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Trust, but Verify, with TaskAssure!

Thoughts to ponder

Occasionally we find something potentially useful to share with others, especially regarding integrity, transparency, and accountability in the field of services. Health care, elder care, child care, pet care, home maintenance, lawn care, property management. The common theme is that people do things for other people millions of times every day. And today more than ever, we need to share what we learn with each other.

REVISED: How to approach your helpers about monitoring their work

REVISED: How to approach your helpers about monitoring their work

Dec 28 2015

One of the things I hear quite frequently from people considering TaskAssure is: 

"Even though I want better information about tasks being performed for me, I am concerned that my helper will be offended if I ask them to let me monitor their work with TaskAssure. How can I approach them?"

I understand the dilemma. Especially when we have used people for services repeatedly in the past, it can seem off-putting if "out of the blue" we ask for some improved information about their services. There could be an implied lack of trust. But that aspect of the relationship (i.e. trust) does not need to be our focus. You have hired or asked the person to help you by performing a task, and that indicates that you trust them. On the other hand, there are numerous reasons to want to have more information in these transactions. This article may give you ideas how you can approach your specific helpers on this potentially touchy subject.

Reasons people want to keep informed

Before offering some thoughts on how to approach your helpers on this subject, I want to share some of the stories that I have heard from regular people that want to keep informed about services they ask others to perform. We have grown used to not having many options regarding keeping informed about services. But now it is not only possible but very easy with TaskAssure or even some simple tips (see "Five no-cost ways to keep informed while tasks are being performed for you"). It can provide some context to the subject if we first realize why keeping informed is so valuable. 

Avoid potential cost overruns

A gentleman residing in Florida has a Summer vacation home and rental property near Boston. He describes it as a fabulous 100 year old plus home with a lot of character. For a few years he has found himself relying on the assistance of a handiman to perform miscellaneous tasks in a continual effort to maintain the building. Typically he tells the handiman what to do via phone, and maybe with an email, paying him an agreed hourly rate, and doesn't really see the completed work until his next trip to the area. As he recounted this particular story, the gentleman let me know three times that he trusted the handiman. However, a problem occurred on this occasion when he tasked the handiman to paint the kitchen. It wasn't a particularly large kitchen, and he assumed it would cost $300 to $400. So he was startled when he received a bill for labor totaling nearly $2,000! This shook his confidence in the handiman. Did it really take that much effort? How could he have underestimated so badly? He wasn't sure he could trust his handiman in the future. What he decided however was that had he been receiving information on a daily basis such as start time, stop time, and photos of progress, then he would have understood whether the handiman was as honest as he always assumed.

Ensure we get what we pay for

Many people are familiar with the term "snowbird" to describe people that reside in Northern areas during the Summer, but "flock" to warmer regions such as Arizona and Florida during Winter. In some cases, they own homes in both regions. And usually they rely on property management or other services to keep up the empty property while they are away. So for example, in the Winter, its important to check that the heating system is working properly, and look for leaks or other problems. On the other hand, during the Summer landscaping is a common challenge, as well as to check for leaks and ensure the cooling and ventilation is operational to avoid mildew and mold. I can't count the number of stories I have heard about people discovering that the periodic services they have contracted (and paid) for are just not being performed according to plan. We all like to think that people are trustworthy and conscientious, but whether its due to conflicting priorities, outright fraud or scheduling error, when tasks are not monitored, it seems that too often they aren't performed according to our expectations. TaskAssure is an example of a great way to ensure the people you rely on are meeting expectations.

Peace of mind concerning our cherished family members

On one occasion, I was having a nice discussion about "task assurance" with a woman at an eldercare and caregiving conference, when she stopped and her eyes grew to twice their normal size. She interrupted our train of thought to give me her personal example of how she will use TaskAssure. It turns out that she hires a person to walk her dog Monday through Friday while she is at her job. She pays extra so that the person walks her dog to the park two blocks away, rather than just to a neighbor's yard. Her pet loves the park, and she feels its a nice "gift" she is giving since she can't be there herself. She didn't necessarily have any doubts that her dog-walker was going to the park. But she said with TaskAssure she would feel that much better having proof every day, and she would even ask for a photo to be taken of her treasured pet at the park.

Motivating people to keep up the good work

Many people tell me about their experiences relying on people for house cleaning and pet care. One story illustrates the sort of issues people may be facing, but also the challenge that is the subject of this article - asking the helper to be monitored. This woman was a successful, hard-driving sales manager with a geographic territory covering a couple hundred miles. She traveled by car to visit accounts, often staying at hotels 3 or 4 nights a week. She hired a housekeeper just to stay ahead of the chores involved in cleaning the house and doing laundry. She also depended on someone to visit the home three times every day to check on her dog, provide food and water, and take her for a walk. Unfortunately, she was suspicious whether either helper was meeting their obligations. The house seemed less clean that it should be, and her neighbors reported they rarely saw the pet sitter. Even though this seemed like a great application for TaskAssure, this saleswoman was hesitant to require her helpers to use it. She was concerned they would be offended, after working for her for more than two years. I empathized with her, and also reminded her that the person performing the task might enjoy having a very simple way to keep her informed about each task. Using TaskAssure, both parties win!

