If you’ve been managing your Shopify customer service for your site internally and are thinking about outsourcing it, this guide is for you. Or, if you’ve got a team that just isn’t working out, this guide will help you as well.

Step One: Establish a Baseline 

When you’re preparing to outsource your Shopify customer service, it’s important to gather information about the processes you already have in place. They may not be the best processes, but the right provider will help you identify and implement improvements. 

Your first goal is to establish a baseline that you can share with your new provider, which will help them gain a clear understanding of what you’re currently doing with your Shopify site and customer service.  

How do you begin establishing a baseline? Gather data. 

  1. FAQs: The person (or the company) who’s currently managing your customer service has access to everything from emails to chat transcripts. Determine the most frequently asked questions, then either write them down or forward the key emails/transcripts to your new provider so that they’re in the loop about your FAQs.
  2. Standard Operating Procedures: What are the steps you take to handle a particular type of request? For instance, how do you handle returns? If you don’t currently have your SOPs documented, now is a great time to do so. However, if you don’t have time to document your SOPs, you need to make sure that the person who knows the ins and outs of your process is accessible to train your new provider.
     
  3. Training Materials: You’ll want to make sure your provider gets a big-picture introduction to your business. Hand over any materials you use for employee onboarding, such as your knowledge base or video recordings. You want your new provider to not only know your products and services, but also your company’s mission, vision, and values.  

Don’t have your procedures documented? Don’t fret. We worked with a company that was bringing in $20 million in annual revenue and was on track to do $70 million that year. They couldn’t keep up with their customer service demand and came to Flow looking to supplement their current team.

Their team training consisted of shadowing other team members, and they didn’t have any kind of SOPs documented. We knew that this kind of documentation was needed to have a successful, smooth, customer service transition, so we developed SOPs, training materials, and a knowledge base that they could then use to train and onboard the first agent — and all other agents who came on the team after them. 

If your company doesn’t have documented procedures or training materials, you just need to be sure that your new provider is prepared to meet you where you are, and that they know exactly what information they need from you in order to smoothly outsource your customer service. 

Now it’s time to move on to the fun stuff. Spend analysis. Ask yourself, what does it cost you to serve the volume that you currently have? There are a few different areas to look at, depending on your circumstance: 

  1. In-House Resources: What is your employee’s total cost and allocation of time? This includes not only their compensation, but also their benefits, PTO, vacation days, employee management, and the cost of having to hire, fire, and train. All of these things factor into what it currently costs to deliver customer service.
  2. Third-Party Outsourcing: This cost is pretty easy to determine when you’re outsourcing customer service to a third-party firm. All you’ll need to do is look at their most recent invoice to see what they’re charging.
  3. Distributor: If your distributor is providing your initial customer service, there’s one step you need to take before determining your spend. Check on the timing of your agreement and see if you can unbundle the customer service from the distribution. Then, take a look at the separate line item on their invoice to see how much they’re charging you for customer service.

    If the provider hasn’t given you transparency into the cost of customer service and is just charging you for distribution, you’ll need to negotiate. How much lower will they drop the price if you cut out customer service? The amount that they strip away will give you insight into how much you were spending.

Step Two: Test it Out

After your preparation is complete, it’s time to implement your new provider’s technologies, process improvements that have been identified, systems configurations, and agent training. 

You’ll want to determine your KPIs before training your agents. What does success look like to you? Less than forty second response times on live chat? One-day email response times? Make sure you’re clear on what these key performance indicators are, and work with your provider to figure out how they can help you accomplish them. 

Before going live, test both chats and emails for quality assurance. Run through different common scenarios with your team and your new provider’s team, mimicking scenarios of customers coming to your website to chat with your agent. Create draft emails and check the responses, along with the email tags. If your team isn’t tagging emails correctly, you may lose valuable reporting information. 

Related: How to Run Test Chats before Going Live

The goal of this step is to make sure that the team is accurate, engaging, and friendly — and that no knowledge gaps exist. Be sure that everything is documented and that your provider updates all of their training materials so everybody knows key information moving forward.

Step Three: Go Live

When it’s time, your provider will send you a snippet of code. They may have even built a self-service knowledge base for you. If they have, you should add that as a main navigation item on your website: “Help Center” or “Support.” 

