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Should You Hire Customer Service Agents in Different Time Zones?

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Many of your online customers might be in different time zones. Do you need to be there, too?

If you’re a SaaS or eCommerce business, then you’re probably not a “local” business.

You probably have customers all over your country, if not far, far beyond.

Many online businesses, even the smallest ones, have become global businesses, simply by virtue of being accessible by anyone with an internet connection.

That’s a magical thing.

But it also poses some unique challenges that most small businesses never had to deal with before.

One of those challenges: how do you deliver prompt support to customers who are located half way around the world? Or even to those whose business hours fall slightly outside of your own?

A lot of businesses, to solve these problems, are wondering whether they should hire support agents in different time zones, to spread out their team’s availability, and ability to help quickly.

So, should you?

Should your next support hire be “on the ground” where some of your international customers are?

While there’s no blanket answer that will apply to every business, the answer for most small online businesses is: not necessarily.

And here’s why.

Yes, Speed Is Important in Customer Service

First of all, you’re certainly not wrong to want to deliver faster support to international customers.

After all, speed does matter. Somewhat.

One survey by Forrester found that 41% of customers expect a response to a customer support email within six hours, but that only 36% of businesses studied actually responded within that timeframe.

Speed becomes even more important in social media, where 32% of users who contact a brand expect a response within 30 minutes, and 42% expect a response within 60 minutes.

But It’s Not the MOST Important

While speed matters, there are things that matter more.

One survey by Gallup measured how engaged customers felt after getting service at a bank.

While customers who felt that the bank offered speedy service were six times more likely to be highly engaged, customers who gave the bank high ratings on “people” factors (like the tellers’ courtesy and willingness to help) were nine times more likely to be fully engaged.

As William J. McEwen puts it in Married to the Brand, “Speed is one factor, but it is markedly less important than having tellers who can deliver services in a friendly and competent manner.”

Focus on Great Support Before Fast

To that end, don’t “hire for time zones.”

Your first priority should be to hire the best customer service agents you can, regardless of where they are.

Here’s why: it pays to hire the best.

Global companies spend the equivalent of 2% of their marketing budget on actively maintaining relationships with existing customers, while 86% of us have stopped working with a company due to bad customer service – it suddenly all seems to add up.
Tom Eggemeier, EVP of Global Sales, Genesys

Excellent customer service makes an impact on whether customers buy or not: a McKinsey study found that 70% of buying decisions are made based on how a customer feels the business treats them.

Excellent customer service reduces churn: 81% of customers are more likely to do repeat business with a company after a good customer service experience. On the other hand, 95% of customers have taken action (e.g. abandoned a business or complained about it to others) because of a negative customer experience.

Excellent customer service increases revenue: a 2011 survey by American Express found that 70% of Americans are willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service.

Excellent customer service has a multiplier effect on user acquisition: the same American Express survey that found that happy customers would be willing to spend more money also found that a happy customer, on average, tells nine people about their experience.

Great support is, and always will be, more important than fast support.

Now, with that out of the way, how can you take your great support, and ensure that you’re delivering it fast to all of your customers?

How to Deliver Fast Customer Support, No Matter Where Your Team Is

Most small businesses don’t need to prioritize time zones when they look for customer service agents to hire.

There are simple and effective ways you can cover multiple time zones with a great team, no matter where they are.

Here are a few that work well for many teams:

1) Work In Shifts

Many small (and large) customer service teams work in shifts to cover multiple time zones.

If it sounds like it’s a hard sell to ask an agent to work a night shift, I’ll say this: you’d be surprised at how many people might be amenable to such an arrangement.

For example, when my wife worked as a nurse, she often worked nights and weekends. I was happy to align my work time with hers, so that we could spend time together when she was off. This also let me surprise more than a few people with rapid replies at 3AM.

For many reasons, non-traditional shifts can be attractive options for some people, so it’s worth exploring with your team.

2) Auto-Reply

We’ve already established that speed matters.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to resolve the issue immediately.

In fact, you can make your customers happy simply by communicating right away that you’ve received their email, and that you’re on it.

And you don’t need to be on duty to do that.

An auto-reply that confirms to the customer that you’re going to be thrilled to help them (as soon as you can) can work wonders when it comes to keeping people in all time zones happy.

Just remember: warm and human, not robotic and impersonal.

3) Agent On Call

One way to find a happy medium between full shifts and standard office hours is to implement an “on call” system, where each night, a different support agent stands by to put out customer fires if they come in outside of office hours.

Of course, most of us aren’t dealing with life-or-death emergencies, and so a full-night call probably isn’t necessary, but simply having the agent check in for urgent tickets at, say, 7PM, 9PM and 11PM can go a long way toward catching any issues before they turn into disasters.

Speed Is Important, but Don’t Hire for It

Once your business grows to a point where you’re fielding an overwhelming number of tickets from a single international location, you can worry about expanding there.

But for most of us, it’s just not necessary, and puts the focus on the wrong thing: speed over quality.

Focus on finding the best support agents you possibly can.

Your customers will appreciate it, regardless of where they are.

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About the Author

Len Markidan heads up marketing at Groove. He’s focused on helping startups and small businesses build better relationships with their customers.

Read his latest posts or follow him on Twitter

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