We did something off late…. And it’s hurting us

(Two years’ worth of learning and updates in less than 15
minutes)

It’s unbearably hawwtt these days! No doubt bow dah. And as much as we hate to say it, but summer brings brisk business — at least in the home services industry — owing to the increased demand for all types of repair related cases. So you know summer is good time for business. And cousin — business is a booming!

In an industry where people have perpetually relied on local technicians to meet their home services needs, we are beginning to witness an inflection point. More and more urban/ suburban, inner city and connected peripheral areas are coming online to find home services. After the (relatively) mainstream-ization of cabs, food, and ecommerce like industries, it was about time the highly unorganized, fragmented, good-for-nothing services industry fell in line. People have had enough of its inefficiencies. And it was time it needed to be standardized. To be honest, that mean, toolkit, plying, wrenched, inefficient piece of sheet had it coming for a while. 😠😡😡

Deep breathe inhale….exhale. Aaaaahh…!! It’s okay, I’m fine now. Phooooff…!!

Anyway, so I wanted to tell you about this little update we rolled out few weeks ago. And the update is .…. MR. RIGHT IS LAUNCHING IN LONDON, DUBAI, and SINGAPORE.

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Errrr….. not really. Not quite yet.

Yes, it’s something we’re working towards but in order to be able to do that, we need to identify and fix the core problems of our case fulfillment system. In order to be a scalable business, we need to build a product that can automatically complete the entire case cycle i.e. book, assign, remind, update status, bill, and close the case. — All by itself. No manual intervention.

It’s not only how we intend to move towards complete automation, but also how we intend to stay lean and small. We are (still) a team of 12 people who are technology focused and trying to find the most efficient ways to solve the challenges of home services industry.

So, coming back to the “update” I’ve been hinting at so far — it’s COMPLETE AUTOMATION.

Yes, complete automation is the real deal. Automation helps:

  • Cut cost — by eliminating the need for a call-center like team to manually oversee your day-to-day operations
  • Minimize inefficiencies — By removing manual intervention during case assignments and follow ups
  • Scale your business – Obviously
  • Avoid laying people off to cut cost before eventually running out of money — and business

Well, as awesome and easy it may seem to read; reality is twice as cruel and challenging to crack. But as one to not give up, I’ll share how we intend to get there and the developments we’ve made so far.

What’s hurting Mr. Right?

This sentimental and gripping movie is about a regular guy taking care of his family after the unfortunate death of his father. But then one day he meets som….

Voice: Dude, are you thick??? You were supposed to write about what’s hurting Mr. Right? Instead, you’re writing about the movie “What’s eating Gilbert Grape”?
Me: Of course I know. What do you think I’ve been doing? I was just checking if the readers are still paying attention.
Voice: I’m watching you gimp boy.
Me:
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What’s eating Gilb (darnit), What’s hurting Mr. Right?

Okay, so we’ve been talking about automation and how it’s a make or break deal for us. Okay, hear us out.

We claim to have 20,000+ Pros (service professionals) across 10+ cities in India. And while that is correct in every sense, it was more important for us to identify the ones who are serious about their jobs and serious about earning through Mr. Right platform.

Over the course of past two or so years, we have noticed that the highest earners are the ones who are sincere towards their jobs. Well, duh!! Okay, here’s more. These Pros also tend to automatically follow up on their cases, reach on time, complete the job satisfactorily, provide proper billing/ invoice via Pro app, close the case and ask for customers to provide honest ratings/ feedback upon case closure. They were also the ones with internet data services active on their phones and relied heavily on Pro app for all kinds of case related updates and communication with customer.

And while all of our Pros have Mr. Right Pro app installed on their android phones, we realized our requirement wasn’t quantity but the quality of Pros.

A Pro having our pro app never guaranteed hassle-free case closure. Actually, it never guaranteed anything. We could’ve put a hundred reminders on the Pro app regarding his (Pro’s) upcoming job but you can only do as much.

