A Complete VA customer Service Onboarding Process
What’s the first thing I should outsource?
What’s the first thing I should outsource? This is the first question that people ask me after they learn what I do at Amazing Work System.
Initially I struggled and gave a vague reply like: “it depends” and went down the rabbit hole of Seller Central tasks, that potentially should be taken off their plate.
Now I just say “Customer service!”.
Are you looking to hire a VA to take the customer messages off your plate? Keep reading.
Customer Service as a core competency
Your situation may be different but this article assumes that you are building a private label brand with a high level of product customisation. Your goal is to build a self running machine that eventually you can sell and hand over to the buyer.
Why am I clarifying this?
Well, in business there’s this one rule that says “never outsource your core competency”.
If product design is your core competency and the whole brand would not exist without your product design then that part should stay in-house – but, you go hardcore on outsourcing the rest. So that brings me to “What happens if customer service is my core competency?”.
What if I want to be the next Zappos, what if the customer service is my differentiator?
Well good luck… keep it in house and this article is not for you ;))))
Why outsource early and bring it back when you’re big
I know well that businesses at a certain level bring back customer service in house but… what’s important here is… timing.
Ryan Moran is a proponent of bringing customer service in-house. I think what he means is, doing that AFTER you reach a level where you can do that, without it being a distraction to growing. Bring it back in-house only when customer service can be a tool for growth.
So, if customer service takes you away from the growth activities, keep reading.
Psychological impact of dealing with customers
My products are really good.
My products are improvements to what’s currently on the market.
My products are 4-5 stars and customers are happy.
Still you will get some customer service messages that are… let’s just say, not nice.
People can be mean, unconstructive critique, personal issues and general meanness of statistical population will hit you in your customer service no matter what. And I don’t know about you but this affects me.
The moment I handed over all customers messages, I was free, literally, I could concentrate more on the growth tasks. It was liberating.
Messages about a product that you spent so much time researching, developing improving and patenting is like your baby.
Any negative comment will affect you.
That is why you should not be the person who deals with that. Too much personal charge is involved and God forbid if you are a defensive type of a person, it’s not going to end well if you get into long interactions with an unhappy customer.
That’s why I believe it should be out off your plate.
Does that mean you will end up ignoring your customers feedback? Well, no.
That is what we do as sellers, we get the feedback and improve the products so by outsourcing it may feel like we’re losing our main tool of our improvement toolbox.
Do you feel similar resistance?
Don’t worry, we absolutely are not losing anything. All we do is we’re putting structure into it.
What would you prefer?
Reading everyday how your product sucks because the handle of the garlic press is slippery, with angry comments and personal insults
Every 2 weeks getting a report from your VA about most common product issues, cleaned out of any comments and left purely with facts and suggestions?
And how about agreeing with your VA that every time a super positive and grateful comment arrives, it’s shared among the whole team? Wouldn’t that lift your mood instead of it being buried among hundreds of messages and not having any impact on the team?
Can you see the power?
You may be stuck and not eating the outsourcing frog because of the trust issues. Or rather I say, fear issues.
I wrote a whole article about this so you may want to check it out
But let me address the main ones here:
Giving access to seller central
Further in this article you will learn the process that takes this fear away. It’s totally understandable that you don’t want to give access to seller central to a stranger.
The process I’ll take you through will introduce the new VA to your organization Gradually.
Once you get the confidence, you will utilize the system of limited access.
Amazon thankfully gives us an option to give access to our account with a limited permissions.
This solves problems that many people are afraid of, which is VAs getting access to financial info, card details etc. as long as you do the permissions settings right, you’re safe.
VA working with multiple sellers? – Dangerous?
Of course, Amazon knows….
So, first thing is… I always recommend hiring a VA that is not experienced in Amazon and then groom them.
I really am looking for someone who can devote themselves to my brand, to feel like they are a part of the team.
That’s a subject for a different blog post and I’ve talked enough about this before but in terms of seller central VA account – if you use the permissions sub account options you are fine.
