A thread on LinkedIn recently inspired me to put finger-to-keyboard and set down my thoughts and experience on outsourcing customer service in Startups.
As with all internet discussions, there were completely opposing thoughts on the subject.
Should Startups, and early-stage businesses outsource their customer service to a vendor ?
School of Thought #1 - The "NO's"
Product Management 101 states that you need to be as close to the customer as is humanly possible. This will give invaluable insights into how your product or service performs, what tweaks are necessary to improve it, and how you can alter your sales and marketing strategies accordingly. Pro "NO's" focus on the argument of that feedback loop being the single most important source of insight for an early-stage business.
School of Thought #2 - The "YES's"
Startups need to focus on what they are good at. They are often small, passionate teams, technically adept, but without the knowledge about what good customer service is all about. This leads to coders, founders, and other members of the core team dealing with routine customer service and tech support queries. Pro "YES's" focus on the need for good quality customer service as an absolute must for a growing business - therefore outsource it to an expert.
So, where am I ?
ThreeDotZero Studios is built on the principle that there should be a third school. The school of insight. A school that ensures that core competencies are at the heart of the decision. An outsourcer that cares as much about the feedback loop as the brand does.
Startups are competent at building their product/service. In most cases they are competent at marketing their brand and selling to a global audience.
Outsourcers are competent at customer service. All that softskill stuff. If you get the right one, they also deal with the Omni-channel conundrum. If you are REALLY lucky, they know about Knowledge Management.
"BUT WHAT ABOUT THE SLAs" I hear the Outsourced community shout. "An outsourcer couldn't possibly manage the 80/20/FCR/AHT/BLAH BLAH metrics AND spend time gathering and communicating feedback.". Disagree. We've done it.
Simply, the SLA should be the mutually agreed set of metrics that demonstrates a service's success. Why is the focus on time, volume, quality ? If the single most important thing (as cited by the Pro "NOs") is feedback, then why on earth is that not the focus of the service ?
Yes, you need an outsourcer that "gets it" when it comes to product management. They need to understand the organization they are working for. The growing pains, the launch cycles, the organizational design, the market you are serving. They need to nail the customer service part of the equation (happy customers, served well, on the channel they prefer). They need to manage and report on the basics. BUT fundamentally, they should be geared up to gather and communicate this feedback - treating it with as much importance as the brand does.
Fundamentally, the Outsource industry is governed by the wrong metrics. We say rip up the SLA rulebook, and do stuff that is really, truly valued by your customer.
Craig Rich - Oct 16