In come, Real-time Pro Tracking

So then we brought in solutions to track Real-time Pro location (around end of 2015) to ascertain the pro’s instantaneous location and know whether or not he’s going to make it on time at the customer site. If not, then the system would automatically assign the case to someone else in the vicinity who has a better chance of reaching at the customer location on time.

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We even distributed pro devices (smartphones) for the same purpose. The devices were locked and could only operate Mr. Right Pro app. (Lol, we were possessive af) Long story short, it didn’t fledge out well. (Same goes for relationships, know what um sayin).

There were several hiccups such as battery consumption and other technical and field challenges. I mean offering a company provided phone was expensive enough, providing a portable charger on top seemed overkill.

So, we slowly, quietly pulled off our Pro-devices aaaaand…. yup, we pulled out all the devices. Yup, that’s it! Nothing to add to that.

So, how do we track Pro locations now?

Hmmmm… that’s the recipe we’ve been working on after the (not so successful) custom pro devices. We’ve been able to build the tracking module extremely light so that it has essentially no effect on the battery as well as data consumption. Also, we don’t need to track them 24 hours a day (more on that later) …. I mean what are we, NSA or something?

Continuing our build towards automation and customer experience

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We recently introduced Virtual IDs to both Mr. Right Customer and Pro app. And what virtual ID does is when either of them (customer or Pro) calls the other, the system creates a virtual ID of their phone number while keeping the actual number masked to the receiver. What this helps accomplish is:

  1. It keeps both customer and Pro numbers masked without inhibiting/ affecting the exchange of information
  2. It helps us know exactly when the customer and the Pro contacted each other, which is a good sign that the case is moving in the right direction.

Switching to Auto Mode

So at this point, we had pretty much everything we needed in place, for e.g. we had adequate number of Pros, increasing customer demand, all Pros with mobile apps, real-time tracking etc.

The only thing we didn’t/ don’t have is enough people to handle the operations (remember we’re only 12 people.… inclusive of all taxes). And that’s never going to be enough…. especially when you have to expand and scale, there’s never gonna be enough people in your team to handle and manage all the ongoing cases. Automation is the only way forward for us to manage the hundreds of cases booked everyday on our platform.

I’m sorry. I was wrong. Actually, you can have as many people as you want for your operations. Actually, you can have actual people calling up the Pros and customers to know the status of the jobs. Yes, you actually can do that. In fact, there’s no better way than having dedicated people overseeing your operations 24x7, giving a human touch, and ensuring things are running smoothly. But there’s always a catch to it. A strength of 300 employees looks super cool on the company’s profile and from marketing perspective, not so much on the financial sheet.

There’s always a cost to it. And from the numerous companies that have tried doing it the traditional way, it hasn’t worked out well for them. Out of the 260 something companies founded in 2014 in the home services category, only a handful are left. And I’m not even talking about the bootstrapped or non-funded ones; I’m talking full-blown marquee VC backed startups who blew too much money too soon chasing vanity numbers the traditional way. It’s a different story that it doesn’t hurt VCs too much because it’s what they do for a living. They make informed decisions. Sometimes they win, sometimes they learn. So it kinda balances out for them.
There’s a general belief in the startup world that everything works out on scale. Ummm… sorry to break it to you pal but NO it doesn’t. There’s a lot of “ifs” and “buts” that need to be considered. And it definitely won’t if one can’t control the operational costs. Ehh… but who does even think about that. Who does even think about unit economics and profitability.

Sorry, we’ve come waaayyyy toooo far from what we were discussing. Every man for himself. We’ll leave it to that.

So where were we? Ummm… yeah we were talking about switching to Auto mode. Yep, in fact we’ve already done that few weeks ago. As a result:

Soon enough there WON’T be an operations team at Mr. Right.

And how exactly do we propose we do that? We have few ideas:

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  • Going forward, the system will only be assigning cases to Pros who have an active internet connection and are online within the last 15 minutes. That means we have their last known location every 15 minutes. This data can then be translated into further useful actions by the system.
  • We have stopped sending customer details via SMS to Pros. The details are only available on Mr. Right Pro app. So they need to log into the app for further details like name, address, type of work etc.

