In-House vs. Outsourced Technical Support: The Pros & Cons
by Brett Daniel, on Aug 16, 2021 10:48:58 AM
Photo: It's no mistake that some companies prefer in-house over outsourced technical support teams and vice versa. We'll explore the pros and cons of both in this blog post.
The unfortunate has happened.
You've encountered a problem with your computer.
You go to the manufacturer's website and navigate to the support page. You dial the number listed.
You get the company's automated customer assistance system, which forces you to state a series of commands and listen to explanations of options designated as one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine. After successfully navigating the system, you're then placed on hold. You begin to worry. Will you be dropped from the queue? No, good news, eventually, you reach an agent who puts you on another hold after asking you a few basic questions.
So, you continue holding, for 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes, only to finally reach an agent who doesn't quite know how to solve your specific problem and needs to investigate further or transfer you to someone else.
"But, wait, if you could jus"—now you've been placed on another hold. And this process repeats itself ad nauseam before finally concluding with, or without, a solution to your problem.
Photo: Frustrating customer support interactions. We've been there. We've done that. We'd like not to do it again if we can help it.
Why are customer support interactions notoriously frustrating?
Although contacting technical support and waiting for an answer can be annoying, agents typically have legitimate reasons for asking customers to hang tight.
There may be a shortage of available agents, many of whom might be tied up assisting others or preoccupied with other company business. The agent may also need to consult with a supervisor, subject matter expert (SME), or investigate your problem independently, which can take a while depending on the complexity of the problem. These are part and parcel of the technical support process and affect both in-house and outsourced technical support teams.
Many customers seek a live chat option to avoid the wait but are often disappointed to find that a company's chat assistant is fully automated, cannot solve their specific problem, or tells them that all agents are busy and to, again, wait.
So, they may seek a support email address, which the company may have prominently listed on their website, buried beneath lots of text on some obscure support webpage, or not listed at all. Customers may then visit a company's knowledge base and still be unable to locate the information they need to solve their specific problem.
All this just to get an answer, a nugget of helpful information, just something that puts the customer on the right track to solving their problem.
The unmatched expertise of an in-house technical support team can help reduce the frustration that many customers experience when forced to do what, let's be honest, virtually no one likes to do: contact technical support.
Thankfully, the technical support process doesn't have to be frustrating or a time suck. With the right people, processes, and procedures, it can be a pleasant, courteous, and educational interaction that, believe it or not, makes customers want to contact the support team again.
Photo: Employing an in-house customer support team gives business owners greater control over their customer's support experience and can result in the customer receiving more helpful, detailed solutions.
The pros of in-house technical support
There are four main advantages to employing an in-house technical support team:
- Intimate product familiarity
- Greater control over processes and procedures
- Greater control over response times
- Greater control over data security
Intimate product familiarity
With an in-house technical support team, a customer is more likely to talk to an agent intimately familiar with their specific product's capabilities, nuances, and issues.
In-house technical support agents typically work with and have proximal access to their company's products. In fact, some of the agents may have even helped design the products or write their supporting documentation, as many in-house technical support agents are often extensively involved in product development, taking copious notes and proactively devising solutions to problems the customer may encounter following a product's release.
In-house technical support agents are also just a hop, skip, and a jump away from supervisors, engineers, and other SMEs, and that's assuming the agents themselves aren't the supervisors, engineers, and SMEs. Regardless, a quick tap on a co-worker's shoulder or a three-way call to the software developer down the hall, and the customer's on track to a solution sooner rather than later.
Control of technical support processes & procedures
By employing an in-house technical support team, enterprises can exercise more control over technical support processes and procedures, including those related to training, quality of service, and timeliness of service.
For example, technical support supervisors can develop, assign, and measure the effectiveness of agent training assessments, which they can also tailor to the needs of their specific customers, with whom they already work closely. They also have more control over phone and email response times, length and quality of customer interactions, ticket management, knowledge base management, feedback surveys, and the authority to make strategic decisions on improving each. Their unique understanding of the subtleties of how their support team operates can ultimately engender an improvement in both quality and timeliness of service.
