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    SOPs for Customer Service

    SOPs for Customer Service

    Customer service is an essential component of an organization, rather than treating it as a cost centre, it must be viewed as a competitive differentiator for revenue retention and generation. This only happens when a company starts seeing the true role of customer service and the impact it has on financial performance.

    This could be the reality only if the company puts in place systems that provide smooth functioning of customer service as a well-defined mechanism. This is where the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) come into the picture, SOPs here can be defined as detailed documents compiled allowing their employees to effectively handle established processes and respond appropriately to a variety of possible scenarios.

    Need for SOPs in Customer Service

    Today’s customers expect to receive high-quality service that is efficient, effective and consistent on all occasions. Studies show that 81% (reference 1) of the customers expect the same level of service each time they engage with the company. And the same study indicates that 75% (reference 2) of customers anticipate consistent experiences from the company, whether it is a website, social media, mobile or in-person.

    To deal with such a high degree of expectations from customers’ require companies to incorporate well-structured and easily accessible standard operating procedures (SOPs). It will enable customer support agents to effectively handle each interaction on all existing support channels with a steady level of consistency. Moreover, SOPs become critical at junctures where customer service issues are requiring non-standard solutions.

    Challenges Associated with Customer Service Processes

    It is estimated that 90% (reference 3) of Americans factor-in customer service as a parameter in selecting a product or service. This is a trend that is gaining momentum around the world and businesses need to be prepared to offer good customer service to enable the customer to succeed for the overall good of the business. Apart from making customer service a regular feature, companies must also be aware of the challenges associated with different processes involved:

    Phone Calls:

    This is one of the time-tested methods for offering customer support but it comes with a fair share of challenges that require attention, these are:

    • Not Having an Answer: This can happen when the agent is not conversant with the problem or maybe coming across one for the first time.
    • Dealing with Angry Customers: It is a common occurrence for agents to encounter angry customers and at times it becomes increasingly difficult to address their concerns because of their callous attitude and the inability to listen.
    • Serving Multiple Customers: Every customer is a priority, but when you get to handle many of them at the same time, it can create chaos and confusion.
    • An Outage or Similar Occurrence: It occurs when a major event unfolds at a company affecting customers and agents remain unaware of how to handle the situation.
    • Levelling up to Customer Expectations: Every company seeks to offer unmatched customer service meeting expectations but very few companies can do so.

    Email Correspondence:

    Although it is a relatively old medium of communication, it is still used for customer service and is not without room for improvement, these include:

    • Slow response time: Email can be quick in reaching the destination but it is the slow response time associated with most emails that is a turn-off.
    • Gaps in Communication: Since email lacks the capability of sending non-verbal signals, the message can be misinterpreted by the receiver.
    • Text Heavy Messages: Email can become futile and even counterproductive if the message they carry is far too long and could be completely ignored by the receiver.
    • Information Overload: Emails can easily pile-up in the agent’s in-box without a system in place to manage it. This can be the cause of many unhappy customers.

    Live Chats:

    This has become one of those features on a website that has become one of the core essentials when it comes to customer services. Sometimes implementing chatbots may not be suitable with complicated products & services, wherein human intervention shall stay relevant. let’s briefly look at known challenges:

    • Longer Conversations: At times, the chat conversations can take longer than usual if the customer isn’t easily satisfied with the solutions provided or brings up more concerns.
    • Response Time: Customer expects to be served faster on live chat and a longer wait for a response can really jeopardize the delicate relationship with the customer.
    • Lack of Training: Poor response to customer queries from untrained staff can cause annoyance and there are possible chances of a customer walking away.
    • Instant Gratification: At times the customer service team may not be in the know about certain answers put forward by the customer, finding the right answers quickly must be seen as a priority.

