Customer Service and Support
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I probably don’t have to do a big hard sell to convince you of the importance of customer service and support. Who among us has not had the life-affirming experience of wading through five levels of phone menus, then made to sit on hold for a half an hour, and finally pulled our hair out in exasperation after being connected to a person who couldn’t even answer a simple question? Most of the time we only have to deal with a particular company's service department once in a blue moon, but it's a lot more common with marketplace sites because of the large amount of time you are likely to spend interacting with them. This makes customer support a very big issue indeed.
Most assessments of customer service tend to be qualitative and vague. You’ve probably read testimonials about past experiences that users have had with a variety of companies, and it all seems to boil down to something like this: “I had a great/lousy experience with company X, so company X has great/lousy customer service”. But small numbers of anecdotes can be very deceptive. And even when an undeniable pattern presents itself, overall assessments using vague summary terms like “great” or “lousy” don’t really tell us much. It’s better to look at various key facets of customer service, and that’s what I try to do in this Guide.
In my not-particularly-humble opinion, the most important consideration in the assessment of a company’s customer service is the organization’s attitude, because it affects everything else.
In most companies, you are automatically a valued customer simply by virtue of you paying money for goods and services. But this axiom of business is sometimes tossed out by freelance marketplace administrators, who may actually start to take some of their customers for granted and treat them accordingly.
The reason for this is the dual class system of customers of these sites: clients and contractors are both customers in a way, but they play very different roles. Clients are always treated well, because they are (correctly) recognized as bringing transaction money to the table. But contractors often get the short end of the stick. Despite spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year in some cases on fees, many freelancers feel like the sites they work with treat them as if the site was doing the freelancer a big favor by taking their money.
This in turn is caused by the large number of freelancers looking for work. Sites know that as long as they keep the projects rolling in, even if they don’t treat freelancers well, most will stick around because they need the money—and those who leave will be quickly replaced. Unfortunately that’s just how the business world works when there are many more sellers than buyers, and freelancing is a perpetual buyer’s market.
Of course, if you’re really good at what you do, you have the ability to control where you work, and avoid companies that don’t treat you with the attitude you deserve. And that’s why I cover this aspect first and foremost.
This part of customer service refers to how many options you are given to obtain support. In general, the more options, the better, but really what matters most is that a site offers at least one option you feel comfortable.
The most common methods of communication offered by marketplace sites include:
A related issue is how easy or difficult it is to get access to these support methods. Some site “hide” their support options, or make you wade through a set of menus or FAQs (“frequently asked/answered questions”), to try to reduce the number of support requests they receive. Depending on how this is done, it can range from a useful self-help filtering system, to a major nuisance implemented simply because the company is cheap..
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Last Site Update: October 21, 2011
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