That what’s it designed for.
You set up an account under your domain, you set up a user with login and passwords, you add them to lastpass, you add the user as a permission based access, you share the login through lastpass and that’s all.
You stress that this account and login to be used only to login to your seller central.
Worried about IP? Don’t, this setup was designed for it. Amazon is fine with your VA logging in as a sub user even if they work for other sellers.
What Amazon doesn’t like is one account being a permission user for multiple seller central accounts.
So if you end up working with VA who works with other sellers, then you must stress that if the other user wants your VA to be added to his seller central – forbid to use the same account.
Have a regular conversation about what other businesses your VA helps and everytime you learn about other sellers, repeat that again.
Again, I would not work with a VA who works with other amazon sellers.Want to see 14 Crucial Questions to Ask Your First VA during an Interview? Download my free Cheat Sheet. CLICK TO SEE 14 Crucial Questions to Ask Your First VA during an Interview
The actual on boarding process for customer service
If you’ve been following me for a while you know my spiel about the foundation of a systematised business.
There are many elements that you can learn about in my course. But for the purpose of this onboarding we’ll need the following elements in place:
- Task management system
- Company Wiki
I use Asana for my task management, you will need this to follow the steps below. Asana is a tool of my choice for many reasons. I like working with lists and Asana’s visual approach works best for people who like lists. Feel free to go with Trello if cards is your visual preference.
I personally want to see the list of tasks for the day, do them and live my life.
Let’s assume you do use a system like that.
There are specific ways I set my Asana up which I talk about in other articles and in the course but for this purpose any setup will do.
Company wiki, is a place where we store all necessary information to complete tasks or your VAs and employees may need to complete a given task.
Here we put SOPs, templates, static data that must be quickly accessed and found … without asking You, the owner for help.
That’s the idea of a systematized business, that it can run without you, but for that to ACTUALLY happen you need a place to store the information that otherwise you would have been asked for. And that’s a wiki.
Watch some of my videos about wiki: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUipY8-u8KE
As mentioned there are many things that go into the wiki but for this customer service onboarding article, we’ll talk about templates and canned responses that your VA will need to promptly reply and take care of the customer issues, messages or requests.
Wiki can be as simple as a shared Google Doc or as completed as internal site or even and outside service that provides such options as comments, permissions granting on pages level.
In the course I tell people to build their wikis in Google sites as it has a lot of benefits. For external services I recommend notion and slite. Check them out.
In my course I go though the exact setup but for now let’s assume you have a wiki set up no matter how unstructured you have it. It will do. Better anything than nothing.
Here we’re not involving the VA in any direct contact with your customers. Feeling safer? I told you we’ll go gradually.
Here we’ll take a few steps to prepare ourselves for customers messages, we’ll build a nice initial database of canned responses and the best part is that you won’t have to do it.
Your VA will do 90% of work here. Remember that this is also a perfect trial, good for checking if they are actually a good fit for your business. You will know this way before they touch any customer message.
So, how to build the canned responses without doing all the work?
I assume you have already answered loads of messages and questions before so in a way, the responses are already there. All you have to do if put structure into them and store them in wiki.
Ideally it would be to give access to seller central and let the VA go through ALL messages and see the patterns, see the common questions and gather them all and make a unified responses for most common questions. And that’s what you could do if you feel safe enough with the person you hired.
But for the paranoid ones there’s also a way.
Everytime you send a reply to customer message, you get an email with a copy of that reply. SO you could simply forward them all by email to your VA and let her/him do the sorting and unifying and storing in wiki.
I hope you use gSuite, so how to forward them all to your VA?
- Install Mass Forwarding App from here: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/multi-email-forward-for-g/baebodhfcfpnmnpnnheadibijemdlmip/related
- Search with this phrase [email protected] Here is a copy of the e-mail
- Select messages and forward to VA. You can send as PDF etc
The one tiny problem is that they will only see answers without questions, but hey. It’s a trial, it’s a test. They should be able to figure out the question from the answer. And even if they get it wrong the answer is still in wiki now, easy to find.