    Establishing SOPs as Solutions to Challenges

    In many of the cases mentioned above, the inability to perform a function comes from a lack of defined procedures that support the customer service agents during their work. With documented SOPs agents have a fallback plan for unfamiliar situations. Here we list out how SOPs streamline customer service as an essential business function:

    Phone Calls

    • Established process of Escalation: A quick check on SOPs in unfamiliar situations can offer the much-needed help on whom to approach and the process of escalating the issue to someone more knowledgeable on the situation. This can save the agent from resorting to ambiguous behaviour that can further annoy the customer.
    • Negotiating Tough Situations: A customer service agent does not have the option of avoiding an irate customer. Hence an established SOP can give insights into dealing with an angry customer to bring him/ her to the point where they start listening to what the company can offer. All agents do not come with a great presence of mind and a written document can serve better in situations where emotions are running high.
    • Designed to Handle Contingencies: An SOP is written to handle the most extreme situations like an outage of service. In such cases when there is chaos all around and everybody is doing fire-fighting. A documented procedure can come in handy to offer an established course of action to communicate the most vital messages that will offer solace to the customer. An SOP can ensure uniformity in action across the board among all customer agents associated with the situation.
    • Going Beyond Expectations: A company expects all customers to have a pleasant experience each time a customer engages with them. Such expectations can be fulfilled by standardizing and formalizing actions through an SOP. A company can offer delightful service to the customer every time, making it a reliable service provider. Over time customers would be pleasantly surprised by the level of consistency in the service.

    Email

    • Improving Response Times: A late response is as good as a ‘no’ response. This makes it essential for companies to have predefined response time based on criticality. Establishing such a system can be done through SOPs where the team members can be trained to respond in a timely manner. Once ‘criticality’ gets defined and documented – customers would start receiving calibrated responses to their emails.
    • Element of Empathy: As we all know, there is always a certain level of ambiguity in all written messages. This can be overcome through documented procedures where a volatile situation can be diffused by offering a solution with an element of empathy. This may not be possible in all situations but agents can be trained to identify such situations where nuanced messaging is necessary.  SOPs can be of vital help and it can be instilled as normal behaviour to check-back as a reference tool in tough situations.
    • System of Email Management: All agents must be familiar with some form of email management but these do not work in the long term as they look good only on paper. However, well established SOPs can offer practical and implementable procedures that can refine email management. It can even offer meaningful pointers concerning email etiquettes and other useful tips that can enhance the correspondence.

    Live Chats

    • Process of Delegation: There would be cases when the conversations can prolong without any solutions in sight. But the agent cannot leave the conversation mid-way. Such situations require agents to have a fair number of options wherein they can delegate the responsibility of solving the query to different channel altogether. Such delegation must be pre-defined, documented with the option of escalation through SOPs where the agent takes the call and delegates responsibility appropriately.
    • Familiarizing Agents: An untrained staff responding to customer queries on Live chat can be a recipe for disaster. This calls for familiarizing the new agents on jargons, terminologies and stipulated course of action. However, this would require face-to-face training that can involve devoting precious time. The prudent course of action is to involve SOPs that can cut-down on class-room training allowing the agents to learn faster.

    Other Processes in Customer Support and their Challenges

    All the processes mentioned above tend to be the main channels to address customer concerns. However, there can be other processes that can help companies equally in getting more customers and pacify dissatisfied customers. Let’s take a look at them:

    • Online Reviews: The majority of purchases today are made after looking at online reviews posted on third-party sites and even on Google. Customers generally tend to go by independent platforms like Google and Amazon instead of reviews posted on the company website. Positive reviews on these sites can augment the company’s reputation.  But, it is the negative reviews that can hurt the company in the long run.
    • Online Reputation Management (ORM): Companies tend to thrive on conversations sparked by people’s interest in the brand. This tends to develop into a narrative associated with the company. A positive narrative helps the company, while a negative narrative can significantly impact the brand image. A company must be proactive in controlling the narrative on social media platforms and associated channels with urgency to minimize the impact of the emerging narrative. This is also known as brand reputation monitoring.
    • Customer Relationship Management (CRM): If you are using a CRM tool, it can be a channel for customer service, giving you insights into customer behaviour and dealing with them on an appropriate basis. It is easy to follow-up with customers’ who are happy. But it can be challenging to approach the ones who are dissatisfied and have to be convinced into reconsidering your service.

