Let's start with what I believe the definition to this common term "False Lead" is.
False Lead - An initial contact by a potential customer to a pro that is immediately responded to, but never leads to any additional conversation regardless of the pro's efforts, professionalism and timeliness...yet always leads to a charge by the Thumbtack platform.
I have experienced such situations myself and certainly have read numerous blog posts on this subject. I have even expressed my own frustration with TT and in other blog posts as well. However, as someone who has built multiple businesses over the years, I realized that screaming about the problem, or offering hardline solutions that don't take into account Thumbtacks business model, bottom line, etc....is counter productive. We are quick to throw stones at TT and tell them how they should be doing their job and running their business, but not as quick to accept direction on our own. I am not saying that I agree with TT's process, or that I too don't have suggestions that I think they should consider. However, I am saying that overall I believe that TT has been a positive addition to the professional community and that we need to find better ways of addressing issues that appear to be non-beneficial to either side.
If I put myself in TT's position, YES, their job is to generate revenue and as much of it as they can. What business owner would not say the same thing about their business? However, they have to delicately balance improvements in revenue and growth with ensuring that Pro's find value and that customers find Pros. I have other businesses that are in Technology and Business Consulting and l can tell you that for the most part, TT is doing far more right than wrong. As you read through the rest of this post and hopefully seek ways to contribute to the dialogue this will hopefully start, I ask that you constantly try to remember that TT is a business just like yours, with expectations for profit and growth. If you think TT is out to "screw" you out of money, you simply are wrong as it would do no good for TT to snake their pro's as they would have no business.
With all that said, I think the issue with "False Leads" is real. Please hear me clearly TT, when I say this. Pro's complaints about this issue have merit and they should be tended to better than you are doing. I have personally been frustrated by the communication I have received from your team when trying to address specific instances that I felt were worthy of review. As a Top Pro, we are told that we are special and that we receive priority support, etc. However, my experience with this matter so far has been the impression of "get over it or leave". No, those weren't the words used, but it certainly was the impression I received when my questions were not answered directly and no one seemed to really care about the potential problem we pros are facing.
So what then is the answer? I think that is what we all truly want right? I think every reasonable and established pro understands that there is a running cost of getting clients and that no matter how hard we try, there are going to be times that we will invest in landing business that we don't ultimately get. Afterall, as much as we like to think we are the only game in town, the reality is that there are many quality and professional businesses as good as we are...and maybe even better when it comes to closing the deal.
The answer to that question is that I don't have the answer. What I do have is suggestions that I believe are worthy of consideration and discussion. So I would like to provide several suggestions that I believe can help this problem. My suggestions are for TT, as well as for Pro's facing this problem.
1. Resolution Process for False leads
Thumbtack - I believe it is imperative that you have a better way of reviewing complaints from Pros. I know this takes manpower and effort, but we are the lifeblood of your business, as you are for many of ours. To simply be given a canned answer of, "Our promise is to put you touch with customers and that is what you pay for." is not one that instills confidence in us who have legitimate cases in which charges should not occur (i.e. a customer that reaches out only to tell you they thought you were the other pro they already hired....yes, I got charged for that). I don't believe that just because a customer doesn't give us business, we should not get charged. However, I do believe that you should consider a way to address these random acts of initial communication that NEVER lead to a response of any kind. They do appear to be happening more and more and you should be considerate of the money that we spend with you.
Pro's - Quit bashing Thumbtack as if they are your enemy. If you are not benefitting from their services, leave. There are LOTS of options for generating business, and ultimately TT may not be the right one for you. No marketing or advertising mechanism is going to be perfect for everyone. You have to weigh that for your business and make a decision. If you are relying solely on TT for your business, I would tell you that is a professional mistake. TT should be one of many methods for getting business...but that is another discussion. Contact them by phone, they can't ignore phone calls as much as they can emails and forum posts. Professionally plea your case to them...but do so case by case and with very convincing evidence of a reason to reverse a charge. "But I shouldn't have to do that!"...I hear you, but after 20 years of starting, operating and consulting 100's of businesses, I can tell you sometimes have to do things you believe aren't necessary to make an impact.
