageous, that tells us there is a disconnect going on. If you belong to my Virtual Assistant organization or are a regular reader of this blog, you have frequently heard me call this the "misalignment of expectations and understandings." It would behoove us not to listen and examine this feedback to see where we can bridge the gaps.
That disconnect might be related to the client (and our marketplace as a whole) not knowing how to choose a Virtual Assistant. They might have only shopped by price instead of skills, qualification, fit and value. They might be trying to make an employee out of a Virtual Assistant. They might have too much on-demand needs or expectations. Their business and workload might be at a level where Virtual Assistance is simply not the right solution and they really need an employee.
All of these kinds of things point out that Virtual Assistance as an industry still has much work to do in the way of properly educating and setting expectations in our marketplace. The other side of that coin is that Virtual Assistants themselves need to understand the business they’re in so they can recognize the ramifications of setting wrong or unsustainable expectations and the subsequent consequences that leads to.
For example, too many Virtual Assistants are telling our marketplace that they have the same level of responsibilities as an in-house employee. That’s insanity and a ridiculous, impossible expectation to set in clients, not to mention a surefire recipe for failure of the service provider-client relationship. Clients need to either hire an employee, or seek an alternative. But as with any alternative (which means it’s "not the same things as"), there are going to be trade-offs and differences in how you work together.
At any rate, following is a recent message from a business owner who has tried working with Virtual Assistants for the past five years. I think his feedback is reasonable and valid. We actually ended up having a really nice conversation on the phone. He is a perfectly nice man who has very reasonable concerns and has had difficulty getting his business needs taken care of.
One of the things I educated him about was that trying to make an employee out of a Virtual Assistant just never works. You have to take the on-demand stuff off the table and out of the expectations. Even if a Virtual Assistant (who is usually green) takes that work on, eventually as her practice grows, it will become more and more difficult, and eventually impossible, for her to sustain the ability to work together in that capacity. Virtual Assistance is about leverage, not replacing the need for employees.
We also talked about working with the right professional for the job. I referred back to my plumber/car mechanic analogy: If a customer needs their car fixed, why are they calling a plumber? I’ll often hear from clients who weren’t happy with the website they had their Virtual Assistant design for them, and I’m thinking, "Well, then why didn’t you hire a real Web designer?" Or they’ll complain that they didn’t get quality writing out of their Virtual Assistant, and I’ll wonder, "Well, then why didn’t you hire a real copywriter?"
That’s why it’s important to understand what Virtual Assistants are in the business of providing (and why Virtual Assistants need to understand that themselves) and what they aren’t. Trying to make a mechanic out of a plumber is not going to yield the intended results.
I addressed his complaint that Virtual Assistants often don’t have the skills they advertise. I agree with him. I’ve experienced some of the same things. I’ve worked with many Virtual Assistants over the years who should not be in business taking anyone’s money. We’re an unregulated industry and there are too many people looking to make a fast buck who don’t have the background or skills to be doing this work but who can hang out a shingle overnight and call themselves a Virtual Assistant.
But this is also why it is the client’s responsibility to choose properly. If they want to take the cheap way out and expect five star skill, qualification and service at a McDonald’s price, they are living in fantasyland.
These are things he was also realizing himself. I gave him some ideas on what to look for (for one thing, someone who has well thought out business policies and procedures for working with clients; even a Virtual Assistant who has the skills, but not the business foundation and systems, is going to have equally unhappy clients), how to leverage the support in a better way, and to discern when a Virtual Assistant is not the right provider for the work and to seek other solutions instead.
After talking with me, he changed his mind about being entirely through with Virtual Assistants, which I think is excellent. Once we bring expectations and understandings into alignment, Virtual Assistants and their clients and marketplace will be much happier with each other.
Okay, here’s this client’s feedback…
"Danielle, I am hoping you can read my email without trying to strangle me! I’ve been a subscriber for several months to your newsletter. But I think I am done working with Virtual Assistants. And I have worked with various Virtual Assistants for five years. Spent a lot of money, didn’t really get too far.
"I’ll admit, the first two years, I was a major part of the problem. I was not very clear on what I wanted the Virtual Assistant to do. But for nearly the past three-plus years, I’ve had enough experience where I can say that many Virtual Assistants:
- Do NOT have the skills they advertise.
- Do not have the expertise with products and resources they say they do.
- Rarely complete work on time.
- Have a difficult time estimating how much will be involved in a project, which slows everything else down.
- Suffer from the loneliness factor. When they get someone on the phone, it becomes a gabfest…and I’m paying!
- In constant “education mode.” They need to spend all weekend getting up to speed on a tool you need them to use (which they professed they had working knowledge of).
- You become their guinea pig
"I have also found that if you are somewhat flexible in deadlines, a “nice guy” or easygoing, the other clients of the Virtual Assistant will soon take (re-allocate) much of your Virtual Assistant’s prime working time.
"It’s also (to me) become a major red flag when a Virtual Assistant volunteers “Oh, I can do that, too!” (like answer your phones).
"Because of all the reasons above, I can no longer find Virtual Assistants to be a viable option at $45/hour. Many Virtual Assistants are far too over-priced. And I have paid Virtual Assistants amounts like $30, $35 and $40/hour. You do NOT get what you pay for."
Let’s discuss… what do you think about all this?