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Helpling: a helpful online cleaning service… or not?

cleaningThis weekend, I decided to try out Helpling, one of the latest web-based cleaning booking services that has cropped up lately.

This was my first time using Helpling. I’ve been needing to find a replacement for our current beloved cleaners as they haven’t been able to service spaces over a certain square footage anymore. I was hoping Helpling could be our new go-to service.

So in the end… how was it? This was my experience and how I think they can make it better.

1) The website

When I got to their site, I was impressed by how clean and user friendly it was. Unfortunately, as soon as I started filling out my information, I found that the site had some bugs, the first of which forced me to enter information into the “optional” second line of the address fields. “Optional” should not mean mandatory. This must have been an oversight, and therefore should be an easy fix. That said, until it’s fixed, it’s really not the ideal as many people don’t have addresses that can extend into two lines. As for me, I usually have to fill out my address with my suite number in a very specific way to get past strict credit card verifications against my on-file billing address. Splitting up my billing address often means credit card validation is declined. The fact that it went through is convenient on the one hand, but really not so good, as it raises security concerns.

A second observation was that the site form didn’t have any space for customers to fill out additional information. Information like key pick-up, perhaps where the cleaning supplies are, or any special instructions in the event a customer can’t meet the cleaner face to face.

The verdict: It doesn’t matter how beautiful a site is if the basic functionality doesn’t work. Helpling would benefit from going through another round of site QA and fixing these sorts of bugs – both form submissions and the security flaw. Adding a comments or additional information section to the form would eliminate the need for customers to have to call Helpling to give that information over the phone – which ties into #3 below.

2) The big bug – location for in-person services is really important

The next bug was a doozy, and I only discovered it a day later when I happened to review the confirmation email I was sent in more detail… because I’m anal like that. What I found was that the address listed as the cleaning location was incorrect. The system had actually overwritten my cleaning location address with the billing address. Not good. Especially because my timelines were crazy tight that day between coordinating a double move and a hand-over of my place to new tenants. I didn’t have the wiggle room to have a cleaner show up at the wrong address where I wouldn’t be at. It goes without saying that had I not noticed, it would be have been a significant problem. Luckily, I was able to correct the issue with a call through to Helpling. As an aside, I also found that the addresses in my profile and other address on file showed the two postal codes as being reversed for some reason – another bug, but really inconsequential to me at that point.

The verdict: This one really has to get solved or people won’t bother using the service at all. It really eliminates all the benefit to a fast, convenient online booking service.

3) Customer service

I think that as a general rule, people don’t like calling customer service of any kind. The experience is generally not amazing. Not like eating a double fudge sundae is. So when someone does call customer service, it means they have no other choice and that they need something. Meaning, if there’s anything a company can do to help a customer avoid needing to call in while still being easily accessible in case they still have to call in, that is the ideal.

For my booking, I ended up having to call Helpling to follow-up three times. The first time, to give information about key pick-up – as a back-up in case I couldn’t get back in time between our move. The second time, to resolve the address mix-up. And the third time, to follow-up on my cleaner when she hadn’t arrived at the scheduled time after I had been able to rush back. The first call was fine – although could have easily been avoided with a form field (as mentioned before) on the site. The second call was confusing: the rep answered with “hey”. That’s it. Like I was a homie. To which I replied, confused “Is this Helpling?” His response: “Ye-eeah.” The rest of the call was consistent with this original attitude. The last call was simply unanswered as I found out that Helpling didn’t have customer service evenings and weekends. Twitter was also silent. I was stranded. Amazing! As in as amazing as a dropped-on-the-floor double fudge sundae.

The verdict: Try to include ways customers can solve issues or provide/obtain information without having to call whenever possible… but not so much that it’s frustrating in its own right (more on that in another post). Stay professional on the phone when people do have to call. Friendly, accessible service is great, super casual to the point of causing confusion as to whether I’m even calling a business is no good. Make sure to manage expectations if customer service isn’t available on certain days and times. Particularly for an online-based service, people have higher than normal expectations about accessibility.

4. The clean itself

In the end, I couldn’t stay to wait for the cleaner and left hoping that everything would work out okay with the cleaner finding the key and making it in. It was and she did. That was a huge relief. That said, my particular cleaning service wasn’t great. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great. I had asked for and paid additional for the closets to be cleaned; however, top shelves were left untouched and were still very dusty. Random dust bunnies were still hiding in corners, and the taps in bathroom could have used a wipe down. Otherwise, the cleaning of the main spaces (floors, kitchen counters, windows) was fine.

The verdict: I don’t think there is anything Helpling can do that they don’t already do for this in terms of screening and trying cleaners out. It’s a new service, so it’s going to have some good and some less good cleaners who join their service. I think this is expected.

5. Follow-up survey and rating system

After the service was completed, I was sent an email asking me to submit a review that included selecting a star rating for three main (and mandatory) criteria. I struggled with this as one of the criteria was how nice the cleaner was. I didn’t meet mine… because she was really late. But I had to give her a rating, otherwise, I couldn’t submit the review at all. I chose a random rating – I gave her the benefit of the doubt that she was really nice. That made my rating less accurate.

The verdict: None of the star ratings and criteria for reviews should be mandatory – or at least if they are, have an additional item in the form that allows the customer to select “not applicable”.

The final verdict:

I really can’t recommend Helpling at this point in time. And I really can’t say that I’ll be back to use the service again in the immediate future, because of all the issues I experienced. Considering a web-based cleaning intermediary platform’s sole purpose is really to coordinate customers with cleaners in the most convenient way, my experience actually involved a lot of additional follow-up, frustration, and inconvenience to the whole process that ironically, would have been avoided had I just sourced and dealt directly with a cleaner the old fashioned way. That said, it is a new service, so growing pains are normal. Maybe they’ll have more figured out and everything will be smoother in the coming months.

UPDATE (January 21, 2015):

I have to say, I’m very impressed. Two days ago, immediately following the weekend, I received a call from Helpling’s Ops Director to follow-up on my review of their site and service. (As you may recall, I submitted an online review of my service – of which I had included some of the other bugs and problems I had encountered.) He didn’t try to skirt any of the issues and instead, apologized and outlined what he and his team were already doing to resolve them. This is a great sign.  He also outlined their process for vetting cleaners before and after services – and I was very encouraged by their commitment to the quality of the cleaners who sign up with Helpling. In light of this, I may try them again in a couple months and see how things are.

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