Apps let users hire house cleaners, handymen without talking
Hiring a cleaner is supposed to be the easy way out, but discussing your dirty work with a stranger can be a mess of its own.
Enter startups like Homejoy and Handybook, which help the hesitant book house cleaners with little to no human interaction.
For a certain class of young San Franciscans, hiring a cleaner - or anyone for that matter - can feel awkward. And awkward doesnt translate into good business.
So these companies have designed apps and websites to reduce any guilt and discomfort associated with hiring someone to do menial labor. Users can get a quote and book a cleaning without ever talking on the phone, and receive a checklist of suggested add-ons so they dont feel like they are asking too much.
If you want someone to go through the process of scrubbing the mold off the top left corner of the shower because youre too busy or lazy to do it yourself, its really hard to ask that person, particularly if youre 22, youve never had the responsibility of employing someone your whole life, youve interned two places and now youre asking someone to do this for you, said Oisin Hanrahan, 29, the founder of Handybook, which lets users book cleaners, handymen or plumbers online or with an app. This is a fascinating topic we spend a lot of time thinking about.
Hanrahan said he and his team obsess about the way customers use his app, and that has led to a number of social findings.Younger users text
Handybook users tend to avoid direct contact with the cleaner, Hanrahan said.
People prefer to hit the chat box in the lower left hand corner of the site and ask someone who is in the position to influence a booking to put in a special request, rather than ask the person who will be doing the cleaning, Hanrahan said.
Older users are more likely to engage in person with cleaners, Hanrahan said. Younger users prefer communicating by text over phone, and phone over face-to-face discussion, he added.
Thats the worst - asking the cleaner in person, Hey, while youre here, can you clean the bathroom? he said.
Thats no surprise to Dr. Steph Habif, a behavior design specialist and lecturer at Stanfords design school. Millennials are used to doing everything online or on mobile, she said.
Im a total phone person, but my younger brother doesnt want to talk to anyone on the phone, ever, Habif said. That generational gap is wildly, wildly obvious.
Other tendencies: people love checking boxes. Handybook and Homejoy both prompt users with cleaning add-ons like interior windows, ovens, fridges, cabinets and laundry. Such choices let people feel in control, even if they arent creative enough to come up with their own instructions, Habif said.
Justin Kan learned that lesson firsthand last year. His San Francisco startup, Exec, used to be a choose-anything errand service. But it struggled to gain customers, even when prompting them with suggested errands.
Eventually, Kan realized that most customers wanted home cleanings, so he cut Execs errands and focused exclusively on maid service. Handybook bought the company last month.
Home cleaning is a set thing they come in and do, Kan said. You know what the service is. You dont have to be creative or think to use it.
Another hurdle: making users comfortable hiring a stranger online. The solution? Make it feel like online shopping.
We wanted to make it like shopping on Amazon, Kan said.Building trust
Tech-savvier towns are quicker to embrace the idea of e-commerce-like hiring, said Adora Cheung, whose company Homejoy has spread from San Francisco to 30 other cities.
In the past decade, purchasing products online has become trusted - we trust the product will show up at your address at some point, Cheung said. Now, people are beginning to trust purchasing offline services, whereas a decade ago they maybe wouldnt have.
Routine helps, Hanrahan said. Lyft drivers fist bump passengers as a way to break the ice. Handybook coaches its cleaners to stick to a basic script when they first arrive: say hi, introduce themselves, then ask, Where do you want me to start?
It all goes toward making users feel comfortable - not guilty about paying to avoid chores.
The more time a person has to practice a behavior, the less guilty theyre going to feel about it, especially if they have a rewarding and successful experience, Habif said. My guess is their customers feel less guilty over time.
Not everyone feels ashamed of paying for household work, nor should they. Cheung said Homejoy has helped injured clients who couldnt do regular chores and needed help, and cleaners who work for the app benefit from flexible hours and regular work.
And in some cases, hiring help is an efficient use of time and money, Hanrahan said.Perception of skill
I think a lot of people perceive themselves as able to clean if they wanted to - though I think cleaning is a skill, Hanrahan said. But people perceive plumbing and handyman work as something they dont know how to do. They feel its a more professional skill, and they dont have a problem asking someone to do it for them.
That might be the reason cleaners get average ratings of 4.6 out of 5 on Handybook, while handymen are closer to 4.8, Hanrahan said. Its a small difference, but its significant. People are happier hiring someone to do work they think they cant do.
The more the person perceives that this is not a peer, this is a professional doing a job, the easier it is for them to ask, Hey, can you do this thing for me? he said.
Ellen Huet is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @ellenhuet