How Much Is It to Hire an Email Customer Support Agent?
Every business needs support. Customers will have issues with your products, and how you handle those issues goes a long way towards making or breaking your business itself. Good customer support can keep people loyal even through product issues, while bad support can drive down sales on even good products.
Support is also a huge problem for small businesses. It takes a lot of time, and often requires active monitoring to respond to issues as soon as they appear. Yet, it can be expensive to hire an employee just for customer service. They’re low on the priority list and they’re the first to go when budgets need to crunch.
I’m here to say you can hire a customer service rep for a lot less than you might think. You might need to think a little outside the box, and it will certainly cost more than not having a support agent at all, but it’s well worth it.
Why You Should Hire an Email Support Rep
If you don’t already believe that customer service makes or breaks a business, I’m not likely to convince you. Instead, let me make a purely financial argument. How much is your time worth?
Imagine you pay yourself, say, $100 an hour. You work 40 hours per week, so you’re paying yourself $4,000 per week, or $16,000 per month. You have a wide variety of tasks on your plate; you’re working to conceptualize and develop new products, you’re digging into analytics to see how your existing products are used, you’re building contacts and networking to grow your business, you’re creating contracts with service providers and suppliers, and on and on.
Now figure that you’re spending a bunch of your time handling email customer support issues. You need to check your email once every half hour, if not more often, and even though each support ticket only takes five minutes to refer to someone who can fix the issue – or simply relay the appropriate information immediately – you end up spending three hours per day on it.
Three hours per day at your $100 per hour pay rate is $300 per day, $1,500 per week, $6,000 per month. You’re spending a third of your income paying yourself to be a customer support rep instead of a CEO. Let me tell you, for $6,000 per month, you can hire a damn good customer service agent, or even a team of several.
Of course, this isn’t quite a true equivalency. You aren’t taking a corresponding pay cut when you start paying for a customer service agent, so it’s an additional cost, not a transferred cost. Still, it’s a demonstration of the value of your time, versus the cost of buying someone else’s time for the same tasks. With the three hours per day you save, you can spend that time pursuing any of the other potential sources of business advancement or value you normally would.
Considerations that Affect Pricing
If you’re starting to look into the costs of hiring a customer support agent, you need to figure out what your needs are and where you stand. Obviously, your budget is a big element, but the value of a support agent should more than counteract the cost of hiring them. Here are a few other considerations you might want to think about.
What is the scope of their job? The title of this blog post indicates that you’re looking for a customer service representative that handles email, and only email. Even so, there are several different possible levels of scope you need to consider.
- Are they going to handle just email, or do you want them to handle phone support, support through a ticketing system, support via social media, or any other business channels? The more you want them to handle, the more expensive they will tend to be.
- Are they simply doing basic support, flipping through a knowledge base, performing password resets, and investigating purchasing issues? Or are you requesting deeper support, with creative problem solving, application usage issues, or other more complex tasks? Think the difference between a helpdesk or an IT support agent, or tier 1 versus tier 2 support.
- Will there be any sales involved? Many people looking to be support agents don’t have the sales experience necessary to be successful with sales calls or upsells. It’s more beneficial to hire a cheaper dedicated support agent and a more expensive sales professional later than to try to pay mid-range for both in one person.
How complex is your product catalog? Support can vary wildly depending on what the employee is supporting. If you have a simple product and 99% of support tickets are “how do I open this” or “how do I use this” or “this is broken, fix please”, you’re going to have an easy time hiring someone who can fill those shoes. If, on the other hand, you have six different highly complex web apps and your users routinely encounter very strange bugs that are hard to replicate, the support agent needs a lot more than just a flowchart to solve their problems. The more complex and varied your catalog, the more expensive your support agents are likely to be.
Where are they located? Possibly just as importantly, where are you located? I’m biased in that the majority of my writing tends to focus on an audience in the United States, because that’s where I live. I know I have readers around the world, though, so this one’s for you.
