Elance - Customer Service and Support
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Elance has made great strides in the area of customer service over the last several years, and now does about as well on this score as you’d expect for a company of its size. The major support options offered include the company’s own ticket tracking system, phone support and live chat. Response time is usually moderate to fairly quick, and customer service reps do a decent job of trying to help you with problems (though some tend to be a bit robotic). On the downside, the company is often inflexible, and the much more favorable attitude expressed towards clients over providers is a sticking point for many freelancers.
There was a time when Elance’s customer service was notoriously awful. Complaints about difficulties getting assistance would appear on the company’s own forum on a regular basis, despite that forum being used by only a tiny percentage of Elance’s customer base. I personally experienced the poor support in the form of long delays to get questions answered by email, an inability to get help on the phone, and useless form letters sent in response to relatively simple queries. Questions posted on the Elance forum were routinely ignored or answered with stonewalling. The overall impression was that of a company that simply didn’t care.
Elance is to be commended for spending a lot of time and money over the last few years to turn this situation around. While there are still some complaints here and there—as you’d expect of any good-sized service company—they are much reduced. Even more important, the company’s improved attitude can be seen in faster response times, and a willingness to engage and respond to criticisms on the Elance forum.
Elance has also tried to minimize the impression that many providers have that they are second-class citizens compared to clients. Unfortunately, this attitude is still quite prevalent, and many contractors simply feel like Elance takes them for granted. Elance’s deference to clients over contractors comes across in many subtle and less-than-subtle ways. It can be seen in some of the mechanisms on the site, such as the very asymmetrical feedback system. You can also observe it when it comes to customer service.
For example, take the simple matter of Elance’s phone number. Both clients and contractors are allowed to contact Elance by phone, but the company encourages this much more for clients than for contractors. A contractor who wants to call Elance must click the “Help” menu, then click “Contact Elance Support”, and then find the phone number in a panel on the right side of the page. In contrast, clients have the Elance support number put right on commonly used pages where it is easily found. If you go to the page where you post a new project, right at the top you see the word “Questions?” followed by Elance’s toll-free number. Even better, if you start to fill out a project but leave the page before it’s completed, your browser actually pops up a box encouraging you to call for help! While it is quite reasonable to make help options clearly visible for clients who are posting new projects, the difference in Elance’s exuberance for offering help to clients and contractors is tangible.
Elance’s attitude towards contractors can also be seen in the way the company markets itself: there’s an active effort made to present Elance as a place for employers to hire “online workers”, rather than as a marketplace for clients to make contact with professionals. A good example appeared in early April 2011, when the company updated its site. Included in the changes made was a big graphic splashed on the front page with the following catchphrase in a large font: “Hire Online Workers. Get the Job Done.” Then below that appeared this sentence: “Thousands of businesses use Elance every day to hire and manage online, instead of onsite.” This sort of attitude encourages clients to view contractors as at best the online equivalent of salaried employees, or at worse, commodity laborers. Either way, Elance doesn’t portray freelancers as independent professionals, and serious freelancers do not like this one bit.
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Last Site Update: December 13, 2011
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