2. Instant Quote Process
Thumbtack - At its core, this process and service make sense. We can send out quotes that match criteria we set on certain jobs and allow customers to contact us in response to our quote vs. other competing pro's. It's instant, it ensures a quick response and we don't get charged unless a customer contacts us. However, the failure in this is that we don't control the first communication the customer gets. I recommend having it where in our instant match setup, we have the ability to create custom text that goes with our quote, vs. the default criteria you have elected to provide. Not every customer is going to shop on price alone and not all quotes are the same. Your system right now promotes a "lowest price" wins environment. I don't believe that this feature is a huge coding challenge. Every service we set up with an instant quote has the option for us to add our own introduction to the quote and us as a business for the customer to read. This allows us to differentiate ourselves from the get-go on something other than price. Many times your instant quote criteria aren't detailed enough to truly give a proper quote and leave the door open for customers to ask questions that cost us money but don't lead to business. The more we can provide at the first instant of communication, the better. Secondly, I don't know how you come up with our instant match criteria, however, I believe there is a great deal to be gained by getting with your Top Pro's in a particular industry to discuss what services are best for instant match, and more importantly, what criteria should be mandated by customers for an instant match quote. I know that there are many ways that my instant match services could be improved through the criteria questions asked, and assume many other industries would as well. Talk to us and be willing to make small, yet critical, changes to that process. I would recommend a private "Instant Match Review" discussion with only pros in the field or with the service being reviewed. All pros could discuss what is best for them and from that TT would be able to marry that information with what they believe customers can handle and could provide conveniently.
Pro's - Instant match isn't the answer for every business and every service. Don't get angry at the results you are getting if you choose to use the service. It isn't required and you have the option to turn it off. I have 2 main services that I offer and one is a good fit for instant match, and one is not. I simply have to be diligent in my responses when opportunities come in that aren't on instant match. For the service that is on instant match, I have had to modify my sales price and strategy to work with what I have available to me. Again, it's a tool that you have to determine is appropriate, and if so, how can you use the tool in the manner it is available to you. If you have additional ways to improve the instant match process, submit it to TT...better yet, add it as a response to this post. I truly believe that TT considers all recommendations...however, so many people provide such recommendations without a proper explanation of how it will solve a problem or with a negative comment towards TT with it.
Thumbtack - I know your intention is to make things as quick and easy as possible for customers and pros. However, there is a downside to this. The problem with the canned responses both from customers and pros is that they are universally the same. When we only see "what's next" or "when can I call", to only have that followed up with no response at all...it adds to the frustration. When customers get 3 follow-ups that look like they are system generated...it takes away from the communication experience. I would like to see canned responses from customers go away altogether and have canned responses from us be personalized. Customers are not the experts in the areas they are coming to TT on, so they should be prompted to ask what they don't know or initiate the conversation in their own way. As pros, we do know our fields and what responses should be to many of the questions we get...but only if those questions truly come from customers...not short blip responses that eliminate the customers need to think about what to ask. I honestly believe you are hurting the customer experience with the canned responses more than the pros. There is something to be said about pure communication, by giving pre-canned options to customers you are undermining the entire sales process.
Pro's - Quit using the canned responses in TT. Yes, they may seem quick and easy and give you the false comfort you have followed up with customers, but I can tell you this is one thing that I have tested and played with only to find that a truly personal response or follow up from me had led to more conversions of business than anything else. No one likes speaking to an automated menu. When customers realize that a real person has responded, they gravitate to them. However, you can learn from TT in keeping responses as quick and short as possible, without losing the ability to answer the question or provide the information. If you are prompted with a question that requires a conversation, ask to call the customer. State that the answer to their question is more in-depth than can be answered in a chat. Most will give you permission to call...or will show you they aren't serious buyers in the first place (not TT's fault).
Videos in Profiles
Thumbtack - You desperately need to allow pros to upload videos in their profile. Nothing helps customers get a good feel for a pro than a quick 2-minute introduction and visual of the pro. This is 2018 and to not enable at least a 1-2 minute video commercial or introduction in our profile is seriously missing the mark.
Pros - Update your profile and learn from the excellent advice that TT offers for improving your profile and getting more business.
Insurance Verification in Profile
Thumbtack - Proper insurance is probably one of the most key factors you can have to differentiate between pros. Every profile should have the option to show that the business is properly insured. This should be a feature just like the license and background check is. To not have this tells me that you are more interested in quantity than quality when it comes to pros. I know that much of my competition that is lowballing prices are not properly insured. If you want quality pros on your site and want to give customers access to quality pros, then put an "Insured" criteria in the profile and force the pros to get insured or show that they are not. This is a HUGE issue in my opinion and one that can be easily solved. There is only one reason you would choose not to do this...to get as many pros paying for leads as possible without consideration for the protection of customer or the overhead that true professionals have that maintain proper insurance. You should not want pros and contractors that are not insured....period!
