If private investigators are going to take credit for our successful cases, then we need to take credit for the failures.
According to Data USA, there are about 94,000 private investigators in the United States. In 2019, I worked 97 cases. Respectable, in my
opinion, for a one-man operation. Let’s say every person in the industry worked an average of 75 cases per year. That’s 7 million cases in 2019.
But how many of these actually get solved – for lack of a better term?
I looked at some of the larger companies in the industry. “88% success rate,” bragged one. “92% case resolution success rate – we’ll catch them in the act,” claimed another. Clearly, we’re not catching everyone. Based on the stats above, in 2019 we screwed up more than 700,000 cases.
How do PI success stats compare with other industries?
In 2018, doctors performed about 20 million surgeries in the United States, with about 250,000 medical malpractice deaths recorded. In the same year there were also about 10 million flights, with 787 people killed. Of the 45 million traffic stops and incidents with police, 992 civilians died by fatal shooting.
Hospitals will always have one of the highest death rates in the United States. That’s where you go when you’re already dying. Even then, that’s a 1% death rate. Aviation has a .001% death rate. Policing is even lower at .00002%.
While a “failure” in one of these industries has the most severe consequences — life and death stakes — they’re doing everything possible to minimize harm. Imagine if airlines had “success rates” like ours. That’d be the equivalent of eleven 737s falling out of the sky and killing everyone on board, every single day. It’s hardly something to celebrate. Sure, a failed PI case doesn’t mean lives lost – but it can mean lives ruined. And those are still some pretty high stakes.
Are PIs doing everything we can?
PIs don’t take the Hippocratic oath, but we do promise our clients that we’ll do right by them. Clearly, this doesn’t always happen.
Maybe we got the wrong evidence, missed a piece of valuable information, or gave up trying to find that one crucial witness. Now our client is in jail for the next year. That’s a full year of their life they won’t get back, and all because we interviewed 10 people instead of 11.
Maybe we missed the abusive parent violating a court order because we broke off too early. Now we have a child who has been abused, even though we told our client everything was A-OK. Maybe we showed up late to a surveillance, where a neighbor told us the claimant was off working construction. We report it to the insurance adjuster, and they revoke the claimant’s benefits. Never mind that the neighbor turned out to be wrong.
No one can be successful 100% of the time. But is a 12% failure rate a standard to be proud of?
In the past, my team has contracted private investigators who have reported claimants going active at the 8-hour mark and disappearing at an intersection. It’s almost magical how investigators lose sight of their claimants 45 minutes before rush-hour traffic.
Just like other industries do, if PIs are going to take credit for all the successful cases, then we need to take credit for the failures. Our clients need to understand what happened, what went wrong, and what they need to do to get the evidence they need.
A Roadmap Towards a Better Success Rate
PIs can change things for the better by taking responsibility for our investigations, and by making it a point to under-promise and over-deliver. Ours is an industry of trust, and our clients need to believe that we can do the job we’ve been assigned to – and more.
Ours is an industry of trust, and our clients need to believe that we can do the job we’ve been assigned to – and more.
As Entrepreneur Magazine editor Jason Feifer and Hal Humphreys in a recent conversation noted: “The more you can position yourself as a trusted, knowledgeable person in that space, the more somebody will want to work with you. You are a knowledgeable person with value to provide.”
Earlier this year, Pursuit talked in great detail about marketing techniques as a way of building trust. This is true, but even the best marketing doesn’t replace actually doing the work. If you’re not giving it your all, and you’re not working with your clients’ best interests in mind, the trust and goodwill you’ve generated through top-notch marketing can be short-lived.
Ask yourself: if you were in your client’s situation, and you hired your own agency to help, what would you do differently if your own life or livelihood was on the line? If you’re not okay with a 12% failure rate, then we shouldn’t expect our clients to be. Let’s stop championing our 88% success rates and start chasing figures that are actually worth bragging about.
About the author:
Ulises Perez is founder and president of Closure Investigative Agency in West Palm Beach, Florida. For over 20 years, Ulises has helped attorneys, business owners, and the general public in Florida find answers and solutions to help them make informed decisions. Outside of the local work, Ulises Perez and his team also subcontract from some of the largest PI companies in the United States to assist in worker’s compensation investigations, insurance fraud, and competitive intelligence. You can follow him on LinkedIn or at the company’s Facebook page.