Avoiding financial impacts

In some cases, the failure for someone to perform a service can have financial implications. A great example of this is housekeeping and maintenance services for vacation rental properties. At a recent conference, I heard from two different property owners that they had received calls from disappointed new rental clients that their properties were not cleaned since the last rental. This failure may lead to a discounting or a partial refund to adjust for the renter's inconvenience while a housekeeper is sent to the property. More concerning was that the renter could very well leave a less than "5 star" review, which has a negative impact on future rentals. This wasn't a case of fraud by the cleaning agency, in both cases they simply failed to schedule the work properly. But had the property owner(s) and contractors been using TaskAssure, they would have had multiple indicators that something wasn't quite right. For example, an alert message would have been sent by TaskAssure if the task wasn't started or completed by a scheduled time. And the lack of task activity including photos of the before and after service would have been a clear indication that the service wasn't performed. These would provide time prior to the arrival of a new renter for the owner or manager to call the cleaning agency, or make other arrangements.

Approaching your helper

TaskAssure is an example of a tool that can provide a great deal of information to you about a service that you have asked someone else to perform. But TaskAssure can't prevent people that have bad intentions. For example, TaskAssure can't stop someone from stealing from your property, if that is their intention. (Although at least our information can be used to determine how long someone was at the location.) 

  1. Focus on positive outcomes
    Perhaps the best approach that I have heard of is to advise your helper(s) that you are struggling to manage your busy life, and you are concerned that you might miss an important obligation. Let them know that you consider them an important part in meeting your obligations. Then let them know you have discovered TaskAssure (or any technique for keeping informed that you wish) to manage your "to do's", and that it will help you if they use it too. You will assign tasks to them, and when they perform the tasks, TaskAssure will keep you informed about the status. Keep it simple, and focus on "keeping informed". Also, mention that it won't cost them anything. (Assuming they have a compatible mobile phone, and they won't be charged for data services.)

  2. Describe benefits for the helper
    While you might want to start the conversation focused on your own goals (e.g. to better manage your life) then you can include their role and describe the benefits that this technique will give to them. For example, you won't need to phone them to ask if they have started or completed a task. They won't need to write a text message informing you of their status. And they will only need to tap a button on their mobile phone to upload photos and provide other progress updates. You might also suggest that by being able to review all of the task information in a single location (i.e. TaskAssure) then you can make payment decisions quicker. (Tip: consider offering to pay within 24 hours if they will use TaskAssure.)

  3. It's not about trust
    As should be clear from the stories given at the beginning of this article, the desire to keep informed is not a sign of distrust. Understanding the status of a task helps you to better manage your own life, and gives you an opportunity to make decisions that can avoid problems. So while speaking to your helper, I suggest you don't use phrases like "trust". If the topic of trust or lack of trust does come up, it may help to explain first that if you did not trust your helper, then you would not be using him or her. I'm sure this is true for all of us, so it is fair to state it. It is probably also true however, that every one of us has experienced moments in our life when we trusted someone too much. So, keep in mind that your helper likely knows how you feel, and should be able to relate to your desire to keep informed, even if you do trust them. (Tip: remind your helper that some situations can occur that will prevent them from performing scheduled tasks - such as car accidents, health emergencies, etc. - and in those cases TaskAssure allows you to be advised that the task hasn't started, and to act if necessary.)

So what should we do if the subject of keeping informed becomes a big issue, and your helper is offended? If they refuse to use TaskAssure (or any similar technique that you ask of them) then is it grounds to look for another helper? I absolutely believe it is sufficient cause for you to have doubts if they refuse to use a free tool that offers benefits for both of you. It is possible the helper just has an emotional issue with "being monitored", and it might not mean they have anything to hide. But if you have tried your best to ensure they understand that it is your right to ask them, and it saves you and them time, and they still won't agree, then I think you'll be happier in the end with a new helper. This time, when you find candidates for your needs (see "Tools for finding services") let them know up-front that you require use of TaskAssure (or whichever techniques you want). Make it clear you are serious about keeping informed about their services, and that you may choose not to continue using them if they fail to comply.

By the way, when I was initially exploring the TaskAssure concept, we did several surveys to learn how people think - including the people that perform tasks. Depending on the question and the service industry, two-thirds to three-quarters of people we polled thought that a service like TaskAssure was just fine with them. Some responses even urged us to get to market quickly so that better transparency and accountability could be achieved. Keep a positive attitude!

Do you have other suggestions? Please let us know!

Total: 1 Comment(s)
  Thank you! This is one of those ideas that just makes sense. Why didn't anyone think of it before? If I was going to hire someone and they refused to use TaskAssure, I would look elsewhere!
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