    SOP as a Solution to Emerging Challenges

    • Online Reviews: Every company today understands the value of customer reviews and wants to ensure they receive more of them to showcase social proof. Unless a company puts in a standardized system in place it can be rather difficult. Establishing an SOP defining ‘what is to be done’ and ‘when’ can streamline the entire process leaving the guesswork out of the equation. Giving written documentation to agents on responding to positive and negative reviews can be done with a well-written SOP. It will allow agents to respond tactfully to not-so-kind reviews, establishing your reputation as a responsive company that listens.
    • Online Reputation Management: Once you establish an SOP, you can actually preempt any situation from ‘snowballing’ into something big. With established procedures, a company remains in better control of the situation with exact instructions to agents on the ground, who are dealing with the situation. The instructions or SOPs will contain how it seeks to project itself in a crisis and what stand it wishes to take on the emerging situation. Agents well-trained on SOPs will be equipped better to handle a crisis and can even accommodate additional ad-hoc instructions specific to the situation. Plus, an SOP can be instrumental in establishing an automated system which can offer a single-window mechanism for standardizing and digitizing feedback.
    • Customer Relationship Management (CRM): A CRM tool as the name suggests is ideal for nurturing business relationships with happy customers. However, there can be situations when not everything goes according to plan and the customer will be forced to voice his opinion about the service being offered. Such behaviour is uncommon but can be turned into an opportunity if documented SOPs are in place to persuade the customer to reconsider his decision. This can be a dicey situation and the SOP must be able to envision the sensitivities of the customer being dealt with. A good SOP at the minimum will ensure that the customer will not have a bad notion about the company.

    Why – Your Retail Coach (YRC) is Better Placed at Conceiving SOPs?

    Your Retail coach (YRC) comes with years of experience in creating SOPs for companies across verticals. And a company must understand why an SOP is critical to smooth functioning because on most occasions it is dealing with a recurring problem that can be remedied.

    We have the in-house expertise for creating effective SOP for the customer service department that can reduce chaos and improve the time involved in critical tasks. Besides this, a good SOP can even persuade unhappy or sensitive customers to put behind an unfortunate incident and reconsider buying from your brand again.

    On most occasions, it has been seen that SOPs are created on paper and forgotten. At YRC we make a concerted effort at making SOPs system integrated. It no longer remains a piece of paper floating around in the workplace. Rather it becomes an essential go-to document that gets integrated into IT systems in the workplace making it both visible and accessible to all stakeholders associated with customer service.

    At YRC we are not only adept at customer service process and procedure, but also are equally proficient at customer service process flow chart, customer service process improvement, customer service process map and customer service process management. We are capable of offering these services together or as a single line item for businesses who are keen on making their customer service top notch in the  industry.

    Benefits of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

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    We work only for Visionaries.

    PROCESS AUTOMATION

    The idea of having Ecommerce Consultants on-board from the beginning itself points towards reducing the involvement of the promoters in daily operations. Ecommerce Businesses willing to be a brand reaping profits & sustaining the competition must ensure that most of their processes should be automated. The more the manual intervention, the more would be the errors.

    In Ecommerce business, you get only 1 chance to impress the customer & if you mess up there, you lose the customer for long.

    Process automation in respect to all the activities pertaining to customers from order receiving to order fulfilment is a must for a seamless experience for the customers.

    Task Management is another grey area where most deadlines fail as 90% of the tasks are assigned manually & are forgotten, unheard, misunderstood or mistaken.

    YRC Team of Ecommerce Management Consultants helps to make maximum of the processes system-driven to ensure minimalistic manual intervention.

    VIDEOGRAPHY & PHOTOGRAPHY

    No matter how good your product is, the customer would know only if it looks good.

