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How To Find A Good Customer Support Person (Or Any Outsourced Staff)

By Yaro Starak
35 Comments

Customer Support PersonIn this final piece of a four part article series on customer service we look at one of the key components of a successful Internet business – a good customer support person.

If you have been following along this journey you will remember how Starbucks taught us the importance of good customer service as a powerful tool for reputation management, which can lead to a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

We then switched to the Internet business world and followed along the typical path of a solo entrepreneur growing an online empire. With success comes pressure to continue to deliver personalized support, despite less time available to do so. In the end one person can only do so much, and customer service suffers.

In the most recent article I went back in time and reviewed my own personal experience developing various Internet projects and how I evolved the system I use to interact with my constituents. The major conclusion of this piece was the importance of Angela, my customer service person.

Now let’s take a look how you can take the next step with your business and outsource your customer service role.

Start With A System

It’s likely you will begin by providing customer support yourself, especially if you work your way up as an independent operator. Along the way you can install a help desk or set up a customer support email account. You may go as far as replicating the ReplytoYaro.com support system I use.

The previous article looked at a several technology options available to you to implement a system for online customer support. I suggest you use my story as inspiration to build your own support system, and while you do, think about how eventually another person (or people) can run it for you.

Most help desk scripts are built for multiple users and as I explained in the prior article, a Gmail email is a great basic solution to get started and can also handle multiple users through the use of message flagging.

Once you have something set up, your next task is to find a customer support officer.

How I Find Good People

Most advice you read about outsourcing suggest you go to freelancing sites and submit a job to find someone. I give this advice myself and I will suggest it again in this article, but not quite yet.

I’m going to be completely straight up with you regarding how I find good people to work for my business. I have never used a freelancing site to hire an outsourcer. To find good people I always rely on two resources:

  1. My social network (mostly offline networks)
  2. My blog

Your email newsletter is also a good option because it’s very similar to your blog in terms of the relationship you build with your subscribers. I don’t include it above because I haven’t used my own list to recruit people – yet – I’m sure that will change in the near future.

Every person who has ever worked for me came after I met them through shared friends or colleagues, or because I advertised on my blog that I was looking for help.

Angela who runs my support email, is a friend from university. Many of my friends studied information technology at university (I studied Business) and the people I met after university work online too, either as freelancers or running Internet businesses. As a result, whenever a need has come up I’ve had several local contacts I could query to find good people for web projects.

Local networking is by far my favorite method for finding good people. I prefer to work with locals, even though it costs significantly more than outsourcing overseas, because I like that we can meet from time to time in person. Personal contact helps for certain jobs and it also helps to cement a long term relationship when you find good people. Given I work mostly alone at home, I appreciate the social contact, even if it is often work related.

When my social network hasn’t delivered a person for a job, I next call on my blog. Robert Kingston, who helped manage several website acquisitions I made during 2006 and 2007, first volunteered for a job writing for SmallBusinessBranding.com. Mick Real, who currently does design work for me (he is responsible for the recent Entrepreneurs-Journey.com redesign) showed up after I posted on my blog looking for a graphics person.

The great thing about advertising on your blog when you need helpers is the people who apply already know you. They understand what your business is about, what your personality is like, what kind of work you do for other people, etc. This is a huge advantage and yet another benefit of blogging.

Every business, in my opinion, should have a blog if just to use it as a recruitment tool, especially given how critical it is to find good employees. Where else can you find a group of people who love what you do so much that they eagerly track your blog posts. Is that a good source of potential employees or what? Yes, I think so, but I digress…

If your blog is not related to your business you might feel inappropriate to advertise work you have available, especially tech or support jobs when your blog is not even closely related to these topics (you don’t want to go off-topic and scare away your readers right?).

I think it’s fine to write a couple of sentences on your blog, regardless of its topic, to link through to a job ad you can host on a separate page. You never know, the people who read your blog might just happen to have experience working in customer service or love the idea of working with you because they love your blog.

Don’t underestimate the power of your blog to find familiar people. It’s this closeness and familiarity with what you are about that can be a huge asset. You don’t need to train them about your operation – they already “get” what you do online.

Outsourcing Sites

If your social network fails to deliver any contacts, no one is reading your blog so it might be difficult to locate good people through it, then it’s time to try the traditional outsourcing avenues.

Any of the following sites offer possibilities to find a good customer support officer – and this list is far from comprehensive – you can find plenty more resources through Google search.

The problem with all of these options is the randomness of the people you come across. You can find great people who you end up working with for years, or you can stumble from person to person, struggling to find support staff who do a good enough job.

