oDesk - Customer Service and Support
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On the whole, oDesk offers very good customer service. As a freelancer, I found this to be a pleasant surprise: considering the company’s size, and its general market positioning as a place that caters primarily to employers looking for virtual employees, oDesk treats its contractors quite well. The company only offers live chat and a ticketing system as support options, but its customer service people respond quickly, and are polite and helpful. oDesk also has a community forum, though this isn’t a reliable place to get assistance with most problems, and its support for suggestions and feedback isn’t ideal.
I’ve pointed out in many places in this oDesk review that the site really is very different from most other freelancing marketplaces. oDesk was a pioneer in the online hourly work model, and is really designed more to appeal to companies who want to hire inexpensive virtual office workers than contract with independent freelancers. This approach underlies most of the company’s policies, and its general approach to how both clients and contractors are viewed by the system.
Given this “virtual office” mindset, you’d probably expect oDesk to take a generally deferential attitude towards employers, while treating contractors as secondary. To some extent this is unavoidable with this type of business model, which tilts the balance of power strongly towards clients. And this is exacerbated by oDesk’s low standards for contractors—pretty much anyone can sign up and call themselves an expert at anything. The lack of standards means that a client can get dozens or even hundreds of bids on a project, which puts them firmly in the driver’s seat.
oDesk illustrates its bias in subtle ways. For example, the process of evaluating a potential contractor hire is called an interview, and we all know who holds the cards in that situation. The oDesk blog article that provides tips on how to screen applicants suggests including a “test” in the job proposal to screen out bidders who don’t follow instructions. This makes sense for clients, but serious freelancers find such demands to be demeaning. oDesk even encourages clients to “test drive” candidates if they are having trouble choosing between them, by hiring multiple contractors and limiting each to a small task to evaluate them. Again, smart for clients, but not so great for contractors, for whom “test drives” are mostly a big waste of time.
All of that said, I do have to give oDesk credit in that it keeps this preferential attitude towards clients mostly on a “professional level”. By this, I mean that the company recognizes the inherent implications of its business model, which relegates contractors to commodity status, but it doesn’t allow this attitude to affect how it deals with contractors on a personal level.
I have always find oDesk to be very fair in its dealings with me. Despite the “employer/employee” paradigm, it is not at oDesk where I have experienced the most demeaning behavior on the part of site employees and policies—rather, this has occurred at sites using a more traditional client/contractor model. oDesk also doesn’t let its business model affect its customer support timeliness or responsiveness, as we’ll see in a moment.
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Last Site Update: October 21, 2011
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