And all this, ladies & gentlemen, implementing all this is WHAT’S HURTING MR. RIGHT.

Hurting? Hurting how, you may ask! Here’s precisely how it’s hurting us:

  • We are missing out on almost 20–30% of our cases due to unavailability of (active) Pros – the ones who were logged in and connected to 3G/ 4G data service in the last 15 minutes.
  • We need to invest more time and efforts in educating Pros to keep their data services online and follow the new set of procedures from start to closing a case. We need to consider the fact that we’re dealing with all kinds of Pros, starting from a carpenter, plumber to a full-fledged cleaning or pest control provider. We need our process to be simple enough that even a not-so-educated Pro can also operate but flexible and equipped enough to meet the various requirements of more sophisticated service providers. Notice we used the word “invest” because we know later on it’s going to pay-off.
  • Yes, we’ve faced resistance from Pros. They are still reluctant in keeping their data services ON. And it was understandable — two years ago. It was the reason we equipped our Pros with a smartphone and 3G data. But it’s not an excuse anymore. Internet data has never been cheaper. And the fierce telecom rivalry has only made it rain for Indian consumers. So we’re ruling out the possibility that a Pro is unable to go online due to high maintenance cost. Nope, not buying that.
  • De-prioritizing or suspending Pros who score poor on customer ratings & feedback. Their cases remain suspended until they set things right with previous cases/ customers. (Remember this point, you’ll know why)

But it has its merits too — long term as well as short

One of the main areas that have benefited the most almost immediately from this radical shift is customer feedback. We’ve been starting to get tons of customer feedback about the services they just availed. We’ve also made numerous tweaks in the customer app to encourage ratings and feedback.

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A screenshot of Daily Rating Status email

It didn’t take us long to realize that on an average, customer satisfaction was well above 80% in the first go itself. Previously it used to be… ummm…. lower (if not satisfactorily high). All this by making few tweaks in the case cycle and the app.

Needless to say…..

{ Oh I know you’re thinking what about the remaining 15–20% cases with poor customer feedback. You just couldn’t leave that couldja…?? Well, we resend the Pros back so they can fix their ratings with the customers. Remember when I asked you to (Remember this point, you’ll know why) a while ago? Well this is why. }
Moving on!

Needless to say once we’ve created the right recipe to tackle the challenges of the services industry (we’re betting on automation and technology), that’s when we will be ready to scale it to any city we want including the ones mentioned at the start of this post. Speaking of scaling, we’re going live in Chennai soon. More on that next time.

Trivia — Didja know?
At Mr. Right, we have a habit of releasing internal (CRM & app) updates every fortnight — duration what we also call a ‘Sprint’. The requirements for these updates are gathered in advance. So at the start of the next sprint (say any given Monday), the entire team gets an email regarding the updates that’ve been made during the previous sprint.

Summarizing: So, here’s what you can expect in the coming few weeks:

  • Full auto-mode. No manual assignments. Our ops execs can’t assign someone even if they wish to. This part will be completely taken off their KRAs.
  • Expect only the best Pros on the system. We’ve set the bar for ourselves, now it’s time the Pros comply. If your booking has been assigned, you can rest assured you’re getting only top rated Pros at your service.
  • More focus towards customer service. We can’t shape a trend overnight. There will be mess-ups and hiccups along the way. But slowly, steadily, we will succeed in charting a new path for ourselves.

We will continue to post our learnings and epiphanies. So subscribe to us on twitter @mrrightindia for latest updates. Also we value your feedback so please feel free to hit us up on Twitter or email at info [at] mrright.in

-I’m Mr. Bulldops

UPDATE: May 25, 2017
The goal to make our home services division completely automated is already underway. We are rethinking and reworking the entire system from the ground up.
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Screenshots of documents containing the entire upcoming workflows and workarounds

As always, I’ll keep you posted.

Yours truly,

Mr. Bulldops

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