Hiring inappropriate people is a problem. Not only is the work you want them to do not getting done, you are devoting your own time to train them and correct their errors. Until you find appropriate people, you can go backwards before go forwards.

Finding people through your blog or social contacts is also open to the same problems, but because the source of people is generally by referral, you find people who have already been tested and proven reliable. There’s no guarantee of course, but in my experience referrals and/or fans of your blog are more likely to be suitable than a random stranger from an outsourcing site.

However, needs often dictate you look elsewhere, and outsourcing sites offer a great database of talented people. You just need to do the mining, filtering and testing to find the best of the best.

Here are some steps to take when hiring through outsourcing sites to help find a good customer service person.

  1. Review the job descriptions other people have used to hire a customer service person to get ideas for your own job template. See the Customer Support category in Elance for examples.
  2. Create a thorough description of the role: the time required, the hours of the day work is to be done, communication methods, skills and experience necessary, technology used, type of people they will have to support, pay scale, payment method (PayPal/Direct Deposit/Check?) – be as specific and detailed as you can.
  3. Submit the job to one or several outsourcing sites. I recommend you include a keyword or phrase within each job post that applicants must include in their application. This confirms they actually read the job details and helps filter away people who are not taking your position seriously.
  4. Trial several people at once on a test job. In the case of customer service, take three or four of the most common queries your business receives and give them to the applicants to respond to. The person who responds promptly, with the best responses, gets the job.

Look for the best communicators, because customer service is all about an ability to communicate and empathize with your customers.

You can repeat this process for every outsourcing job you have and ALWAYS, test multiple people at once so you can compare results and really see who is best.

If you don’t know how much to pay or what to expect from an outsourcing site, spend time prior to posting your first job ad exploring Elance or any of the resources and see what goes on. Find the jobs that get the most applications and follow their format. This is definitely not an area where you need to reinvent the wheel.

Treat Good People Well

When you find someone who fits well, do whatever you can to keep them happy. People are replaceable, but it’s a time consuming process to hire new staff and much easier to accommodate good people who already work for you.

In my experience, one of the best ways to keep staff happy is offer consistent work. Outsourcers are usually freelancers, going from job to job – an ambiguous income source for sure. If you can offer them stability through consistent hours, chances are they will reward you by staying loyal.

If business is going well, pay bonuses. Share the wealth and foster a team environment built on personal relationships, not just performance.

Business is business, and you have to look after your bottom line, but that doesn’t mean you can’t treat people well. You will always get the best work from people who care about you as a person first, not just how much you are paying them.

Encourage Free Thinking

What I really love from a person working for me, is when they do a better job than I could do and find ways to improve on the system I created.

When a person who works for me functions autonomously and improves my business at the same time, well, that is gold. It’s rare to find people who do this because it takes talent, skills and self assuredness, but when you find it, definitely encourage it. Don’t get stuck in “your way” of doing things, there is always room for improvement.

Customer service is an area that should eventually become entirely hands off for you. Once the system is in place and you have trained your support person, your job is done, at least until the next unusual circumstance comes up. If you find a good person they will be able to think on their feet, learn how you do things the way you like it, what sort of outcomes are desired for your customers, and be capable of solving a problem without even contacting you.

In short, a good customer service person will improve your business by helping to enhance your reputation. This can spread to become part of your public brand, encourage word of mouth and bring you new customers. If you get this wrong, then expect the opposite outcomes.

Clearly, finding a good customer service person is a top priority. Good luck.

Coming Up This Week: Vegas!

I hope you enjoyed the four part series on customer service and reputation management. This week I’m heading off to Las Vegas for the first time, followed by a road trip to Sedona and the Grand Canyon and ending with a stop off in Chicago on the way back to Toronto.

If you want to keep up to date with the latest wandering entrepreneur posts and videos coming up this week, please subscribe via RSS and follow me on Twitter.

Yaro Starak
Outsourcing

About Yaro Starak

Yaro Starak is the author of the Blog Profits Blueprint, a report you can download instantly to learn how to make $10,000 a month, from only blogging 2 hours per day. You can find Yaro on Facebook, Twitter and .

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35 Comments

  • Although I am not really at the point of hiring people I can understand your comments on looking into your circle of network. Just from blogging I have been able to develop relationships that have given me opportunities I would never have got without it. And I know if I needed someone to hire – I could find them in that network.

    • That’s something I didn’t really mention in this article, but like you talk about Tom, your online friends and peers – for example the bloggers you know who get things done – make for good referral sources too.

  • Hmmm… so now I know the process you used to hire me back in the BetterEdit.com days!

    I actually work as a manager at the moment, and by far the hardest part of the job is finding good staff. I wholeheartedly agree with what you say about keeping your staff happy – reliable, well-trained staff make my job so much easier, and I do whatever I can to make them feel valued.