But here’s the challenge, when you are creating a new product, you and your VA cannot simply know what kind of questions people can ask. So what can you do?
Simple – go on Amazon and read the public questions that customers have asked about products that are similar to yours.
For instance, if you are creating a handheld gaming console, you can visit Nintendo Switch’s page and read the public questions that customers have been asking there.
This is quite important since when you list your product on Amazon, customers will be asking you questions and answering them isn’t your job and you will want your VA to answer them. Customers demand urgent answers to their queries and since your VA won’t know the answers, there is going to be a delay.
TIP: Future product development AFTER you already have your VA – involve your virtual assistant in early stages if product customisation. This will help them understand future customer queries.
But, coming back to the common questions, first ask your VA to find out as many questions they can from your closest competitors and list them on a Google doc.
Now, since you know more about the product than anyone else, try to answer the questions to the best of your knowledge. Don’t spend time typing the answers – record a video of yourself answering them one by one and send the video to them to type.
For Videos just save yourself time and Use LOOM http://amazingworksystem.com/loom
Oh, here’s another thing you can do, ask your VA to try and answer the questions as well. Since they were (hopefully) involved in your product development process, they will be able to share their answers as well. This will also help them in knowing the answers since they will be answering the questions on Amazon.
Once the document feels complete, the VA will move the content of the questions and their answers to the wiki section of the product. So that everyone can access them whenever they need an answer they don’t remember.
Lastly, I also recommend creating a video of yourself unpacking and using the product. While doing so, you will come up with millions of things that your customers will think about when they are using it. Basically this exercise will place you in their shoes, allowing you to think like them.
Now record the video while asking the questions and answering them live on the video. Once you are done, you can share this video with your VA, who will then add the questions to the wiki page.
So, now you have the initial collection of canned responses. Let’s get your VA to start using them.
2. The Dry Customer Service
Here we’re gradually involving your VA in the process, but still, without direct access to the customer but here, they will do the majority of message reply creation.
We’ll start with simple email forwarding every time you get a customer message. So still, we’re not creating any sub accounts in Amazon. All we do is we create a new email account.
I hope you’re using gSuite to manage all your users, that’s what I suggest, as it gives you a lot of control.
Sure you can setup few Gmail accounts and add some “reply as” and aliases options but it’s not the professional way to go. Trust me.
Anyway, so all you give your VA is an access to this new email account (which you can easily take away having all the controls as admin of gSuite – you are doomed in case of using Gmail and trusting the new person to handover the account back if things go wrong).
- So, you get a message from Amazon customer.
- You forward this message manually. You still want to be in control. Maybe you just forward selected messages if you get loads of them. Up to you.
- VA then sets up a task for each new message in your task management system and adds you as a follower.
- In the description of the task, she pastes the customer question.
- In the comment section, she types her suggested reply, based on what she learned by now or based on the canned responses you build by now and all the prep work you’ve not done up to this point.
- Once done she assigns the task to you for review
- You then review it and comment any suggestions or changes to her suggested reply, so that eventually, hopefully only after few edits to her proposed message, you end up with a satisfactory reply.
- You copy the final reply and use it to reply in the Seller Central to customer. You do it. Not them.
- And you don’t just mark the task as completed. You assign it back to the VA with a comment to add this response to the Wiki under appropriate case, thus building the database of replies even more, based on real life situations. So what’s really happening in comments section? You train them. If something is not clear, she may ask why did you say this and not that, and that’s how she learns.
- Once the template is added to wiki she marks the task as complete.
- Job done.
So in a way it feels like more work. Yes initially, yes. But the best thing is you’re not leaving your task management system much, and she does most of the typing, you just comment and suggest. And remember, the value is in the Wiki, so it’s worth it!
How long should you stay in this stage?
