Note: AskSunday is a legitimate company, however there is a scam that uses the name of AskSunday (and variations including MakeSunda, Ask-Sunday, 5 Star Concierge LLC) to defraud people. See the comments below this post for lots of information about the scam. I also wrote up a short summary in this ost.
I am currently looking for a virtual assistant that can help me with simple everyday tasks such as scheduling meetings, dealing with call centers, organizing travel and simple research tasks. After hearing good things about AskSunday I decided to give it a try. Overall it was a disappointing experience. Ask Sunday feels very much in beta and the staff doesn’t seem to be up to the task. The basic test assignment (schedule a haircut) was not successfully completed after one week and 25+ emails. If anyone has a better experience with another service, please let me know.
Going into this experiment, my thinking had been that the two biggest challenges when working with a virtual assistant would be context and security. The problem with context is that an assistant knows very little about me, my job(s), where I live, how I organize my life etc. For the assistant to be successful I need to provide a lot of detail (e.g. it takes 30 minutes from Stanford to the place I get a haircut , leave that much buffer please) which reduces the time saving. The second problem is security. Assume I want to call my dental plan about a billing issue. At a minimum the assistant needs access to my health records, social security number, credit card information, address and online credentials. The perfect Identity Theft Starter Kit. But it turned out with AskSunday I never got far enough to even get into these issues. Details below.
To set up AskSunday you basically provide account and payment info, and you are good to go. Unless you need to reset your password. I lost mine (password manager snafu), went through a standard reset process, but never received the confirmation email. A quick check on my incoming MTA logs showed that the AskSunday emails from 22.214.171.124 were rejected by the mail server as spam. Why is that?
root@server [/var/log]# host 126.96.36.199
Host 10.9.16.125.in-addr.arpa not found: 3(NXDOMAIN)
Their mail server has no reverse DNS entry. Ouch. Today this is makes it almost certain that the mails will get rejected. I twittered about it, and shortly after got a friendly mail from Peter, their VP Ops asking for details. He eventually tracked down the issue. Not bad, the AskSunday ops team is definitely on top of things.
With that out of the way I provided my Google Calendar credentials to their portal, and sent my first request:
Dear Ask Sunday Team,
could you schedule a haircut for me with […] in Menlo Park as soon as possible. Please make sure I have time (in my Google Calendar, you have access to it) and allow 20 minutes time for travel between Stanford and […]. Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions via email if you have any.
20 minutes later at 10:17, the reply from Vern (I assume not his real name, his accent sounded South Asian which is where I believe their call centers are) arrived:
Per your request, I called […] and spoke with […]. I was informed that she has made an haircut appointment for you today at 11:00am with […].
I was unable to access your Google Calender, please provide us with your
I just did provide my login credentials, so something went wrong here. Also, scheduling without looking into my calendar is usually a bad idea as I tend to be mostly booked. Lastly, while I said as soon as possible, sending an email about a meeting in 43 minutes with 20 minutes travel time is cutting it a little close. In this case I had a conflict. I asked him to cancel the appointment and re-entered the credentials. Then it was time for attempt #2:
To: “Sunday Agent (Vern McDonald)” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I re-entered my Google Calendar credentials. Please have a go and see if looging into Google Calendar works now.
Shortly after that I receive a message from his supervisor:
My name is Michael and I am the supervisor for the said agent. There are
somethings which I would like to clarify about the autologin feature –
Generally what happens is, we use a script for autologin commands and
unfortunately, these scripts, at times, would be rejected by the website
(such as in this case) and so we have difficulty in accessing them.
So I would request you to please consider the stated fact and share your
information with us to help you better.
Ok, so their login script doesn’t work and they ask me to send them my Google Account credentials directly. This is a slight problem because a bunch of other services (Google Checkout, Google Voice etc., Analytics, Mail) are on the same account and I don’t want to give them access to it. But it is also the wrong model. Google Calendar has great sharing and delegation functionality, you don’t need to share credentials. While we are sorting this out, I get this:
I have again called […]I spoke with Joanne and canceled the appointment which was scheduled at 11:00am today. I was also informed that they do have availability at 4:00pm and 4:30pm. Please advise.
He is still trying to schedule without being able to access my calendar. I politely ask him to hold off for now. In the mean time we found a solution to the credential issue. I create a new Google Calendar account, give them the credentials and give that account access to my calendar:
given how many different services I access through my email account, I don’t feel comfortable sharing its credentials.
However I found a different way of accomplishing the same:
– I created a new account on Google that has access to my Google Calendar
– I am happy to share the credentials for this account
The account is […]
IMPORTANT REQUEST: When adding an appointment, do *NOT* add it to the default calendar for “[…]”. Instead add it to the calendar “[…]”.
After one more iteration (which was my bad, I sent them a wrong password) and two more mails confirming that they should go ahead and try scheduling again, I get this update:
Per your request, I called 1[..] and spoke with representative. I was informed that your haircut appointment is confirmed for […]
I logged into your Google calender account and added the appointment into
your Guido-Private calender
Looks good. Except that the time he picked conflicts with an appointment, and that the meeting was not added to Guido-Private but to the main calendar of the new account. Still not making much progress, it is time to be a little more direct:
1. On October 8 my calendar Guido-Private there is a meeting called “Churchill Club Event” which collides with the time you picked for the haircut appointment. Please always look at my calendar to make sure the time slot you schedule for is available. […]. If anything is unclear about this, please let me know.
2. The appointment was added to the default calendar of guido.assistant […]
I’ll spare you the details, but we tried again and while we eventually got the calendar was right, all attempts ended in scheduling the hair cut for a time slots that was already taken. At this point I gave up and calceled my account. After 25+ emails over one week I still haven’t booked my appointment. While I am pretty confident that we would eventually get it right, it seems unlikely that in average using AskSunday would save time. Equally important, it raises doubts on how AskSunday would perform on more complex tasks. Google Calendar Sharing can be confusing, but compared to booking a multi-hop international flight with an on-lap toddler, it is comparatively easy.
One other thing that I found strange were the assumed European names. I know this is a common practice in call centers. But an assistant (even a virtual one) is a trust relationship. Knowing he uses a fake name runs counter to the spirit of that.
Ask Sunday today is definitely not a service that is useful to me. At this point the service feels “beta” with site functionality not working and at least in my case an agent that seemed under-prepared for their task. If anyone has a better experience with any other Virtual Assistant service please let me know. I am still hopeful for this category.