How to Select Online Customer Service Tools for Your Small Business

It helps to take these five steps when vetting a software-as-a-service (SaaS) or crowdsourced platform for customer support:

In the U.S., 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.

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.

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:


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Customer Feedback

    Perhaps the most important element to look for is authentic customer feedback. Yelp created 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 (i.e. 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. 

  5. 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 using a competitive provider.


Ryan Frankel is the CEO of VerbalizeIt, a company that delivers real-time access to human translators to make sure that nothing is ever lost in translation. VerbalizeIt empowers businesses and travelers with the ability to translate a document, audio or video file, or connect with a live translator any time of day, anywhere in the world and from any device or application.


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