I would do that for 10-20 messages to gauge the VAs ability and then a few more to feel confident enough to allow her access to customers directly.
Your VA may need more time or you may decide she’s not capable of finding the right messages in wiki, not able to logically edit them to suit the customer questions, not able to take your suggestions from comments and apply to the reply. This will give you a perfect opportunity to see if they are a good fit. If not, I hope you agreed a trial period;) You say goodbye and find a new person.
Good news- the trial was not all lost, you have few of the replies in wiki.
3. Messages With Seller Central Access (Review and Approve)
Ok, it’s time to set up a sub account in Amazon for your VA.
We will give her only access to messages and make sure that all she’s getting.
By this time you should have a good feeling of ethics and feel ok with that. But still don’t worry too much, she’s not on her own yet. Your job here will concentrate more on Review and Approve.
Which finally… is definitely less time than doing the actual work yourself.
So, it works the same way as before, but this time the conversation under the task should be way shorter and eventually you will get the task assigned not to edit or suggest but to purely say Go-ahead, to sign it off.
You assign it back and the VA replies directly to customer because now they can.
ONLY IF YOU SAY “GO AHEAD”.
If it’s a new case, she adds the reply to Wiki and marks as complete.
You, since you are added as a follower to the task, you will get a notification about the completed task. So, in your own time, quietly tiptoe your way to Amazon sent messages and check if she Actually sent the reply that was signed off in the task.
That’s the only risk.
Here you’re NOT checking the content anymore, here you only check if your VA is not a psycho who acts Nicely when dealing with you and changes to a Weirdo when interacting with customers. Rare but happens.
So as long as it’s the same reply that you signed off, we’re good.
I would do this until her proposals are good enough to send without edits and 100% of what was agreed was actually sent.
At this point you also remember about the rule that nobody will be as good as you, so work hard on restraining yourself from forced suggestions, forced perfectionism. Now is not the time.
4. VA Takes Over, You Review Sporadically
At this stage, you no longer forward messages.
You actually add the VAs account as an official customer service contact, meaning she will get the notifications about all incoming messages.
At this point the process is the same as before, except that you don’t need to review or sign off the messages, you trust them to do a good job.
They send the messages directly and you don’t even know it.
You are no longer added as a follower to the task, it all happens without you.
Here I would review random messages in Amazon sent box to see and do a random spot check, it’s always a good idea.
5. The Moment of Freedom
So you did it. At this point you don’t get any notifications, you are free.
If there’s any cases where your VA is not sure, she would simply go back to point 3, (assigning a task for you to review). Use Asana, be happy and remember, it keeps growing the case collection in Wiki.
Did I just abandon my customers?
So did you completely forget about your customers? No, now during your biweekly calls you just chat about interesting cases, compliments, rude customers, strange stuff, weirdos and… have fun with it.
So what happens if you’re VA leaves you. This happens but let’s not panic. It also depends if your VA leaves unexpectedly without any notice or would they give you the opportunity for a nice transition period.
In the case where the old VA stays for transition, you go through THE ABOVE PROCESS, but you don’t get involved, it’s between the old VA and the new.
If your VA left unexpectedly, the process starts from the top, with you, but it will be way faster because you already have a big case log in Wiki, so you will go through the above steps way faster.
Is it worth it?
I hope this was helpful, I can tell you from experience that when the buyer of my Amazon brand learnt about the Wiki, filled with customer service cases templates and canned responses, he was delighted. It had a huge impact on the ease of transition after selling the business.
Can you put a value on it? You should probably talk to my FBA broker but in my case, it was one of the deciding factors for the buyer.
So if you try to sell your business for six or seven figures and the potential buyer is even slightly more inclined towards your business because of your filled up Wiki, think how much that is worth…
If you would like to learn more about systematisation your Amazon business, download my free sample process.
I also invite you to go though my free online video training where I go through the steps needed to have a systematised business > Access it here
Any other questions, feel free to email me @ [email protected]