English-language support can be found from a variety of different locations, but the main ones are in your native country – be it the USA, Britain, Australia, or wherever else – or in a country you can outsource. We all know the jokes about Indian tech support, but plenty of modern support is outsourced to the Philippines with no such stereotypes or issues. I’ll discuss that more in a bit.
If you primarily do business in another language, like Spanish, French, German, or Chinese, you may have a harder time finding a fluent resident in a cheap country. That said, there may also be cultural knowledge that can point you in the right direction. I honestly don’t know where you might look to hire a cheap foreign worker with fluency in another language. I’ve never had cause to look.
How long will their role last? If all you need is a customer service agent for a couple months while things settle down after a product launch, you might be looking at different pricing than one who will be a permanent fixture of your team for years to come.
A lot of times, the customer service rep you’re looking for is going to be a freelancer. Some freelancers only take on longer contracts, while some prefer shorter contracts and the flexibility it entails. This might not really change the prices you’re looking at, but it will mean you need to be up front with your prospects right away. Let the freelancer know how long the contract will last.
Are you paying salary or hourly? This is a related question to the above. A salary is usually more effective for long-term contracts, and a lot of freelancers like the arrangement because they don’t have to worry about a dearth of support tickets putting their livelihood on the line.
Where to Find a Customer Service Agent
There are essentially three ways you can find a customer service agent to hire. The first is to just put out a job opening on sites like Monster and Craigslist and wait for them to come to you. This works, though it can be slow, and you might not get many qualified applicants.
The second is to approach a freelance portal like Upwork. Any freelance hub will have people willing to do email customer service for a fee, usually hourly, though contracts can be arranged. This is a viable alternative, though it has the issue of needing to rely on the communications platform provided by the middleman site, which isn’t always ideal.
The third option is to go through a recruiter like StaffVirtual. Recruiters have their own pools and can assign talent to your tasks, but you will end up paying more because the fee includes payment for both the contractor and the recruiter.
Expected Price Ranges
The price range for a customer service agent can vary quite a bit depending on all of the factors listed above. Let’s give a few examples, shall we?
First up, you have Gary, a young millennial in Idaho looking to make some money from home to supplement a part time job. He’s only available for email support, which is ideal, and your product catalog is fairly small and uncomplicated. It’s easy to train him to do a few password resets and get him up and running in a couple weeks. Gary will cost you $15 per hour.
Next you have Nathan. Nathan is an experience customer service agent with 20 years under his belt. He can handle pretty much everything you can throw at him, and throw at him you do; your product catalog is small but complex, so he has to think on his feet. You want to keep him on retainer because the work he does is top-tier, so you pay him a salary that works out to $25 per hour.
Third, you have Susan. Susan comes to you highly recommended by her agent, a recruiter at RecruitMaximus. She has a good amount of experience with various customer-facing roles, so she’s a good fit to handle the increased support for your product launch. It’s going to take about six months for things to settle down, so you hire her on for a six month contract at $35 an hour. This covers her payment as well as the fee for the recruiter.
These are all hypothetical examples of people and situations you might find yourself in, and the price ranges you might encounter. I’ve seen customer service agents for as low as $10 per hour for extremely basic part time work, and I’ve seen complex customer support go for as high as $65 per hour.
A Note on the Philippines
The Philippines are the number one location for outsourcing simple customer service work. It’s an area with a relatively cheap cost of living, along with both traffic and air quality issues that lead residents to want to work from home if they can. Those who are fluent in English tend to have neutral accents, making them ideal for phone support.
Hiring a customer service agent from the Philippines can work quite well for you, but you need to remember to test them on their English writing capabilities, not just their fluency with spoken English. If your job for them requires mostly email management, their written grammar is more important.
Agents in the Philippines tend to be quite a bit cheaper than agents in your native country. In part, it will depend on the skills of the agent, their location, and how much experience they have. Pricing ranges from as low as $4-5 per hour up to a more typical $10-15 per hour for those with moderate experience living outside of the capital. You can, of course, end up spending more on those with plenty of experience, but you’re not necessarily likely to choose to do so.