And, of course, in-house technical support supervisors can handpick the best support agents for their team, accounting for the specific skill sets and qualities they believe create smooth, friendly support experiences for their customers and their customers' qualities, personality types, and other traits.
Control of response times
Because in-house technical support supervisors possess intimate product knowledge and influence over their agents' response times and activities, they can implement customized agent improvement and education plans geared toward product nuances and particularly recondite customer issues.
Over time, and bearing in mind such factors as agent retainment, the support team becomes not only more knowledgeable of issues exclusive to their disparate customer base but also more operationally efficient as agents get better at resolving a customer's problem and moving on to the next in a timely manner.
In-house support supervisors also control manuals and scripts, i.e., their length, content, and whether or how often their team uses these documents during customer interactions. In niche technical industries, in which many customers are working with customized configurations, a one-size-fits-all troubleshooting manual or script is unrealistic. Naturally, working with an erudite team that has the freedom to get straight to the point and possesses an intimate, pre-existing understanding of the company's products can ultimately lead to improved timeliness of service for the customer.
Control of data security
Control of data security is one of the most important advantages of having an in-house technical support team, especially for government and other security-conscious customers overseeing sensitive data transmission and storage.
In-house technical support agents can work closely with customers and company-employed cybersecurity experts to reduce the likelihood of sensitive information disclosure when working with the armed forces, aerospace industry, and other customers whose sensitive data security is of the utmost importance.
They can also recommend product-specific data security tips and tricks that only they know, given their intimate familiarity with and involvement in designing the company's products. In addition, they can also give in-person advice and recommendations to in-house cybersecurity leaders on organizational security processes and procedures based on customer feedback and requirements.
Photo: The cons of employing an in-house technical support team include high operating costs and generally less availability.
The cons of in-house technical support
Because in-house technical support agents understand the company's products better than anyone and have greater operational control, there are very few cons to employing or working with them.
But in the spirit of fairness and objectivity, given that we at Trenton Systems employ an in-house technical support team, we must talk about the cons that do exist.
The two main disadvantages to employing and working with in-house technical support teams are:
- Higher operating costs
- Less availability
Higher operating costs
The operating costs of employing an in-house technical support team can be substantial.
From the beginning and especially as the team grows, employers must consider the cost of salaries, employee benefits, human resources, workspaces, the devices and tools necessary to provide adequate support, additional training, and other expenses they wouldn't need to worry about if their support agents were outsourced.
But, as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. And, on the upside, the employer can maintain greater control over these expenses by employing an in-house support team.
In-house technical support agents often work during regular business hours only, which, in the United States, is typically between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sometimes, customers need assistance outside of this predetermined timeframe, especially if different time zones and mission-critical systems and infrastructure are involved.
Outsourced technical support agents often work both during and outside of these regular business hours. It's why customers can call a customer support line later in the evening on a weekday or weekend. Some customer support outsourcing companies even offer 24/7 support.
Of course, an in-house technical support team can quickly solve the issue of less availability by asking current in-house agents to work additional hours for additional pay and benefits or by hiring new agents who are willing, able, or prefer to be available during odd hours.
Photo: Employers can save money and expand agent availability by outsourcing their technical support team.
The pros of outsourced technical support
There are four main advantages to employing or working with an outsourced technical support team:
- Cost savings
- More availability
- Less employer responsibility
- More language options
An employer may decide to outsource their support team to a country where wages are not as high, receiving the same services at a fraction of the cost.
For example, outsourcing customer support to India can be up to 75 percent cheaper than outsourcing customer support domestically in the U.S. or to Europe.
On paper, an employer receives the same service for cheaper, but, considering the nature of the business model, control over quality and timeliness of service is not as easily exerted.
Since in-house technical support teams in the U.S. often work during regular business hours only, usually from 9 p.m. to 5 p.m., outsourcing technical support can provide customers with greater agent availability.
Many outsourced customer support teams work odd hours or night shifts, allowing customers to contact them outside the customary 9 p.m. to 5 p.m. working day.
