Phillips: New company excels at customer service

Phillips: New company excels at customer service

September 25th, 2010 by Ellen Phillips in Business Ellen Phillips

As my most loyal readers know, I love to come up on unique companies that exist pretty much with consumer service exclusively in mind, and this week's column is no exception.

Thumbtack.com, based out of the San Francisco area, is a new company that promises to grow quickly and with fantastic success, thanks to its business plan. Based upon the imagery of a modern-day bulletin board on which all types of ads are posted, Thumbtack is sure to become a mega-brand, just as we recognize Amazon to be.

Many of us are familiar with ServiceMagic.com, an online register that links prospective clients (us) with home improvement providers, such as contractors, cleaning services, and the like.

Even with approximately 70,000 business professionals listed across the country, its registry still includes only those folks who work solely to improve our property. In a nutshell, these pros pay ServiceMagic $20 to be included; when we institute a search for - say - a lawn service, ServiceMagic allows the searcher access to three of these companies for contact. So, each consumer search nets the register a quick and easy 60 bucks.

On the other hand, according to Jonathan Swanson, co-founder and director of operations, Thumbtack.com strives to be the only lead-in for abundant numbers of companies within each state - service related or otherwise. In other words, Thumbtack isn't like typical local search directories that simply return business listings with ratings and reviews, leaving you no better off than pouring through and taking your chances on the Yellow Pages. Instead, Thumbtack gives you the ability to vet, contact and book service professionals the moment you find them.

Of the 50,000-plus providers thus far, the gamut runs from painting classes by a local artist to house painting by a painting contractor, English tutoring to business editing, contractors to baby sitters, and all else in between.

Another huge difference is the commission schedule, which the company plans to implement within the next several months, though it will charge small fees for leads. Let's say I register as a business writing editor, and Thumbtack.com finds me a job editing a section of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Once I've completed the assignment, my "overseer" at the TFP joyfully jumps up and down for my fantabulous editing prowess. Only at this point does Thumbtack take a percentage of my fee, such as, perhaps, 10 percent.

If the newspaper wants me back for successive editing jobs, then Thumbtack would take only a minimum incentive fee, maybe 2 percent. Obviously a win-win situation all way around, but why not take it a step further and go for the gold? In the Chattanooga area, about 7,000 services exist on the website but, say you want a provider who's nowhere to be seen on any list. Thumbtack actually goes out, searches for a specific provider and finds the bid for you. Yep, you heard me right; in fact, over 98 percent of consumers find a satisfactory bid.

But wait, it gets better. Since our world seems to be increasingly more violent and unpredictable, we must be more vigilant in our dealings with folks, as I often preach. Thumbtack does everything in its power to protect us from potential or actual criminals and the security-conscious among us profusely thanks the company.

For example, it shares a database with the U.S. Justice Department for people with recorded criminal or sexual convictions. Further, our Social Security number is verified to belong to us rather than some scammer raiding names off gravestones and obtaining copies of their card numbers (just remember all my warnings about ID theft), banking accounts or checks, and professional licenses, where applicable, are reviewed. And it continues to monitor these folks, long after each task is over.

Actually, Thumbtack wants eventually to become the Be-All-to-End-All for online consumer services, and its plans are two-fold.

1. Digital Storefront: While the instantly recognized eBay and Amazon hype every product known to mankind, Thumbtack envisions branding itself as the same for services, used primarily for consumers, as well as for businesses. At the present time, individuals can go online (www.thumbtack.com) and sign up as either consumer or supplier. Additionally, if you're looking for a service, you'll see the travel options listed (distance for you and the provider, as well as phone or Internet if no travel involved), days of the week this person is available for the job, and the fee schedule, if any.

2. Back Office Tool Complex: In addition to the Storefront, Thumbtack is putting together the crème de la crème of its branding for small businesses and professionals to be available February 2011 and to continuously roll out over the next year. The complex offers the creation of businesspersons' websites, bookkeeping, invoice paying and the like.

How exciting for a supplier to know all paperwork is handled by experts for a minimal fee, and all he needs do is perform the job and get paid. Enhancing the concept is the scheduling of a tool in which something like the following occurs: through Thumbtack's software, an artist sets up a bimonthly appointment, and a house painter sets up one room to be painted weekly on Thursdays until the house is completed. What's more, Thumbtack arranges reminders for both parties and even specifies the overall plans for those specific dates.

You can tell I'm excited about this service when you search for Ellen Phillips in the "Provider" link and there I am!

Editor's Note: Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business. E-mail her at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.