A recent tech scandal saw a major online private investigator service go under due to massive fraud that offered an idea of an online portal to connect hopeful clients to PIs…but instead cheated investors and used funds for everything from jewelry to vacations – all while lying about company growth.
While generally troubling, this event also underlines why it can be difficult for clients to turn to private investigators for online services. There is often a feeling that, “I can do online searches by myself, why would I need an investigation firm?” and fraud cases like this only encourage such wariness. In this environment, how do firms create trust?
PIs that do offer online services need to prove that they are delivering something worth the time and cost, something clients can’t get by themselves. Here are several ways to get started.
Explain that Many Online Tools are Not Available to Clients
Expect people looking at your online services to ask themselves if they could just do it themselves. Why not just sign up for the right databases and search the right social media for the information? This is why it’s important to explain that many services like Tracers, IRBsearch, and TLO are designed specifically for private investigators, and can’t be used with proper credentials or the right training.
While clients may be able to conduct rudimentary searches themselves, they don’t usually have access to higher-level tools that PIs can use to find information fast. When listing your skills and services, it’s a good idea to mention the tools you use, and why a PI is uniquely qualified to use them. Otherwise, people may assume they can do it all by themselves.
Note that Online Results Need Corroboration
Let’s say that a client decides to go ahead and use what free databases they can find themselves to conduct searches and try to turn up information on people. How do they know the information is accurate? There are a lot of these online directories, but they aren’t exactly known for accuracy or completion. What if a couple numbers in a telephone number or SSN got switched around? What if records are pulled for a person (or business) with a similar name, but it’s actually information about someone very different?
This is why it’s important to note that online tools need proper research and corroboration, and that untrained eyes won’t see errors that can crop up in data. In other words, some legwork is needed to make sure online tools are correct, and PIs are ready to do this.
Provide Testimonials and Social Proof
Your online content should always include testimonials and “social proof” – a.k.a., other clients, unrelated to your company, saying that your firm had excellent service. Newcomers need to see this kind of evidence that you really get the job done: It increases their trust in your brand and lets them know that your services really are valuable – beyond what your firm claims.
When possible, focus on results-oriented testimony that also points out what you can get done on the legal side, such as being an important witness in a case or helping clients file for a legal action.
Underline Licensing and Training
If you do not already offer state licensing and training on your website and social media profiles, now is the time to do so! Anyone visiting your online content should be able to clearly see that you are ready – both legally and with the right skillsets – to do things that they can’t do by themselves. Make your credentials visible and detailed so no one misses them.
If it has been a few years since you added this information for visitors, take a look and see if there is any additional training or expertise that you can add, especially when it comes to online services.
Focus on Technical Aspects of Online Investigations
Talking about training is great, but it is particularly helpful to let clients know how technical even researching social media can be. Not everyone knows how to uncover geotagged information from a photo, or how to add search terms like a graduating class year to uncover specific information. Not everyone is in a position to use mobile phone monitoring software, or extract information from computers that have been erased. The more technical skills you can explain, the more clients will realize that they can’t do this themselves.
Final Point: Show the Need for Boots on the Ground
In many cases, digital investigations are only the beginning, and the end involves heading out and doing the hard work. That includes surveillance based on the online information you picked up, interviewing witnesses to get other viewpoints or corroboration, and seeing physical locations involved in the investigation.
In other words, you can’t sit back and do everything from a computer, even if that’s a valuable starting point. When clients see how digital investigations interlock with more traditional PI services out on the streets, they will understand the value that PIs provide – and how they can’t substitute their own online searches.