The debate between using in-house or outsourced customer service is a heated one. Your fears of embarrassing quality issues and lack of control make you think everything needs to be run in-house. But achieving the coverage schedule and response time you want for your customer experience is tough in-house and a lot more expensive than having a remotely distributed team.
You can get the benefit of both models while ensuring high-quality work output and manage control of the team’s entire time. You just need to get the structure of your customer service operation right and run it effectively. Don’t just think of it like finding some outsourced agents to do some tickets.
At HelpFlow, we run 24/7 live chat and customer service teams for over 100 e-commerce stores. We are not a low-cost provider of people to handle robotic tickets for you. We are an extension of your team focused on providing the customer experience you want, and the model works well.
In this post, I will walk through what we’ve seen as the ideal structure for a hybrid in-house and remote customer service operation that can be a model for you to follow in building your customer service team. You don’t need to work with us, but you also don’t need to run everything in house–there is a way to make this work.
Have a Clear Customer Service Operation
Most stores don’t start with an insanely robust and thought out customer service process. Instead, you probably just started off focusing on the product and then figured out how to market and sell it. As things scaled up, customer service is something that you just figured out as you went to keep up with growth.
That’s a natural path, but it makes it difficult to run efficiently and requires some level of rebuild at a certain point to breakthrough.
The key things that need to be in place for a solid customer service operation are the clear segmentation of tier 1 and tier 2 tickets, clear target metrics for the entire customer service operation as well as individual agents, a clear workflow and infrastructure on how to properly execute the customer service experience you’ve defined, and clear accountabilities in management for the entire operation achieving this.
The team is not answering tickets. The team is crafting and managing your customers’ experience. Having a clear definition of your customer service operation makes that possible.
Once you have this nailed down, it becomes a lot easier to scale up a team regardless of location to create this experience.
Hire Senior Agents
When most companies look toward outsourcing customer service, they focus almost entirely on saving money. Yes, you can save money by hiring agents in developing countries around the world rather than in Los Angeles. But you can also save money by having a customer service operation that runs extremely smoothly and doesn’t scale linearly with your growth. It can become a profit center if you run it well
When you venture into hiring remote customer service agents, focus on hiring more senior agents and pay a little more than the going rate in the state or country you are hiring from. The difference of a few dollars can go along way in getting you to the point where you have experienced people who don’t need micromanaging and can run customer service for you. And this ultimately means a more profitable operation that drives increased customer lifetime value, rather than a low cost per ticket robotic team that drives you nuts.
Once you’ve got a clear operation defined and good senior agents running it, there’s one more piece that makes it run smoothly and drive your business forward.
Integrate The Entire Team Deeply
So many stores have their in-house and external customer service agents operate pretty separately. The in-house team views the external team as lower class and are just there to help with volume. The external team views the in-house team as the boss and is submissive to whatever they say, especially when you don’t hire senior agents.
As the leader of the business, it’s key that you view all of the people in your customer service operation as a single department—not separate groups. When you think of them like that, you can start to manage them a lot more effectively and also have them manage themselves as a healthy department.
Here are a few key ingredients that often go missing with an in-house and external team structure.
- Clear Accountabilities and KPIs- The entire operation should have clear metrics. Each agent should be aware of where they stand and how to improve, and the manager of the whole department, whether in-house or external, should be accountable to the entire operation meeting the targets.
- Efficiency and Self-Serve Initiatives- as part of the accountability above, the department should be focused on creating more efficiencies that not only create a good customer experience but also make the department more effective. Agents should be tasked with identifying repetitive work that could be streamlined, which they then surface to the management. Management should be accountable for initiatives overtime that improves customer experience and simplify the operation. No one should view themselves as merely there to answer tickets over and over, and target metrics and goals should reflect this. They’re there to help customers, and sometimes that means reworking how things are done.
- Daily, Weekly, and Quarterly Meeting Cadence- using daily huddle and weekly working meeting for the entire customer service department not only enables you to move faster and overcome challenges, but it deeply integrates the team and turns them into a single robust department rather than a bunch of people spread out processing tickets. Using a quarterly goal-setting process, the department can also figure out what the big moves are each quarter to improve customer service experience. So many stores skip this part with external teams, and it results in a very fragmented feeling department.
The takeaway here is to make sure the entire department, in-house and external, functions as one. With an external team, the tactical recurring practices above make that happen. It doesn’t happen organically.
What’s Next? Do You Need to Run Everything In House?
Hopefully, this sparks some ideas for you. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire business world got forced to work remotely at least for a few weeks. It may have been rough, but it also showed many businesses that working in-house together every day is not required.
Yes, we are biased since we run customer service teams remotely for a lot of stores. But you don’t need to use a company like ours to get the team up and running yourself. You can use these best practices to do it yourself. The key takeaway here is that you can run a hybrid in-house and external customer service operation to level up your customer experience and coverage drastically.
If you have any questions, I’m happy to clarify the details in a Strategy Call. Even if we do not work together, you’ll get a ton of value from strategizing on the call together. Book a time that works for you by clicking below. Always happy to help!
Jon Tucker is CEO of HelpFlow, a provider of 24/7 live chat and customer service teams for 100+ eCommerce stores. Launched in 2015, their team of agents has produced nearly $100M in chat revenue for a wide range of stores using a conversion-focused approach to live chat.
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