    Jess

    • Actually Jess the BetterEdit editors were hired a little differently.

      In that case the supply/demand ratio for work vs editors is skewed heavily to favor the editing company at least when comes to choosing staff – there are are too many editors!

      Let’s just say to make it on to the BetterEdit roster you will definitely the best of the best.

  • dee

    Keeping your staff happy is THE most important thing. Loyalty you can buy, happiness you can not.

  • Good info. I do like for myself to be able to meet a potential hire. The face to face value is a great way to have a quicker working relationship. Also a lot easier to check out references in a more local setting. I think there are both pros and cons to hiring out. The cons can be the price. In a larger city it might cost you a lot more for the same results.

  • Jason

    This is off topic, but I despise forums.

    I noticed when I search entrepreneurs journey on google… your listing is 1st, but under it are additional links. How do you get those additional links to display under your listing.

  • Networking is important. I would look for someone I can talk to who might have gotten the service already. Ask them who is working for them and approach that way. Previous Ratings are also very helpful.

  • One other benefit of allowing other people to help you with your business (whether they’re designing your site for you, dealing with emails and customers, writing, etc.) is they can sometimes offer a fresh perspective and give you some great ideas and criticism that you can then use to improve your business even further.

    I recently had someone help me with a redesign. I was reluctant at first because I had an image in my head of exactly what I wanted, but in the end (after accepting her help) she gave me some amazing ideas that I never would have thought of myself. The outcome turned out far better than I could have imagined.

    This is another reason why it’s beneficial to hire someone who is familiar with you and your business since they might already have some ideas for improvement that you can implement.

  • Hi there Yaro!

    Hit the nail on the head there mate! Especially your point about treating good people well. I remember from my own experience as an employee that when I was given encouragement for doing something well, it made me want to bust my butt to do even better next time!

    If you forget to congratulate your staff, they’ll eventually see no point in putting any extra effort in for you. Treat your stuff amazingly well and not only will they give you their absolute best, their happiness will flow on to any interactions that they have with your customers.

  • For any kind of position where there is customer interface, I have directly approached people who give me good service. For instance, if there is someone in a retail counter who gives excellent service to me when I shop and if I am on the look out for an employee, I give my business card and request a call so that we could at least explore the possibility. I get about 65% hit rate

  • I find it especially hard to aks those questions that really help me with my decision when doing a job interview. I often get answers that are quite interesting and i always could interpret it in one way that it is a good answer or a bad answer for the specific job. But when you think a little bit longer about it, you often realise that the same answers could easily be interpreted just the other way round.
    That often leaves me clueless.

  • I founded Business Support Services by MegMeyer.com to bring a network of talented experts in their field to entrepreneurs, small business owners who need help to grow their business but don’t want the cost, hassle, or legal responsibility of hiring employees. The folks in my network are independent, and they like it that way – I’m sure, like me, many bloggers can relate!

    As far as finding talent, there are a lot of folks out there who want the big bucks, but don’t really want to deliver the quality or the consistency that a blogging entrepreneur would want. I’m not sure how you would do this with customer service outsourcing, but for things of a project nature – I would suggest drafting a contract based on the quality of the deliverables, if you go with a “random” freelancer from a free-for-all source like the ones Yaro lists. This protects you from paying full price for a “technically done” job that doesn’t meet your quality standards.

    If the work is good though, don’t swindle your contract personnel. It’s bad karma, and the word will spread. If you want to contract with good people, pay them for their expertise. Especially for a job well done!

    Sincerely,

    Meg Meyer

  • Yaro, one question that I always need to know but nobody could ask me and you didn’t notice that in your post (I think you didn’t)
    What do you pay to your “customer support officers”?
    I mean, in your case, in your bussiness – for me to know from what point I start my work.
    You pay some money, or you make some links, or you just write publicity (adverticement) of these persons, or you make e-mail-list sending about these workers?))
    And in what cases?
    Or you just prefer money paying?

  • For example, you made new great (as I already wrote) design of your blog.
    In what relationships are you with Mick Real and how did you pay him?

    Then, I regulary recieve e-mails from you. As you have wrote, Angela is working with this. In what bussiness relationships are you with her and how do you pay?

    And the third and the most close thing to me – a few weeks ago I finished reading your Russian variant of your Blog Profits Blueprint. I read English version before and I can tell you, that Russian version is fine! But I have got one question. Did you pay to that guy for translating or you just let him to put link to his blog in his Russian version?

    That are my questions))) If you think that there are answers that nobody must see, please, answer at list to my mail!)))

