Have you ever called up customer service at Uber? How about at Tinder? Most likely, you haven’t. In fact, you probably couldn’t find a phone number for these companies’ customer-service departments if you tried; they go out of their way to solve all of your problems over email.
While a quick, documented response is (sometimes) great for customers, it turns out it’s great for startups such as Uber and Tinder, too: Eliminating a customer-service number means these companies don’t need to support the massive call centers traditionally set up to tackle customer inquiries. Instead, they just need a workforce that can handle emails. That might seem like a small difference, but it isn’t: Not only do emails speed up (and simplify) communications, they eliminate the need for a speaking customer-service representative on the other end of a phone line. That change, in turn, has allowed many tech companies to quietly outsource their support efforts—and other simple, labor-intensive tasks—without facing the blowback many large corporations have received for doing many of the same things.
Uber, Tinder and others, including Groupon, Hotel Tonight and Whisper, are leading a new wave of outsourcing among startups. Instead of employing large teams of U.S. workers, these companies have small teams in the Philippines that address all of their customers’ queries; they’re all clients of TaskUs, which specializes in outsourcing customer support and backend services for startups and fast-growing companies.
Primarily located in the suburbs outside Manila, TaskUs hires and manages a labor force that handles everything from customer support, to data entry, photo retouching, and content curation for Whisper and other applications. The company determined (correctly) that as long as it provided exemplary service, nobody would question where the service was coming from. The rising popularity of text-based communications over calls has made building the customer-support side of the business even simpler.
Although the company claims it hasn’t tried to do so, there’s no doubt flying under the radar has proven essential to its success; no startup wants the negative attention that typically goes along with outsourcing. (The company’s founder, Bryce Maddock, even admitted that many of TaskUs’ customers don’t allow the company to name them.)
TaskUs employees are responsible for only one company, so they can get fully immersed in its brand and messaging. By ensuring agents are educated on the brands they support, the company is able to provide service that adheres to the client’s voice.
Given that startups have a reputation for hiring primarily from referrals, and marketing themselves as close-knit places to work, outsourcing may seem like a surprising move. But startups don’t want to spend their resources worrying about simple tasks; cutting costs on simple chores such as data-entry and customer support allows them to spend the money they’ve raised from investors on improving and marketing their product.
Outsourcing is actually particularly appealing to startups because they haven’t yet invested resources in perfecting the services they’ll outsource. As Ashir Badali, director of marketing for TaskUs pointed out: “A lot of our clients are emerging companies that are either experiencing rapid growth, or that have been recently funded and need to grow quickly. In these situations the jobs aren’t outsourced—the process or activity is—because no one is doing it in-house either because they don’t know how, or they don’t have the bandwidth.”
TaskUs doesn’t seem concerned about the public reaction to the idea of startups outsourcing; so long as agents can solve customers’ problems, goes their thinking, the customers won’t care. “We have a really rigorous hiring process that is designed to find support specialists who have the experience and skills to do the job, but who also have the aptitude and attitude to live up to our company’s core values,” Badami said.
But limiting customer service to online and email support also features problems: No matter how streamlined and efficient the online communications, there are always some people who aren’t satisfied unless they can get a person on the phone. According to Uber marketing manager Kate Magoc, a number of drivers have expressed frustration over the lack of a phone number they can call for help. “We’re still figuring a lot of things out,” she said, adding: “What we’re really trying to do is understand the data we get from the app to better serve people.”
So is outsourcing the secret to quickly scaling a new business, or merely a passing fad? Given the relative newness of outsourcers like TaskUs, it may be too early to tell. The answer will likely depend on the fate of companies who have been transparent about their outsourcing.