Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ruining Your Business by Driving Away Clients

Is only an ill-advised letter away.

Key Takeaway #1: Trust is hard to build, and easy to lose.

Key Takeaway #2: Resolution of customer complaints is a critical success factor.

Key Takeaway #3: Think Very, Very, Very carefully before threatening legal action. Your attorney may or may not have the expertise to deal with the issues. And your target may turn out to have a much bigger stick than you do.

Key Takeaway #4: If you are looking for employment, spend some time researching any recruiter’s firm before signing up, spending money, or even visiting their office. There may be ethical ones out there, but then, stories like this one should raise major red flags. Many seem to be little more that used car dealerships of bad jobs.

Submitted for your approval: The Curious Case of Ms. Kat Coble, her husband, and J.L. Kirk & Associates. Ms. Coble had a bad experience, and published her thoughts on her blog. She relates here personal experiences, the stress of unemployment on her husband, and the pressure she felt from the J.L.Kirk sales pitch. Portions of Ms. Coble’s post are produced below.

Management at J.L. Kirk, incensed by the Ms. Coble’s description of their business as essentially worthless, and combined with shady and unethical business practices, hired a law firm to sue for defamation / slander. If I was in management there, I would be angry as well, especially if I believed that the charges weren't warranted.

Now, of course, the blogoshpere has gotten hold of the story. Bill Hobbs (“Suing a Blogger”), Instapundit (“Tennessee Blogger Threatened with Libel Suit”) (“Ron Huddleston has More Thoughts”), Captain’s Quarters (“Doubling Down on Sleaze”), Prof. Bainbridge (“Business versus Bloggers”), and others are now relating the tale of how a corporation is attempting to use strong arm legal tactics to silence a critic. The resulting meme: “big firm hires legal guns to threaten woman and her unemployed husband” just isn’t good for business. Particularly when the attention starts to focus on whether or not her complaints are justified, and they may well be in this case.

Ms. Coble has published an update, outlining the response of her J.L. Kirk “consultant”, with links and extended fisking in the footnotes. Unfortunately for the recruiter, the implication – that Ms. Coble’s husband is not far removed from being a complete dolt (“The circumstances of this unemployment would indicate that direction is an issue. Also, his former salary was $20,000 less than his career high, so it would indicate as a job seeker Mr. Coble has had difficulty with sustained upward mobility. [11]Could we help him, yes – but the Coble’s were so steadfast in their paranoia that this will never happen.”), and will likely wind up standing on some intersection holding a “will work for food” sign without J.L.Kirk’s immediate assistance – isn’t likely to help the firm much.

Now that we know something that most people otherwise wouldn’t have realized (J.L. Kirk & Associates is the bought out and renamed version of Haldane), and JLK-A apparently may not have changed much, as resorting to these types of legal tactics may indicate. I won’t be surprised to see another corporate name change.

Other adverse consequences for J.L. Kirk: A copy of their BBB report is now linked to by a variety of blogs. It isn’t pretty - “This company has a pattern of complaint” – and is now high profile. Or more Google Bombing posts like this.

Here’s some of the key points from the text of Ms. Coble’s original trouble making post:

“So today was the second interview, and we drove to Maryland Farms for our 2:00 appointment. We sat in a waiting room next to a fake fireplace and a lone man in a suit. At 2:11 a matronly woman came out and announced to the other man--in front of us--that she would not be able to meet with him because he wasn't able to bring his Support Person. They had a lengthy conversation in front of us about this failed meeting and his disappointment. He asked to speak with her behind closed doors (as would I) and then five minutes later that conversation ended with him leaving dejectedly. She then turned to us (it is now 2:17pm) and greeted us warmly.”

“Here's where the fun starts. We heard all about how hard it is to find a job, how most jobs aren't posted online and are only found through networking. We heard about how the really good jobs are available only to those 'in the know' and can only be obtained through some wizardy combining Masonic handshakes, good dentistry and whatever pixie dust this particular company stores in the backroom. This interview seemed very carefully designed to exploit every potential vulnerability that any jobseeker feels. After about 10 minutes of conversation subtly designed to push every button we may have, the interviewer handed us a booklet that was said to be a tailored write-up of my husband's profile as a job-seeker. The interviewer left us alone in the room to digest the booklet on our own terms.

Our game plan was to ask direct questions about the company's operation and placement record. In short, 'what exactly do you do and how well do you do it?' We had test answers in mind. In short, if we ask a direct question and get a vague answer such as "every case is different so numbers are hard to apply here" that tells us a great deal about the company's services.

Sure enough, our first question about placement rate was answered with an ‘every case is different, etc.’ style answer.”

“She then gave us the very good news that they were prepared to accept us as clients. Then the fun began. We were told that Headhunters and Employment Agencies took fees only when a job had been secured for the job seeker, and they took their fees (generally 30-40%) from the hiring firm. But that means the job seeker gets a lower starting salary because all of their good money is going to the headhunter/employment agency. Thankfully, though, JL Kirk & Associates will be able to get my husband a job making a far larger starting salary. All we need to do is put $4,420 on a credit card today. Once we do that the entire weight of the firm of JL Kirk & Associates will begin the task of navigating treacherous shark-infested landmines of the job search on behalf of my husband. And just trust them, because they find jobs for 90% of the people who pay them to.

So that's how it works. And that's pretty much how we expected that it would work. But both the spouse and I believe that it's irrepsonsible to not pursue any lead during this time so we thought we'd go through the process. Especially since they kept so much of it in the dark from the outset.”

"I get really ticked off at people trying to use fear to motivate others. I don't care if you are a fire-and-brimstone preacher, an insurance salesman, a used-car salesman or a cat burglar. Finding someone else's fear and vulnerability and using that
vulnerability to somehow enrich yourself is a cheap and underhanded tactic. It's wrong and it's cruel. And I think that's exactly what this placement firm did to us today. There were times when I felt like I was sitting across from a spider. We were meant to feel at home enough to let down our guard so that the woman could then ply us gently with tales of terror. All of it was designed to make us hand over nearly $5,000 without question and without possibility of a refund.

The husband and I are not always idiots. We both expect to pay for services rendered from any provider.”

”In the meantime, I would discourage anyone who stumbles across this entry from even going through the JL Kirk & Associates ‘interview process’.

UPDATE I should also mention that this company was formerly Bernard Haldane before it was purchased by Mr. Kirk Leipzig. One of the accusations against Bernard Haldane was that they would make an examination of the potential client's assets and charge accordingly. I find it interesting to note just how close our ‘fee’ was to the tax refund we recently received. Hmmm. Makes you wonder, no?”