I, like everyone else, love Groupons (and their related ilk). Who doesn't like getting a great deal on something you want, or even contemplating those pole-dancing fitness classes?
My friend Kate, an adamant supporter of local small business, hates Groupons. In general, she has a point — bringing up data that shows that, with the steep discount that the provider takes, it ends up anti-supporting small businesses.
I have kind of a "Groupon code of ethics" that I follow for myself. I won't use them for massages, for example; I like my massage therapist a A LOT, and a strong relationship that I can trust is worth paying for. I generally won't use them for restaurants I already have a relationship with, unless it's going to inspire me to try something truly new there. But what I will use them for is to "audition" something I want an ongoing relationship with, whether that's a restaurant, a nail salon, or in particular, a cleaning service.
You see, I keep on being told that having cleaners will make my life *so* much better. The 21st-century version of Downton Abbey help, they will allow us to be better at what we do by taking care of that chore so we can focus on work, and still have a livable environment.
Except, I have in the past, cleaned as a job. Sure, it was part-time during high school and college, but my weekly cleaning gig in London, for example, literally allowed me to eat. I know what cleaning a house involves, and I know how long it takes to clean our house and what makes it "clean." (not that you might always know that by observing our domicile...thus the desire for cleaners).
So, I've now booked several cleaners under Groupons. Each time, I have explicitly told them "I am doing this because I want to develop a long-term relationship with a cleaner. If you do this right, you will have a client for life." And each time, they fail. They are difficult to schedule. They show up late or not at all. They moan about how "big" our house is and get only part-way through. They spend the entire cleaning time with one hand on a mop and the other hand holding their iPhone to their ear. And the house never, ever seems all that much cleaner.
The cleaner we tried yesterday (Distinctive Cleaners, if you must know), hit all these points. Was 8 weeks out in scheduling when I called. Told me they could tell me a day they would come, but not a time until the night before, so I had to leave the whole day open (kind of negates the idea of convenience, right?). The first time I booked them, they did not call with a time the day before, and by the time I reached them the day of, it was too late and we had to cancel. We rescheduled for yesterday, when they emailed me a time; I arranged for my mother-in-law to be home, and they simply did not show. When Patrick called them to complain they first told him we were on a schedule for a different time, and then when faced with an email that disproved that, hung up on me. I called back, and they could not provide a good solution, and said they would call back later. Still waiting for that.
I understand that, if you are a small business, Groupons are a PITA. They set you up with a flood of new customers, and are a scheduling hassle. You don't make much, if any money off of them. They create a difficult obligation that is not easy to schedule. And, as Kate points out, many of them do not come back.
But I humbly remind business owners that you made a marketing decision to participate in the deal. You (hopefully) factored all of that in, and looked at the expense the same way you look at an up-front expense like a print ad or other marketing campaign. I posit that there are a lot of people like me, who look at this as an entry-level way to develop a longer relationship. Don't treat these people like an unwelcome burden — treat them like the invited guests they are. Make their experience easy and rewarding, so that they can't wait to come back. I guarantee you that kind of approach will garner new customers and make the experience worthwhile.
Meanwhile, if you need a list of cleaners *not* to use, let me know....