    Thanx

  • I also use Guru. Its got good service. At the same time I prefer to go with people I know and their friends. As if you get along with someone and have a similar work culture you tend to work well together.

    • Rhianna Clarke

      Rentacoder is one of the best.

  • Rhianna Clarke

    Just to add a tip – another site that is better than Guru or E-lance is Rentacoder. I’ve found fabulous people there to outsource to.

  • I subscribe to the idea that it an entrepreneurs network should be the first point of call when there is need to outsourced. I have enjoyed free professional advice and service from people within my online network of friends. Definitely, when I need to outsource a service, I will think of them first before searching elsewhere. Thanks for sharing the tips.

    By the way, I discovered that I often have problem using window explorer to post comment on your blog. Is the blog optimized for Firefox? I am just curious.

  • Ron

    Thanks Yaro. I downloaded and read your Blog Profits Blueprint. Info was much appreciated.

    As for outsourced customer service it drives me insane to try to talk with customer support people who are using English as a second language. the instant you ask them something that is not on their script, you run into roadblocks.

    I equate this same subject ot oversears telemarketing companies. I’ve recently been receiving numerous calls from a company that starts out with the statemnt: “This call is about your medications.”

    I asked the nice little lady what she meant as I amnot taking any medications. she stumbled for a moment, and then asked me in voice reeking of disbelief, “you don’t take medications?”

    “No,” I answered. “And if I did, I would not be discussing my medications with you.”

    My statement fell on deaf hears apaprently as she restated her opening line, “this call is about your medications.”

    I gave up and hung up the phone. Two hours later another call came in. Same company, different voice.

    I despise outsourced customer service. If a company has the nerve to sell me a product, the least they could do is help me reslve any issues I may have with its use.

    Thanks Yaro.

  • [...] How to Find a Good Customer Support Person (Or Any Outsourced Staff) by Yaro Starak. [...]

  • I think Paypal could definitely benefit from this (haha). I can’t stand their customer support, it’s like talking to a broken record or a robot. Thanks for the advice!

  • I agree when you find somebody really good you have treat them really well. In any business the key is to have exceptional people on your team. They are hard to find and harder to replace.

  • On the Starbucks note, after I had ordered there today the girl behind the counter remembered my name from last time I was there and asked me how I was. The simple act of asking a customer about their day completely took me by surprise in the best way possible.

    As far as translating this to customer service goes it’s probably the best service medium for it. I don’t mind off-shore customer service as long as whoever is on the other end of the phone is perfectly capable of helping me. I think in many ways that’s all we really want; good, solid service with a smile.

  • I originally stopped by to tell you that I’ve just published your article on the most recent Marketer Review Blog Carnival and I see the trackback didn’t work. Yours is not the first site, I must have done something wrong on my post. I’ll have to look into this.

    Come by to vote on the best post of the 31 posts this week. Yes, you can vote for your own post. Use the social media of your choice to help get traffic back to your site. I stumbled you post just now.

    Remember that Friday is our deadline for new articles, so mark this Friday on your calendar as the latest that you can get to Blog Carnival to submit for next week.

  • Ivy

    Like you and your opinion!
    I really think you should be a very good boss to work with! ^ ^~~

  • [...] – View Yaro Starak’s piece on this. Reducing your activities to critical business building activities is best for you in the [...]

  • It is not easy to find a good candidate while you outsource the customer support job. Can you advice on what we should look at, what we should avoid, from your experience?

  • Thanks, it really helps. I never also joined or work with any of these sites. But I like to try them at least ones.

  • Another great post and future reference article. I’ve bookmarked this one for future reference. I have to start outsourcing more and this article has given me the push I needed to get started.

    Thanks Yaro.

    Phil

  • I’m sorry, but outsourcing these days usually has a high chance that it will be a foreigner that will get the job, thus putting hard working people out of work. If it is outsourced, it should be a local firm within your country and not one offshore. Offshore outsourcing just causes job loss. Since businesses seem to- be to stupid to do that math, I will put it here in an easy to understand form.

    Job Loss = Unemployed People
    Unemployed People = No Spending
    No Spending = Economy Falls
    Economy Falls = Businesses Going Under
    Businesses Go Under = Job Loss and the cycle repeats

    Do you businesses see the domino effect there? If not, get your head out of the clouds and figure it out. The bottom line is that you are just setting up the economy for another downfall. The rules of economics is clear. People who make money, spend money, and it benefits the economy as a whole People who don[‘t make money, don’t spend it, and it devastates the economy. This is true for any country, not matter where it is.

  • finding good custer support is hard. Thanks for the post this will help me out a lot.

  • The problem is finding someone motivated to get the work done in a timely manner.

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