Of course, employers can ask their in-house customer support agents to work outside of regular business hours, too, but the agents may ask for higher pay, more benefits, and other workplace perks. Whether or not these returns are rightful and feasible is a conversation best left to the agents and their employer. There's also the option of hiring additional agents who are willing, able, or prefer to work odd hours, or developing a hybrid team of both in-house and outsourced technical support agents.
Less employer responsibility
When employers outsource their technical support team members, although they still need to pay the outsourcing company, they don't have to worry about employee salaries, benefits, additional human resources, workspaces, devices, tools, hiring and training costs, turnover, providing additional training, and other in-house employee expenses. These become the responsibility of the outsourcing company.
The employer also doesn't have to worry about managing a support team. They can provide recommendations and expectations to the outsourcing company, of course, but the day-to-day management falls on the company employing the outsourced team.
This decrease in responsibility can give the employer more time to focus on the company's strategic goals and more money to invest in growing other aspects of the business.
More language options
Outsourcing your technical support team to a different country, also known as offshoring, can benefit bilingual and multilingual customers.
Customers whose first language is not English but Afrikaans, for example, may feel more comfortable speaking to an agent employed by a technical support company in South Africa, where Afrikaans is one of 11 official languages.
An obvious mistake would be offshoring your support team to a country whose population speaks a language or languages that most of your customers don't, creating a frustrating and arguably unnecessary language barrier for all parties involved.
Photo: The cons of employing an outsourced technical support team include greater customer frustration and less control over the customer's support experience.
The cons of outsourced technical support
There are five main disadvantages to employing or working with an outsourced technical support team:
- Higher likelihood of customer frustration
- Lack of intimate product knowledge
- Less control over processes and procedures
- Less control over response times
- Less control over data security
Higher likelihood of customer frustration
This disadvantage stems from the disadvantages listed after it, and it's listed first because, for any business, happy customers are essential.
Customers like quick and simple solutions to their problems, and they may become frustrated with a technical support company that can't provide them with these perks because of factors partly or wholly within the company's control. Such factors include agents' product knowledge, quality of service, and timeliness of service.
Although both in-house and outsourced technical support teams face challenges related to these factors, customers are less likely to become frustrated if they speak to agents who have intimate knowledge of, experience with, or were even involved in creating their products, as these agents will inevitably have a deeper understanding of the customer's product, especially if it was customized from the ground up.
Furthermore, employers have little to no control over outsourced agents' product education, training, processes, procedures, response times, and quality of service. So, suppose their customers aren't happy with the technical support being provided. The employer now has a few options: fight the losing battle of changing the way the outsourced team does business, replace the outsourced team with another, or invest in an in-house support team.
Lack of intimate product knowledge
In niche industries where highly specialized or custom solutions are commonplace, agents with intimate knowledge of and hands-on experience with these solutions are invaluable assets to the customer.
Outsourced technical support teams may have some familiarity with a company's products, but they're not exposed to the products every day, they don't have hands-on experience with the products, and they aren't involved in product development.
A troubleshooting manual or script cannot solve all customer issues, particularly in niche industries offering highly specialized solutions and custom products.
Less control over processes and procedures
Quality of service is just as important as timeliness of service; being good at one means nothing if a support team's a disaster at the other.
Outsourced technical support companies have control over quality and timeliness of service; the best an employer can do is advise the outsourced team on these matters and hope for the best.
So, in this case, all the processes and procedures that foster good quality and timeliness of service, both of which offer tangible benefits to the customer, are controlled by an external party.
Outsourcing technical support works out great if the outsourcing company's beliefs about what constitutes excellent and timely customer service align with the employer's.
Otherwise, there could be serious trouble ahead.
Less control over response times
Response time is one of the most critical metrics for ensuring customer satisfaction.
According to Forrester, 77 percent of customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good online customer service.
According to Zendesk, nearly 60 percent of customers feel that long holds and wait times are the most frustrating parts of a service experience.
According to HubSpot, 90 percent of customers rate an immediate response to a service question as "important" or "very important," with 60 percent of customers defining "immediate" as 10 minutes or less.
