People First

When to Outsource

A key part of your dotcom business is customer service. Depending on your company's size and budget, you'll have to decide whether to outsource that department or hire an in-house staff. At eBags.com, Cobb firmly believes in keeping his customer-care staff in-house. That way, if customers call with questions that the customer-care representatives can't answer, his staff can ask someone else in the company and respond to those customers quickly.

"Our customer-service area is within 30 feet of our offices," says Cobb. "It's important to keep them nearby, especially since we have well over 170 brands and 6,000 products they have to keep track of." Right now, Cobb says, his company doesn't offer 24/7 customer service. Instead, it shuts down for about six hours every day. So even though the company is working toward round-the-clock service, he insists it's not always necessary.

"We know exactly how many people visit our site every hour, and we didn't feel there was a need for it," says Cobb. In addition, experts say that 24/7 is not always important in the business-to-business world, where no one expects 24-hour support.

So while there is indeed a trend toward bringing custorner service in-house, Villella says that today, most dotcoms choose to outsource functions such as benefits administration, Web hosting and project-based functions, such as those done by writers, editors, artists or technology consultants. Cobb, for instance, outsources Web hosting and benefits administration. In addition, his company outsources consultants who assist the company in application development.

Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at mcampanelli@earthlink.net.

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