Is outsourcing customer support right for your business?

Explore the different customer support options for your business and discover if outsourcing is right for you.
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About the author
Veronica Berg is a co-founder of a customer service agency, Dream Support, where she built 30+ support teams who handled 500K+ support requests with nearly 100% satisfaction score. You can find her on LinkedIn or book your free support strategy session here.

Consider you run an eCommerce business that is flourishing. More orders are coming in every day. What was once a dream has become a reality as revenue is increasing and you’re already exploring ways to improve and expand your product range.

However, as orders increase, so do customer support requests.

When you started, all these queries were coming into one mailbox as there was only a small number that could be easily dealt with by you or one of your colleagues.

But now that’s becoming unmanageable.

No matter how good your product is, some factors such as delivery are outside of your direct control. It’s inevitable that customer service requests will increase as your sales do. And if you don’t keep on top of them, responding and resolving each issue promptly, your brand reputation will suffer. If that happens, growth will soon slow or even stagnate as consumers choose to buy from those brands with the very best reviews.

To give the best possible customer service and protect and enhance your brand reputation, this is now going to be a full-time job rather than being fitted in around an existing role.

But you’re growing fast. How long will it be before you need a second dedicated customer support team member? And a third? Factor in the overheads of hiring and management and this crucial aspect of your business has become time-consuming as well as costly.

There are different ways to deal with customer support, and it will benefit you in the long-term if you make an early decision about the direction you want to take. That way, as you grow you can more easily absorb the additional customer support workload that comes with increased revenue.

In this article, we’ll explore the available options and help you understand which will deliver the most for your business in terms of both customer satisfaction and value for money.

Keep it in-house

Many eCommerce businesses want to keep all their customer support in-house to ensure the very best levels of service quality and customer care culture. This is especially understandable during the startup phase as it’s so critical to establish the brand as one that can be trusted. Keeping customer support in-house ensures you have full control over the team, processes, and culture.
However, this becomes less viable as the workload grows.

It may have been manageable when it was just one person or a small team, but as the team size increases, so do the resources needed for hiring, managing, and supervising customer service agents.

Also, depending on your business, you may not need the same size team all year round. Many eCommerce businesses are much busier around Christmas time for instance when people are buying presents, so boosting an in-house team just for this period and then reducing it again can be time-consuming and not cost-efficient.

Outsource to the experts

If in-house customer support isn’t working for you, then outsourcing is the alternative. Done in the right way, this can be more cost-effective and still deliver top-tier service.

Getting it right isn’t straightforward though. Putting your brand’s voice and reputation in someone else’s hands may be a daunting prospect, but there are plenty of success stories that show it does work. Here’s what you need to consider.
Outsourcing your customer service is hiring a designated partner who will take care of customers' emails and all routine customer service tasks (incl. hiring and supervising agents).
Freelancers or agency?

If your customer support workload is relatively small, or you only need extra capacity to cover a short busy period then a freelancer or freelancers may be the answer. People with relevant experience can be found at short notice on job marketplaces such as Upwork and Fiverr.

If you need more customer support staff on a long-term basis then it’s worth considering an agency that can provide all the resources you need with the ability to easily scale up as you grow.

The most successful customer support agencies are run by people with extensive experience in the field who know exactly what is required to deliver excellent customer service. They provide a more formal agreement than a freelancer, including a contract, service level agreement (SLA), and standard operating procedures (SOPs) which define clear responsibilities and goals.

SOPs set out the processes that agents will follow, ensuring they know exactly how to complete each task while complying with both your standards and any industry regulations or local laws. The SLA is a commitment between the agency and your business detailing the quality of the service expected and agreed targets for things such as response and resolution times.

A good customer support agency will also offer regular reporting so you can see exactly how your support team is performing. As well as tracking overall customer satisfaction, this should also provide insights to help you improve your offering. This might include returns and refund volumes, query trends, product suggestions, and impressions of your brand.

By appointing an agency you can rely on them to ensure your customer service team is fully staffed and expanded when needed, allowing you to focus on running and growing your eCommerce business.

Agencies typically offer one of two models, and it’s important to understand the distinction between these to decide which is right for you.

Shared teams

This model involves a team of agents working on multiple projects or customers at the same time. The benefit of this is that it is very affordable whilst still offering speedy response times and plenty of capacity for dealing with requests.

However, if you choose this model, you must be aware that agents will be dealing with customers of other businesses as well as yours. This affects focus and attention to detail as they will be jumping between projects and systems, becoming something of a jack-of-all-trades rather than a master of one. While they may still offer a reasonable service level, their product knowledge will never be as good as someone who only works on one project. And it’s more difficult to build personalization into your processes as they will need to be as simple as possible to avoid confusion.

You’ll often find you have different agents working for you all the time so there will be a lack of continuity and you won’t be able to have direct conversations with them about service levels. Feedback will typically be through a manager who will only have an overview of your operations rather than hands-on experience.

Shared teams may be best for you if:
  • Your workload isn’t large enough for a full-time agent and you only want to pay for the work you need
  • Your customer service processes are simple and you can provide clear instructions that can be easily understood and followed
  • Most of your inquiries are similar and can be replied to with canned responses that have no or little personalization

Designated agents

The alternative to shared teams is agents who always work on the same project. This means one or more agents are dedicated to your business and nobody else. This allows them to get to know your product inside-out, focus their full attention on keeping your customers happy, and understand and communicate with your brand voice and tone.

Designated agents deliver the highest levels of service quality and team happiness. Although they usually work remotely, they act as part of your in-house team as they will be working with you all day, every day. You’ll be able to speak directly with them, get them to collaborate with your in-house staff, and deliver a much more personalized level of customer service.

Designated agents are best if:
  • Your workload is large enough for one or more full-time agents
  • You want to engage directly with the agent(s), providing them feedback and getting their input, getting them involved in team meetings, or carrying out some admin tasks in your eCommerce store
  • You want to deliver more personalized customer service with complex processes
  • You want to have in-house quality service at a more affordable price and without the management overhead

The best of both worlds

Every eCommerce business has its own particular needs and demands that will dictate the best way to deal with customer service. But you don’t necessarily need to make a clear decision between outsourcing and keeping it in-house. In our experience, small to medium-sized eCommerce brands achieve the best service levels through a combination of the two.

By appointing an in-house customer service manager you can ensure that the highest standards are always met. This person sets out the company’s culture and values and dictates how these will be followed by customer support. They then work with a customer service agency that will take on all the workload of hiring, training, and supervising agents. This allows the in-house manager to concentrate on monitoring overall quality and results while the agency deals with fluctuating workloads and adds extra agents as the business grows.

Need help with your customer service outsourcing strategy?

Speak directly with our founder and experienced customer service manager (built 30+ support teams), Veronica Berg, and discover:

If outsourcing is right for your case.
How to achieve your customer service needs and goals.
What outsourcing option will better suit your needs.
How to ensure quality when outsourcing support.
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