How PBworks Quickly Expanded Its Customer Service Team

The world-class freelancer of hosted collaboration tools uses oDesk to deliver top-notch customer service on budget.


Rachel Pennig / Manager of Customer Support, PBworks

"oDesk helped expand my team of four customer service representatives to 12."

When PBworks started offering collaboration services in 2005, many customers were early adopters who didn't require much support. A few years later, the company was providing knowledge management, project management and other services to more than 40,000 businesses and educational institutions worldwide. With massive success came the need for a powerful customer support operation, and the company's four local customer support representatives weren't enough.

A year later, oDesk had let Rachel triple the department. Her 12-rep team includes freelancers in Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina, New York, Kentucky and the Philippines. Assembling a widely dispersed remote workteam makes it easy to provide better coverage. "Sunday night at 2:00am in California is a great shift for an Australian freelancer," she says.

Getting Started on oDesk

In April '08, Rachel posted a single customer support job on oDesk.

"Posting the job was easy," she says. "Even today, I like that oDesk is easy. Some of my remote freelancers aren't very computer savvy, but they figure out how to use oDesk with no problems."

When Rachel needs to hire new freelancers, she posts an oDesk job posting asking candidates to take the PBworks certification test. She moves forward with those who score at least 80% — usually about a quarter of the candidates. Next, she gives candidates a questionnaire on subject matter, including wikis, blogs and social networks, to test their tech knowledge. She checks for accuracy, depth of knowledge, grammar and spelling. Finally, Rachel interviews the best candidates by phone. She looks for people who communicate well over both phone and email. She prioritizes patience and personality over technical skills, which can be taught. "We want our customers to feel like they're interacting with a real company, not a call center," Rachel says.

Tips from PBworks

  • Trial run: "Even though I intend to work with my freelancers long-term, I always make a one-month trial agreement with them first."
  • Build camaraderie: "We have a chat room for our representatives to help and support each other with difficult questions. This makes all the difference."
  • Use friendly competition: "I create tests on new PBworks features for my team members. The winners get raises and bragging rights. My support team is the most competitive group of people you'd ever meet."

Rachel uses Salesforce's CRM solution to assign tickets to her team. In conjunction, she uses oDesk's tools, including the team room, Work Diary and work analyze reports, to keep track of her team. "I like to see whether my freelancers are spending the majority of their time on PBworks," she says. "I also want to see if they're using their time valuably when their support queues are empty."

Rachel finds oDesk's management tools so valuable that she now uses oDesk with her local freelancers so she can manage their payroll through the system.

The Payoff

The two most important metrics for Rachel's team are Initial Response Time and Customer Satisfaction Rates. PBworks commits to 24 hour turnaround on email response, but Rachel has set an internal goal of 20 minutes during business hours. At this point, her team's average response time is only eight minutes. Rachel is also proud that post-support surveys give her team a 99% satisfaction rate.

Customer Support Manager Rachel Pennig turned to oDesk for a scalable and efficient solution to three major challenges:

  • Accessing great talent to continue improving response time and customer satisfaction.
  • Meeting her business objectives on a limited budget.
  • Maintaining accountability and visibility into her remote team members' work.

PBworks Data Sheet

San Mateo, CA
oDesk user since:
April 2008
Feedback score:
4.6 of 5.0
Hiring history:
12 filled jobs
# of team members:
USA, Philippines
Range of rates:

About PBworks

PBworks ( ) , formerly known as PBwiki, provides hosted collaboration solutions for businesses and education. Such leading companies and organizations as Oracle, DePaul University and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration use PBworks to collaborate across geographic and organizational boundaries with employees, customers, partners and vendors.