Should I Outsource eCommerce Customer Support?

This is a photo of a man providing customer support over the phone at a desk.

Why Consider Outsourcing Customer Support?

The decision to outsource eCommerce customer support may be the best one you’ll ever make… Nobody on this planet has more than 24 hours of time per day. As the owner of a business, why allocate your most valuable resource (time) to answering phones, responding to emails, and staring at an online chatbox?

Good companies prioritize having great service, but do you really need to be the one providing it? Unless you are just getting started, customer support should be taken care of by an employee(s) or outsourced completely.

Should I hire an employee or outsource eCommerce customer support?

Like so many other questions, it depends… Variables like the budget, the scope of support required, and support schedules make this difficult. However, there are a few questions to ask that may help you decide whether you should outsource customer support or hire an employee.

What’s the cost difference?

In your area, what does it cost to hire and keep a customer service rep? Obviously only you can decide what you are willing to pay, but bls.gov shows that the average customer service representative makes $16.69 per hour. Don’t forget to include payroll and equipment costs.

Wow 24-7 reports that it costs $5-$30 to outsource eCommerce customer support with a company in the U.S. However, to get a decent company it will likely cost more in the $15-$30 range, but there’s another option.

Outsourcing to a company based outside the U.S. can cost as little as $2-$3 per hour. Immediately, many U.S. business owners will react against the idea of outsourcing to a foreign country because of potential language barriers. Yet this may not be as big of a concern as people think…

The cheapest option is clearly to outsource support, but only if you are willing to outsource outside of the United States. If you are not, it will generally be cheaper to pay a person in-house.

Is there a quality difference?

There is no black and white answer to this. Sometimes customer support is better outsourced, and sometimes it’s better when it remains in-house. It’s completely dependant on the quality and training of your staff compared to the quality of the customer service firm you might choose.

If you choose to hire and manage a customer service person, you will be directly responsible to train, equip, and manage. If you do that really well, you will probably have excellent results. However, if you aren’t willing to do that (or have someone in your company do that), then your quality will likely be poor. In that case, you would be better off outsourcing from a quality perspective.

Ecommerce customer support firms are set up to do one thing well, provide customer service. They probably know more about customer service than you do, have better equipment than you do, and have more reliable processes than you do.

But what about firms outside the U.S.? Just because a customer support company is based outside the U.S. does not mean that they cannot communicate clearly with U.S. natives. Often times, the quality provided will be better with a company based outside the U.S., and clearly. there can be a price advantage.

Which is easier?

Hands down it’s more difficult and time-consuming to manage a support rep than it would be to outsource through a firm. Initially, the time investment may be comparable because both have to be informed and trained on your products and systems. But with a new employee, you may even have to train them on how to be a good customer support representative.

Also, what happens when your employee is sick, or on vacation, or when they quit without giving you notice? You, or someone else in your company, is forced to pick up the slack. When an outsourcing agency has an employee quit, that’s their problem. They are still responsible to provide you with excellent eCommerce customer support.

What’s the nature of your products?

This factor is often overlooked. If your company sells personal jetpacks or rocketships, you’ll probably want to steer clear of outsourcing customer support. You’ll need your customer support team to have immediate access to professionals who can answer extremely technical questions. Otherwise, your lack of support could be blamed as the reason for a tragic accident or malfunctioning rocket.

However, if you’re selling colored pencils, outsourcing is no problem. Most likely, the complexity of support your products require is somewhere between a personal rocketship and colored pencils. You need to decide how complicated your customer support is, and if outsourcing would cause problems. If you think your products are a bit technical, ask outsourcing companies how they would handle it if a customer asks questions they could no adequately answer. You may be able to create a plan to deal with these instances that still leaves room for outsourcing.

This infographic asks the question, Should you outsource your customer service? Even business owners are limited to a 24 hour day, and they don't need to let customer service eat up all their time. They can outsource to an agency or hire an employee to help.

This infographic compares the cost of outsourcing customer service to a U.S. company or to a company outside the U.S. It also explains that quality varies based on training and experience levels. Also, how complicated a company's products are can make it easier or more difficult to outsource. The more difficult, the harder to outsource.

What hours of the week do you want to provide customer support?

This is one of the largest factors for some companies, and it’s no mystery why. If you need 24/7 customer support, you probably want to outsource. Are you willing to find, pay, and manage employees around the clock? If not, you may even need to hire a manager(s) that are willing to work late nights and early mornings. This can quickly become a logistical and financial nightmare. 

Using a company to outsource eCommerce customer support will allow you to more easily customize your customer service schedule. If you want customer support 24/7 you can have that. Or, if you just need someone for 3 hours a day on weekdays to respond to emails you can find a company for that too. Outsourcing can give you flexibility. 

How to choose the right company.

There are obvious factors, like price and deciding whether or not you want to keep customer support in your own country. But if you choose to outsource, consider these three factors in your decision-making process:

#1 Track record

When’s the last time you hired anybody to do anything without looking at their reviews? Customer service agencies are no different. Find a source of reviews if they have them. Then call their references. Make sure you vet their references to make sure they are legitimate before listening to their glowing review. If they don’t have quality references and reviews, don’t use them. Your company is too valuable to risk your reputation with poor customer support.

#2 Communication

How fast do they respond to your inquiry? Do they sound professional on the phone? What’s your impression when communicating with them via email? If you’re not impressed with their communication, your customers probably won’t be either.

#3 Contract details

This is not an area you want to skim… In order to outsource your eCommerce customer support, outsourcing companies need employees. As they grow they have to hire, and they don’t like taking chances with short term accounts. They don’t want to risk hiring new employees for you to quit on them after two weeks. So they may fix in large cancellation fees or a long term contract length. Don’t go along with this. You need to maintain control by being able to fire them if they do a sub-par job. If they are confident in their work, they probably won’t require long term deals anyways.

Conclusion

Most business owners just don’t have time to answer the phones and respond to emails. You need help. Hiring employees to provide customer service in-house it the right choice for many companies, but you may be able to save lots of time and money by outsourcing your eCommerce customer support. If you do decide to outsource remember to inspect their track record, communication skills, and the contract details.

If you are considering outsourcing your marketing as well as your customer support, check out our blog here.

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