According to a joint survey by SuperOffice and Toister, "While some customers are still okay with a 24-hour response time, 31.2 percent of customers surveyed want a response in one hour or less. Responding in an hour will meet the expectations of 88 percent of consumers surveyed."
And just for good measure: 90 percent of Americans use customer service as a factor in deciding whether or not to do business with a company, investing in new customers is between 5 and 25 times more expensive than retaining existing ones, and 58 percent of American consumers will switch companies because of poor customer service.
Now, technical support agents are only human, and response time expectations vary from industry to industry and customer to customer. Still, as evidenced from the data above, the faster a customer gets in touch with an agent and receives a solution, the better.
Employers have little to no control over response times if their technical support team is outsourced. The best they can do is advise and hope for the best or invest in other options if response times are not up to their standards.
But once a customer relationship is broken, it's difficult if not impossible to repair.
Less control over data security
In an era of growing concerns over the protection of sensitive data, customers want assurances that their personal and professional information is safe from nefarious eyes and hands.
Security of sensitive data is especially paramount in mission-critical industries such as defense and aerospace, whereby disclosure could jeopardize mission success, critical infrastructure processes, and even human life.
So, how does this relate to in-house and outsourced support teams?
Sometimes, customers have to ship their computers back to the manufacturer for a problem that the technical support team is tasked with resolving. With in-house technical support teams, employers can control how sensitive information on these computers is protected once the computers enter the technical support pipeline.
But suppose an outsourcing company's security practices align with the employer's beliefs about adequate hardware security and cybersecurity practices. In that case, the arrangement of outsourcing technical support works just fine.
But suppose they don't or that the outsourcing company doesn't place a lot of emphasis on sensitive data security. Are you and your customer base prepared for the potential consequences?
Photo: Nancy Pattillo, technical support supervisor at Trenton Systems. Nancy and her experienced team of technical support engineers work with Trenton servers, workstations, and embedded computers daily.
Conclusion: Is in-house or outsourced technical support better?
There's no simple answer to the question, "Is an in-house technical support team better than an outsourced technical support team?"
What enterprises need in terms of technical support varies significantly from business to business, from industry to industry, from budget to budget. What's suitable for a billion-dollar technology company with tens of thousands of customers won't be ideal for a technology company with 3,000.
That said, an in-house technical support team offers undeniable benefits to both employer and customer, no matter the size of the enterprise.
At Trenton Systems, we're always growing and investing in our in-house technical support team.
Our in-house technical support experts specialize in personalized problem-solving. Customers know our agents' first and last names and understand their technical backgrounds. They see their faces during interactions. They know their stories. Our agents aren't automated, monotonous, indifferent, or uninformed. They're legitimate, accomplished technical experts - personable, enthusiastic, tenacious, and highly educated. They possess a unique and intimate familiarity with our customers' computing solutions. Our technical support supervisors also maintain control over processes and procedures and thus maintain greater control over quality and timeliness of service.
And given that Trenton designs, manufactures, assembles, tests, and supports its computing solutions in-house, our technical support agents have direct access to motherboards, slots, chassis, expansion cards, firmware, pre-loaded software, and other components, as well as the original designs used to craft any custom computing solutions. They also work alongside the engineers, developers, and technicians who help create them and, in fact, are members of the same team.
Because we work alongside the experts who design our products and are also involved in product development, we have an intimate understanding of what the customer is experiencing when they call or email us about an issue, and if we receive a hardware, firmware, or software question that we can't answer immediately, we don't have to wait for responses from outside of Trenton. We can quickly get in touch with the appropriate expert because they work in the same building as we do. Offering our customers personalized technical support solutions that alleviate frustration get them back up and running fast is our mission.
Nancy Pattillo, Technical Support Supervisor
Get to know Trenton's in-house technical support team by visiting our support webpage.
Need to submit a support ticket? Use our ticket submission form.
If you need support unrelated to a product issue, use our live chat feature, controlled by experienced field application engineers (FAEs).
And, as always, Team Trenton is here for you when you're ready to discuss your next high-performance computing deployment.