Pros - Get properly insured! It is a cost of business and may force you to raise your pricing, but do it anyway. For pros that are properly insured and are screaming in agreement with me. Voice this to Thumbtack as well. Again, this is a super easy fix that they could do overnight if they decided to. However, I can't be a lone voice for all the pros that carry proper insurance. Not all businesses and services will this be relevant to...just like licensing doesn't apply to all businesses and services. However, to have the option is valuable.
That is what I have for Thumbtack and the Pro community right now. Let's start being productive in our efforts to make this platform as good as it can be for all of our benefits. I would love to have a $1000 per week budget with Thumbtack because the ROI is so good! I believe it is possible with all of us coming together and truly working with each other to improve the platform. But it takes Thumbtack listening, communicating and responding...and Pros being more understanding that not all ideas are good and that Thumbtack is not evil. Thumbtack has been an incredible asset to my business and I believe it has been for most other Pros as well.
Wow @RickB, this is super thoughtful and insightful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for giving us and other pros some suggestions. You bring up some great points and I can promise that all of this will be passed along. There are a few things that I want to address.
First, I get the frustration that comes when customers message you initially and then you never hear back. We get that it's a common frustration among pros and we can only work harder on minimizing them. Ultimately, I don't think that will ever fully stop, but we're working on new experiences for the customers to keep them interested and engaged.
You're right, Instant Match can be improved and we understand that it's not perfect. We’re always working to tweak the preferences that pros can set in relation to the jobs that come in and accurate matches are one of our biggest priorities at the moment. We have things in the works to better showcase the pros pricing, information, and questions that can be answered to customers up front. Of course, if you have any specific suggestions, you're always welcome to send them here.
Pros do have the option to add videos to their profile and it's something we highly encourage. I agree that it does help the customer get a good feel for the professional. Here is an article with steps on how to get that added, let me know if it works for you!
We definitely aren't more interested in quantity over quality. We expect all pros to obtain the right licenses necessary and follow their local, state and federal laws.
Again, thank you for reaching out. I can tell you're not only passionate about your business, but Thumbtack as well. We're happy to have you and I'm always happy to help in any way that I can.
I agree, this happened to me (again) last week. I actually had stopped quoting on any jobs where the name given even appears to have the slightest hint of being fake. Now, I've just stopped replying to job requests all together. Since June I have responded to over four hundred requests. Of those, only a dozen bothered to respond - with most of questionable nature. And I can count on one hand the number of jobs that actually hired anyone. Pricing is not the only problem... quality leads are just as important. If individuals submitting requests have no inclunation of hiring anyone and are just phishing around, or their budget expectations are unrealistic to the point where I would have to loose money in order to provide services, then what is the point? After four years this platform is now going nowhere, and is not worth the time, effort or expense. :-(
It also seems the cost of bidding jobs has gone up with the instant match. the scary part is if you set a budget of 120 a week. how many fakes are you going to get contacted by just to run your bill up
I despise the new TT but I don't think they are using bots to charge us for fake leads. I do think pros shop bids in they own categories sometimes. I think people make up names and forget what they made up and make the same request again.
TT wanted to convert more prospects into a lead they could charge for, everything have done makes contacting us easier. There has to be a balance if TT makes it too difficult people won't bother but if its too easy the quality of leads drops too low to make using the service profitable for us TT actual customers.
While I think TT is overcharging for what they are providing and I think they are losing the benefits that made them unique. I do not think TT is faking contacts to charge for fake leads, they are just charging for very low-quality prospects.
Im curious what TT does to protect us from our competition potentially requesting bids from us to waste our money. I have had several people in the last few weeks(since the new search option was introduced), request an estimate by finding my company on TT. I respond to these emails ASAP, and there are numerous people that have never responded.... TT says it's up to us to follow up and seal the deal after contact is made, but when I have emailed, followed up, followed up again, and called(when a phone number is available), what am I supposed to do? It's total that we should have to pay for these fake "leads"... It is either TT trying to steal from contractors, or people in our trade wasting our money.
So TT, what do you do to be sure there aren't fake client's on your site taking advantage of us?
Hi there @ChrisFord. Pros placing requests for the service they offer is definitely not something we allow and have a system set in place to catch that activity. If for some reason you see one make it's way through and you know it's a competitor, please let us know! We'll look into it and get things taken care of.
What's stopping Thumbtack from creating bots to generate fake leads to make money off the Instant Match users? Every other platform, Bark.com, WeddingWire, Gig Salad, Gig Masters, etc... requires a phone number and email. Without a phone number and email, how do we know that leads are even real?