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Customer Service Lessons Learned from Outsourcing

July 28th, 2011 Comments off

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Offering quality customer service is critical to running a design business, and really to any type of service-oriented business. When working with clients on design and development projects it’s easy to see things only from our your own perspective, but being able to look at customer service from the client’s point of view can be very helpful for evaluating and improving your own level of service.

One way to work on changing that perspective is to outsource some of your work. When you outsource you will be in the client’s position, and you’ll likely realize some things that you could do to improve your own level of service. It could be something you like that you could implement with your own clients, or it could be something that frustrates you, leading to a recognition of something that may have a similar impact on your clients.

There are a lot of opportunities and types of work that could be outsourced. It could mean hiring a virtual assistant to help with your finances and organization. It could mean outsourcing PSD to HTML coding to one of the countless companies and designers that offer this type of service. It could mean outsourcing the work to design custom icons for a web design project. The possibilities could go on as you can outsource just about anything.

Since last year’s launch of Vandelay Premier, our premium design resources site, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of designers who have created some of the resources released on the site. Some of these designers are people that I have known for a while, some contacted me to offer their services, some were sought out and approached to work on specific types of resources, and others were hired through project listings on Elance.

Getting this experience outsourcing work to other designers has been very helpful for getting a look at the client process from the perspective of a client, and I think many designers could benefit from a similar experience. If you’re not currently outsourcing any work I recommend that you give it a try if it fits within your workflow, and pay attention to the type of service that you receive and how it impacts your feelings about the project and the person that is doing the work.

From My Experience with Outsourcing

Here we will take a look at some of the lessons that have been reinforced through my experience with outsourcing. This is simply intended to demonstrate the types of things that you can pick up from outsourcing and how it can have an influence on your own client work.

1. Finding the Right Designer is Difficult

There are tons of designers and agencies out there that are looking for work, but finding someone with the right combination of skills, personality, communication, reliability, pricing, and availability can be a challenge. When outsourcing work to someone that you’re not familiar with, there is some leg work involved to determine if it’s the right fit. If it’s a challenge for one designer to find another for an outsourced project, imagine how challenging and intimidating it can be for a client with limited knowledge of the industry to find the right designer.

What this observation has taught me is that anything to simplify the process is helpful for the client. When I’m outsourcing a project I like to see designers that stand out from the crowd. Maybe they stand out because of an exceptional quality of work. Maybe they have an item in their portfolio that is highly relevant to what I am looking for. Maybe they communicate well, respond promptly, and seem like they would be easy to work with. Maybe they seem to have a clear understanding of what I am looking for and they’re eager to work on the project. These types of things help the designer to stand out and they make it an easier decision for me.

The same thing can be the case when I am trying to land work from clients. They are probably unsure of who to hire for their web design project and anything I can do to stand out and make the process easier or more successful for them will help me to be hired.

2. Sticking with the Same Designer is Easier than Finding Someone Else

Some of the designers that I outsource to will work on just one project, but others have become regular contributors to Vandelay Premier. From my perspective as the client the ideal situation is to have reliable designers that do several projects for me. Otherwise I’ll have to spend more time to find the right person for each project.

On-going clients can be extremely valuable for designers, and this experience has helped me to see how this situation is also ideal for clients. Developing a relationship with your clients, providing quality customer service, and doing your best work will lead to more repeat work.

3. Communication is Critical

It’s no secret that communication skills are essential for designers, especially for freelancers. But getting some experience from the client side can help to reinforce this. Poor communication can lead to unhappy clients or to not even getting the job in the first place.

One of the biggest lessons that I can apply to my own work is the value of constant communication. I’ve outsourced some work to designers who send a brief email every day or two just to update me on the status of the project, and I’ve worked with other designers who have no communication for weeks at a time. The consistent communication helps me to know that the project is moving forward and shows that the designer is in control of the project. With no communication the same thing could be true, but as a client it usually leads to the assumption that nothing is being done. This has reminded me that it’s important to update clients frequently to show that things are under control and so they do not feel left out in the dark.

4. The Relationship is Key

Each designer that I have outsourced to is different. In several cases I’ve had a previous relationship with the designer or been able to develop a relationship by working on several projects over a period of time. Working with these designers is completely different than working with someone for the first time.

For those designers that I have developed a relationship with, I know I can trust them and I know their quality of work. In these situations things are usually a little more laid back because of that existing relationship.

The same situation can apply when working with my own clients. This experience has helped me to recognize the need to develop strong relationships with clients to make the process easier and less stressful for them.

5. Clarity is Appreciated

When I am looking at outsourcing work to a designer or trying to evaluate how much I am willing to spend for a particular resource it’s helpful to have a clear understanding of what I will be getting. Some designers are very good at providing clear details of the specific resources that will be provided, when they will be completed, how much it will cost, and anything else that is relevant to the project.

Other times I get very vague proposals from designers and it’s difficult to know exactly what I will be getting and what it will cost. When things are clear it makes my job easier and enables me to make quicker decisions, something that is certainly appreciated.

The same thing can be applied when I am making proposals to potential clients. The experience has helped me to have a better understanding of the types of concerns that clients might have, and how they can be resolved with improved clarity and communication.

What’s Your Experience?

Have you outsourced work? If so, what types of lessons did you learn?

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