    Photography includes the following steps:

    • Cataloguing your products
    • Cataloguing your images
    • Backup your images (A few cloud storage solutions include Dropbox, Google Drive, Bitcasa, Apple’s Cloud Storage etc.)
    • Choose the right camera & lens (You may also outsource the photography to a third party agency)

    DIGITAL MARKETING

    Digital Marketing includes SEO & SMM. SEO i.e. Search Engine Optimization includes activities like back-linking, meta tags, blog-writing etc. to ensure your website ranks on the 1st page on Google Search.

    Next comes SMM i.e. “Social Media Marketing” which as the name suggests including promoting your products on all the social media sites, email marketing, influencer marketing & several other BTL activities.

    These activities are going to be recurring & would decide the traffic on the website, the conversions, whether the right target market is tapped, the likes, the views, the orders, the reviews & much more. YRCs Ecommerce Consultants create a budget for digital marketing right from pre-launch to launch & for each month thereafter.

    Building digital marketing strategies in coordination with the agency, selecting them to signing them off would be the role of YRC.

    This ensures seamless coordination, detailed interactions & desired execution as it is always advisable to work with a single agency than multiple of them.

    IT INTEGRATION

    Selection of the right software for smooth functioning of back-end operations right from production to webstore display would be suggested and integrated by YRC Team.

    YRC’s Team defines SOPs of Product Movement, maps it with the locations & people. They then create a blueprint of all the features required in the software & help in shortlisting & selection.

    IT Integration involves connecting your offline inventories with real-time online webstore so when a sale occurs, inventories get deducted real time across offline as well as online platforms.

    This helps in accurate inventory management, maintaining the MOQs, re-order levels & achieving the optimum inventory levels.

    Some popular software include unicommerce, viniculum for your front-end website management & Genisys for your entire back-end Purchase, Production, Accounting, Invoicing etc. management.

    WAREHOUSE & LOGISTICS PLANNING

    • How many cities or countries you wish to sell in?
    • Where should your Warehouse be located?
    • Should you have one warehouse in each country or city?
    • Should you be having your own delivery team in your base city?
    • Would the 3rd party vendors be reliable? What happens when they lose or misplace your product during delivery?
    • How should I manage the logistics if my goods are coming from different countries?
    • How should the goods be stored and barcoded?
    • How much space do I require for warehouse?
    • I am sure several such questions must be haunting you while you think of starting your own fashion ecommerce brand.

     

    At YRC, our warehousing and logistics experts can help you devise a strategy for all of the above mentioned queries and much more.

    We design the layout of the Warehouse considering the inward, goods processing, software entry, barcoding, outward, goods return, scrap storage, goods stacking & much more.

    Logistics route plan is devised considering the manufacturer to your warehouse and from there to last mile delivery locations.

    UI & UX DESIGNING

    This Step involves 03 distinct parts:

    Part 1: Choosing the right Platform:

    From several platforms available in the market right from Shopify to magento, woocommerce, prestoshop, wordpress etc. you must choose the one that fits best for your business

    Part 2: UX Designing:

    “UX” denotes User Experience, which if put in simple language is building the functional requirements of the website.

    UX Designing includes designing the features required in the website, customer journey map, website features, the browsing features, navigation features, ecommerce order management process flow, checkout cart features, catalogue management, ecommerce payment system, cross selling features & much more.

    “As per statistics, 68% of the customers abandon the carts before payment”

    An interesting UX ensures the customer sticks on to the website for a longer time.

    Part 3: UI Designing:

    UI stands for User Interface, which means designing the look and feel of the website. UI includes using the right colours, elements and the entire aesthetics of the website.

    A good User Interface ensures the user completes the task that he has come for. It navigates the user through the journey of the brand in the simplest but most effective way.

    The UX designer maps out the bare bones of the user journey; the UI designer then fills it in with visual and interactive elements.

    If User experience is the bare bone, user interface wraps it up with an attractive cape.

    At YRC, our team if experts can help you develop the entire User Journey to ensure it is engaging!

    SAMPLING & PRODUCTION

    This step follows the “Designing” Phase, whether you have an in-house design team, freelance designers or an outsourced design company. It is one of the most exciting phases, as here you see your designs turning into products & your ideas turning into reality.

