Virtual Office Service – Not All Clients Are Created Equal
March 16, 2012
by Justine Parsons
I have offered virtual office services for the past five years, enabling international clients to have a presence in New Zealand with access to an Auckland postal and street address, company filing and tax returns and other virtual assistant services. Like most areas of my business, the service is streamlined through the use of procedures.
On receiving an inquiry for the virtual office service, the prospect is emailed promptly; thanking them for their inquiry, answering any questions raised and supplying them with detailed information about the service itself. If the prospect decides to go ahead they are then sent a registration form to be completed and returned. This form captures standard information;
- company name
- contact details
- size of business
- products or services sold
- brief company description
and usually weeds out any ‘undesirables’. Once the form has been completed and returned and I am satisfied that this is a legitimate company or professional then an invoice is raised, when paid the client is supplied with all information needed for their mail direction and other virtual office services.
Not all clients are created equal!
I was contacted late last year by a friendly and articulate lady, let’s call her Linda. She needed a virtual office in New Zealand as her company was looking to branch out and being based in London Linda had decided that virtual office was the best way for her to establish a base on the other side of the world. Emails were exchanged, forms filled out and after a short delay the invoice was paid by her business partner using Paypal. I forwarded the ‘getting started’ info to Linda and we were ready to proceed. Linda also mentioned that she may need me to forward the occasional parcel to her clients which wasn’t a problem.
The following day I received two packages from The Warehouse for Linda. After advising her that these had been received I forwarded as instructed using tracked post to Ghana and Malaysia (cost NZ$163.40). Linda was suitably appreciative at such a fast turnaround and mentioned that her business partner (let’s call him Sam) was also expecting a package, could I inform Linda as soon as this arrived.
In the meantime I am fielding calls for Sam from companies such as Sony and iToys asking for credit card verification on recent orders. I didn’t have Sam’s contact details as Linda instructed me to direct all correspondence to her. Sam travels a lot!
The next week turns up an iPhone, iPod touch, underwater iCamera and a flat screen TV. This is by no definition the ‘odd package’ and alarms bells are ringing. I email Linda asking her to deposit funds to cover future packages until she establishes a credit history. Wow, subsequent emails from her expressed shock, outrage, anger that I have no ‘trust in the relationship’ and finally her commitment that this deposit would be transferred.
A week goes by, and another – no deposit.
My instinct continues to send the worst of vibes and after talking to a couple of contacts I decide that this Virtual Office must close for this particular client.
I email Linda and explain that while I am more than happy to forward ‘the odd package’ I am a virtual assistant, not a freight forwarder. Due to the fact that there may be legal implications for either operating as a freight forwarder without a license or sending costly items as ‘gifts’ to possibly avoid duty tax I am terminating this service, effective immediately. Happy to absorb the cost of sending the first two packages in return for the Virtual Office fee she has paid (NZ$100 per annum), could Linda please arrange for the packages to be collected and sent through customs correctly.
The next day I receive an email from Paypal saying the original virtual office fee paid has been disputed and deducted from my account. Perfect!
It is not always possible to get the measure of a client based on information supplied. If you do find yourself in a situation where you are supplying goods or services to a client who does not meet your standards or criteria, inform them quickly and professionally that you wish to terminate services. Remember that at the end of the day it is your prerogative to chose who you do business with.
This is the first time in the 14 years I have been a virtual assistant that I have had a bad experience with a client. It possibly won’t be the last but we live and we learn.
What lessons have you learnt from a bad client experience and has this changed how you do business now?