You’ve flipped the switch and gone live, but that doesn’t mean you should stop testing quality assurance. It’s important to continue monitoring quality, especially during the first couple of days. Begin with at least 50% of all emails and chat transcripts, then assess. Even if you cut it back, you want to make sure that your provider is testing at least 10% of all emails and chat transcripts for QA. 

By continuing to test, your quality and throughput will remain high. With fewer items slipping through the cracks, you’ll have fewer fires to fight in the future. 

Step Four: Have a Post-Implementation Plan 

Of course, you want to keep things running smoothly after transitioning to your new customer service provider. Handing them the keys and walking away isn’t the best strategy. Here are several things to keep in mind if you want to continue cultivating success. 

  1. Choose a single point of contact who’s accountable for customer service performance. You may no longer be managing your customer service, but you don’t want to outsource accountability. Although your vendor should be holding themselves accountable, you also want to pick someone from your team who can also do this.

    When you don’t have someone internally being held accountable, no one is thinking about how to ensure customer service stays on track. You need this person to communicate messages with your vendor and keep them in the loop about how things are progressing or how your company is planning for growth.

    Without this person in place, there’s a risk of decreased performance. Why? Because your vendor will be on an island. Your business will evolve, but there’s not a designated person to share the news with your vendor.
  2. Ask: Who’s going to cascade this message? Even after designating a point of contact, you should continue to make sure that they’re relaying company changes to your vendor. After any meeting that involves customer service, be sure to ask who’s cascading the message. This will ensure that your vendor is always in the loop about changes in expectations, knowledge, or understanding of your company.
  3. Celebrate the wins. When you outsource your Shopify customer service, your vendor will look to you for signals on how they’re doing. It’s normal to hear about the issues more than the triumphs; however, it’s important to look for the triumphs to keep team morale up. On a monthly basis, when you look at the reporting, be sure to celebrate the wins with the team.
  4. Don’t assume your provider knows everything about you. Remember: If it’s not documented in the knowledge base or your SOPs, and if it hasn’t ever been explicitly discussed, there’s a 99.9% chance that your provider doesn’t know about it. They’re not around to listen in on conversations happening in the office —you have to make sure that you communicate any changes with them ASAP, as you would with anyone on your team working remotely.
  5. See something, say something. If you see something in a transcript that you think is a knowledge gap or underperformance, don’t hesitate to let your vendor know. Address the issue ASAP via email. When they respond, it should be fairly immediate, without pushback. This is how the response should sound:

“Thanks for letting us know. I’ve gone ahead and made the following changes to our knowledge base and trained our agents on this, so this will now be in effect going forward. Appreciate you letting us know about the issue.” 

If you see a delay in implementation — or if your provider gives you pushback — you should address it immediately. Between the time that you’ve noticed an issue and the time they’ve implemented a fix, you have customers who are getting worse and worse customer service. And that’s costing you. 

Delay or pushback is not an acceptable answer to a problem. The only acceptable answer is, “we’ve made the fix, updated it immediately, and everyone on the team is in the know about it.” 

Related: Case Study: How LEVO Upped Their Game Outsourcing Customer Service

Pro Tip: Talk to the Right People  

When you’re outsourcing your Shopify customer service to a new company, you want to talk to the C-suite. While team leads and account managers are great at executing the transition, it’s the seasoned veterans at the C-level or VP level who are truly experts and will understand the ins and outs of your business and goals. 

I believe this is crucial to the success of your customer service outsourcing process. 

For example: Anyone can configure the system to track the amount of returns and reasons why items were returned… but if they don’t understand what happens after a return, they’re likely to miss capturing serial numbers. 

When you have an item’s serial number, your manufacturer can determine what day the product was manufactured, on what line, which shift, which workers, what machinery. With a serial number, your manufacturer can do a Root Cause Analysis. Without it, they’re not provided with enough information to fix the issue. 

Not only will you not know what the root cause is, but you’ll also never know what enhancements you need to make in the supply chain to improve your product and reduce your customer service tickets. 

When a person with extensive business knowledge looks over your business’s transition to their company, it provides greater value because they’re experts. And most likely, they also know something you don’t. 

The right person for this job is someone who has the skill and vision necessary to understand your business well and bring it together with their business to help you make improvements. These experts are usually found at the C-Suite level, so when you’re going through this transition, make sure you’re talking to a C-suite executive of whichever company you choose and involve them in the process. 

We are always available to talk about your unique business needs. Drop us a line, and let’s brainstorm how we can work together to successfully outsource customer service for your ecommerce business.