How Ottawa’s Mopify engages an army of independent cleaning contractors

Ottawa startup blends tech tools with human touch to manage mobile workforce
Mopify
Alex Hébert is the cofounder of Mopify. Photo by Mark Holleron

This article originally appeared in the spring edition of HR Update.

This article now correctly identifies Ian O'Halloran as Mopify's co-founder.

With companies such as Uber and Airbnb making headlines as they navigate the tricky world of managing contractors, Ottawa-based startup Mopify is focused on finding the right balance between technology and human interaction as it begins scaling up across Canada.

Alex Hébert and Ian O'Halloran founded Mopify to capture what they saw as an untapped, underserved market: independent cleaning contractors.

Hébert says around 80 per cent of the house cleaning market is served by contractors, many of whom use platforms such as Kijiji or Facebook to find and manage customers. Mopify provides a platform to connect these contractors with clients and manage their relationships, bookings and payments more securely.

“At its core, it’s more of a technology company than anything else,” says Hébert, adding that the key to making Mopify work is in the balance between automation and personal customer service. It may be a technology company, but Mopify is dealing with people – something that can’t always be automated.

In addition to its 15 employees, Mopify deals with more than 400 cleaning contractors across Canada. There are a lot of differences between the two, says Hébert, most notably the fact that Mopify can’t train its contractors or inspect their work. Therefore, a lot of effort goes into the process of approving contractors to make sure that clients are only working with reliable, experienced people.

“When you have independent contractors, there’s all kinds of things you can and can’t do because there’s this delineation between employees and independent contractors,” says Hébert. “We can’t technically train people. So that really changes our approach to recruiting.”

The process is always under review as the company grows and responds to its users, explains Hébert: “We’re constantly going back and looking at data.”

Providing feedback

Contractors are vetted first through an automated review of their application and a background check followed by a series of interviews (with real people).

With this kind of model, Hébert says the company doesn’t want every decision to be up to the software, especially since the relationship between Mopify and its contractors is essential to the success of both parties.

“Being super responsive and helpful is really a key piece to maintaining that relationship,” he says. While many of the customer service communications are handled automatically – common concerns such as a contractor notifying their customer of a late arrival – other more complicated concerns are handled by people.

As well, the company keeps close tabs on how its contractors are doing, and how their clients are responding to the service.

“At a high level, every contractor has an internal score” that’s a combination of quality and reliability, explains Hébert. “People with higher scores get offered jobs first.”

The score is for Mopify’s eyes only; customers see only comments, since  “everybody we have is going to be maintaining a certain standard,” says Hébert.

Clients are matched with contractors with the understanding that they will be a repeat customer until further notice. Bad reviews, complaints or dipping scores are flagged for the Mopify team, who look for trends. Anomalous reviews are often dismissed, but patterns are taken very seriously. Contractors receive a monthly report showing how they are doing in relation to all of Mopify’s contractors – the closest thing to an employee review a contractor can get.

“We watch (the scores) like a hawk, and if there’s anything that’s actionable, we get in touch,” says Hébert. “You’re not going to make everybody happy.”

He says one of the most important ways Mopify can avoid customer-contractor issues is by providing mechanisms for them to set expectations at the beginning. For example, the customer can either choose to have the cleaner bring supplies, or to supply their own; but if they choose the latter, Mopify reminds them of what should be available so that the cleaner doesn’t show up to find inadequate supplies to do their job.

For companies like Mopify that deal primarily with contractors (much like Uber or Airbnb), Hébert says it’s all about finding the balance between automation and personal service.

“You don’t want to lose that human touch,” he says.

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