If you’d have told me six years ago that I’d be running my own successful VA business working with national brands based all over the world - I’d have probably laughed at you. Even more so if you said I would be offering customer support services from the comfort of my home office, but that’s exactly what I do today and I’ve certainly had some triumphs and challenges along the way.
You’d be very surprised at just how many companies use freelancers for their customer service! Are you thinking of taking the plunge and offering customer service as a VA? Maybe you already do! Starting from my first frugal setup, here’s what I’ve learned so far.
I first decided to venture into freelancing in 2011. Unfortunately, I’d found myself out of a job and at the time, in the depths of the recession, my days would consist of sending off heaps of applications to jobs I didn’t feel passionate about and where hundreds of applicants were being considered. It was soul-crushing.
I could have given up hope but there was always a little voice telling me that there had to be something else - another way to do what I’m good at and make a living from it. Customer service was what I excelled in but in my mind, this was a job only possible if sat at a row of desks in an office block with a boss breathing down your neck from nine to five.
Starting out with a rather clunky secondhand laptop and one of those pay as you go internet dongles (are those even still around?), I began applying for low-paying gigs on job boards just to get my foot in the door. I had little experience in creating my own website and was a complete novice in marketing myself to get potential clients to come to me; but it was a start. Testimonials began to flood in and I plucked up the courage to apply for a well-paying customer service position for a fast-growing tech startup.
Lo and behold, with my experience I won the job; and the rest is history.
Since then, with hard work and learning about promoting my business, clients come to me. I’ve worked in a variety of exciting industries, providing a service that I had originally never thought possible from my home office, leveling up my skills along the way.
Just like every VA niche, there are specific benefits, pitfalls and challenges that come with providing this type of support.
Avoid clients that pay per call
It’s much easier to charge your clients a set fee if your work is project or task based, but customer support doesn’t usually work like that.
Presuming that you offer the most popular channels of support such as call answering, live chat, social media and ticket monitoring, the volume will vary month to month, even day to day. As these services are provided in ‘real time’, your client will expect you to be online and available between a certain time frame so customers can reach you.
I’ve found that a good client will pay you for the hours you set aside each day, but others may not see the point and will try to get away with only paying you for the time you are literally dealing with a customer, when of course there’s much more to it than that.
For example, when a call lasts for two minutes and you get ten calls in a day, but you have been sat there for four hours - you’ll in fact be letting them pay for less than an hour’s worth of your time. If these clients cannot understand the value and importance of your services, then they aren’t the client for you.
Keep advancing your skills
Working the daily grind in a traditional nine to five office job does have the benefit of your company paying for customer service training for you, so that you’re on top of new regulations and know the latest way of providing the best service. The trouble is, with this approach you only ever learn what the company want you to learn and from their perspective on how it should be done.
When you’re a VA you can break down those barriers and level up your customer service skills in your own way, as often as you like. Customer service is ever-evolving as we as consumers find new ways of communicating with companies we buy from.
Follow leaders of industry on twitter, read white papers, sign up to informational emails and invest in online courses. You’re in charge of what you learn and when you stay current, you learn new skills which you can offer as service to your clients.
Stay connected with your clients and their team
Customer service is about communication, but not just with customers.
Keeping abreast of what’s going on in other areas of your client’s business, such as tech, marketing and PR, means you’re aware of changes, events and potential problems which might make their way back to the customer. Proactively figuring out an answer to a question or issue that a customer hasn’t even raised yet helps you prepare in advance and improves the customer’s experience - making both you and your client’s company looks amazing. Win win!
There are excellent platforms you can use now like Basecamp, Glip and Slack which allow everyone to stay in touch in real time. Perfect for when you don’t share an office with your colleagues.
Customer service is a demanding job. Whether you’re part of a larger virtual team or you’re solely heading up the entire department, it’s important to recognise when you need to step away.
Angry customers, overwhelming volumes of tickets and a phone that won’t stop ringing can leave you pulling your hair out.
Be mindful of your wellbeing in these circumstances because to look after your customers, clients, and your own business, you need to take care of yourself first.
Just finished on a call with an irate customer? Go for a brisk walk to clear your mind and get rid of some nervous energy. Swamped with live chat requests? After you’ve finished dealing with them, wind down with a hot bath after work. Disagreement with a client? Talk it through with a friend.
Do what you can to look after your state of mind and keep yourself feeling positive. It’s harder to be calm and collected when communicating with customers if you’re feeling burned out!
Didn’t think customer service was even possible for a VA to offer? Now you know!
Learn more about Francesca and her business here!
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- Customer Service As a Niche? It Can Be Done, Here’s How - April 25, 2017