Outsourcing customer support can be nerve-wracking. If you hire someone to build a website but don't like the result, you're out some time and money. Failures in customer support will cost you clients. Yet, if your in-house resources are drawn too thin, you can't do a good job of managing your customers, either.
There are reliable, responsible people working from home, and the cost savings over hiring and housing office staff are obvious--there's a reason it's a growing trend. JetBlue has thousands of people fielding customer calls from their homes, and the airline consistently ranks high in customer satisfaction.
So it can be done. The question is, how do you do it right?
Profile Details: Scan feedback for comments that praise not just work product, but interaction: "a joy to work with," "an excellent communicator," "very responsive." Also look for test scores; oDesk offers certification in email etiquette and call-center skills. Anyone serious about the job will have taken the tests and scored well.
Enjoy the Interview: The best customer service people are extremely competent and genuinely dedicated to helping you out. They're sympathetic and friendly, but always professional, not chatty. When you interview your candidates, make sure they're giving you the vibe you want your customers to get.
Asset Allocation: Does the candidate have the time to commit to the schedule you need? Does she have the necessary technology and a quiet place to use it? Does she demonstrate the problem-solving skills the job requires?
Role-play: Practice a few scenarios to see how your top candidates perform. Can your prospective hire listen in on a few well-handled calls? You should definitely monitor the first few calls after you hire her and provide very specific feedback.
Measure Up: Set metrics for customer satisfaction that will let you assess your worker's success, and provide a mechanism for rewarding her for a job well done.
Picking out an expert in human language and interaction can be harder than finding a programming whizz, but the combination of competitive pricing and premier talent available on oDesk makes this kind of outsourcing a viable, and valuable, option.