by Ryan Frankel
Here in the United States, the call center industry is regarded as a first mover in the mass migration to offshore. This migration has moved from concept, to idea, to mega-trend in a matter of decades. In the last few years another concept has come to rival the offshore call center: online customer service.
Companies like Desk.com, Zendesk, UserVoice and others have cropped up to automate customer support systems through triggers, forums and client relationship management (CRM) plugins. What was once an office of employees fielding frustrated customer support calls is now a database full of automated emails. Alongside this rise in automated ticketing systems, we have seen a shift and increase in consumer expectation. Forrester Research reports that channel usage rates are also quickly changing: we’ve seen a 12 percent rise in web self-service usage, a 24 percent rise in chat usage, and a 25 percent increase in community usage for customer service in the past three years.
In short, the demand for dedicated customer support is growing into unknown territory, which begs the question: without training a call center, how do you offer the same accuracy of information and timely responses that a customer is accustomed to? There is no clear answer. But it helps to take these five steps when vetting a software-as-a-service (SaaS) or crowdsourced platform for customer support:
- SLAs: Look for a clear and fair service licensing agreement (SLA). Specifically, the SLA should address any concerns you have around time of completion and percentage completed. For instance, check out Twilio, a company that offers telephony API, has a clear and fair SLA (which we appreciate as a customer of their platform!).
- Certifications: Are members of the crowd certified? If so, by what governing body and how rigorous of a process is involved? Accenture reports that (depending on the definition) between one-fifth and one-third of American workers are now freelancers, contractors or temps, up from 6 percent in 1989. These people will be clamoring for certifications and those that have them will likely display them prominently to reflect their ability to focus on the task at hand.
- Experience: Though often confused with certifications, experience is arguably more important. Since crowdsourced platforms are new and industry standards have yet to be established, there remains much room for interpretation of what a certification actually means beyond someone’s desire to earn one. Experience, however, is harder to fabricate. Place substantial value on those that have done a task or solved a problem before.
- Customer Feedback: Perhaps the most important element to look for is authentic customer feedback. Yelp made its business off of customer feedback, and companies like ZocDoc and TaskRabbit are following suit. The integration of customer opinions can come in a series of forms (ratings, comments, surveys, etc.) and companies who display authentic customer feedback transparently are likely either delivering a superior product or paying attention to their weak points. If you do not see customer feedback displayed publicly, ask the company why not. If they do not have an answer (or fail to answer) you have likely weeded out a crowdsourcing company.
- Test Drive: Finally, try before you buy. Any company worth their salt will offer you a chance to test the system. If a company is requiring you to buy the product first, you are better off finding a competitor.
Certain companies have gotten this right from the start. MailChimp, an email service provider whose motto is “Listen Hard. Change Fast.” is a leading example of a company embracing the automated ticketing system. Without a phone line, MailChimp anticipates exactly what their clients are looking for before their clients have issues. Their extensive database of articles, clean user interface, and streamlined email ticketing system, make for a good experience that is customer-centric.
Ryan Frankel is the CEO and Co-Founder of VerbalizeIt, the company that delivers instant access to a global community of translators. Ryan received his MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 2012 and a Bachelors of Arts degree from Haverford College in 2006. Ryan is a 2012 TechStars alumnus, former private equity investor for Goldman Sachs and an endurance athletics enthusiast.