Groupon Journeys Offshore for Customer Service
- BY RYAN TATE
As Groupon’s stock (GRPN) hovers near its all-time low, the company is testing a new approach to customer service: hiring agents in India to answer e-mails now handled by Chicago-based employees.
The daily deal company is building a customer service team in Chennai, India that will supplement Groupon’s 300 to 400 customer service agents in Chicago. The idea is to take advantage of timezone differences and handle e-mail inquiries around the clock. Groupon has no plans to reduce U.S. staff, a spokesperson says.
The company is not yet committed to the remote team. Groupon needs to make sure India-based agents can deal effectively with customers. “We built our brand in the U.S. on customer service, and you need to have that experience no matter where the team is based,” says Groupon’s communications chief Julie Mossler. “We will experiment with it, and see how it goes.”
Mossler emphasized that the India team will work directly for Groupon rather than for an outsourcing firm, and will be handling “basic transactional issues … for example, an expired credit card or accidentally buying more than one of an item.”
Still, Groupon wants the agents to be able to handle a wide range of situations, judging from one of its Chennai job listings, which seeks staff with “high degrees of empathy, patience, resourcefulness, and web savvy” who can “respond to emails … ranging from simple usage questions to unique circumstances that come up with a specific offer.”
Despite Groupon’s assurances that it’s not laying off staff, some customer service employees are spooked, says a U.S.-based Groupon veteran who asked to remain anonymous. “They’re telling us that we shouldn’t worry about being laid off,” this person says, “but … maybe it’s just a natural progression that the company will [eventually offshore] the customer service department.”
Given the wealth of companies trying to compete with Groupon in the daily deals business, some investors will surely be anxious as well over whether the company will stumble in the notoriously delicate practice of customer relations. It can’t afford any more missteps. Groupon shares closed at $4.27 Monday, down almost 84% since the company’s initial offering in November. Empathy and patience might be overflowing in the customer service ranks, but it’s just about been drained from Groupon’s investors.