    In most start-up cases, production is outsourced i.e. brands tie-up with the established manufacturers/ job-workers to get their products manufactured.

    Sampling involves multiple 04 Stages, Fit-Sample, Prototype Sample, Pre-Production Sample & the Production Sample.

    Prototype Sample is the first sample provided to the buyer. It can be in any fabric/ colour. This sample is just to understand whether the product design looks equally great in reality.

    Fit Sample, as the name suggests is prepared to check the fit of the garment i.e. the various sizes, length, width etc.

    Pre-production is made by the actual production line. Here the stitching quality and other aspects related to manufacturing are checked. This is the last stage where rejection can be accepted.

    Production Sample is made before the production which is the replica of what is going to be finally produced.

    Once you are through with all this, you are good to go ahead & get your goods manufactured.

    PRODUCT DESIGNING / SOURCING

    Product Designing or Sourcing is the heart of the Ecommerce Fashion Brand.

    Product Designing / Sourcing can be done in several ways, as follows:

    • In-house Design Team
    • Freelance Designers
    • Outsourced Design Team
    • Ready Product Sourcing (From Manufacturer or Wholesaler)

    At YRC, we evaluate your business strategy & business model to arrive at the decision, which of the above ways would be best-fit for your business. In certain cases, product sourcing may be a combination of the above.

    These are the people who are going to build your brand! Whether they are the designers or merchandiser, your brand look is going to be in their hands.

    If you are designing each garment from the scratch, the sourcing would play crucial role in developing design identity of your brand.

    Sourcing includes fabric, trims, lining & all the raw material required to build the garment.

    BRANDING

    Branding is the “Look of the Brand”, right from logo to tagline, the colours used, the brand story, the brand communications on social media, the packaging & all the other aspects which speak directly or indirectly to the customers. Branding constitutes the look & feel of the brand & hence must be thoughtfully planned to match with the product that we are selling.

    Branding must appeal to our target audience. Example : A golden colour logo depicting finesse, art, richness, premium, however beautiful it may be individually cannot go with a brand selling affordable kids wear products. So, your logo must be in-line with your brand positioning, whether you are an expensive brand or a luxury brand or a value for money brand, it must be depicted from your “Branding”.

    It is an integral part to attract the target audience.

    ORGANOGRAMS & SOP’s

    Organogram is the “HR Blueprint” of the business which is created at the onset, to map out the team required across each function at various stages of the business. At the launch, only key people need to be got on board to ensure the project gets started & at this stage, all of them need to multi-task. Similarly, certain financial as well as operational goals are set for addition of the further team. Example, for the operations team, we hire 1 operations manager during the pre-launch phase & we add 1 more only when the business kicks-off & we reach a volume of selling more than 1000 pcs/ month or a turnover of more than 0.1 million USD.

    SOPs are Standard Operating Procedures, a bible to run the entire organization right from Sales, Purchase, HR, Order receiving to Order fulfilment, Inventory Management, Accounts, Warehouse, Logistics, Supply Chain, Production & all the other relevant functions for the business. Business must be organized from its first day of operations; only then the tasks can be delegated.

    At YRC, we design the organization structure, the processes, and approximate time taken to execute each process, job profile of every member within the organization, their KRAs, KPIs & the Reporting Structure.

    CRITICAL PATHWAY

    Critical Pathway Analysis (CPA), is a project management technique which cannot be overlooked while launching an ecommerce fashion brand. Brand launch process is cumbersome with multiple inter-dependent & time-bound tasks involved, which need to be tracked to ensure the project remains on track.

    CPA outlines key tasks across the project, their turnaround time (TAT) & the dependencies of tasks upon each other. It identifies the sequence of tasks, their interdependent steps from inception to completion, their criticalities, and their dates of onset, target dates of completion along with the key responsible person for the respective activities. Critical Pathway helps in understanding the unimportant & not urgent tasks which may jeopardize the execution of the project because of an unexpected snag! It also maps out the potential bottlenecks which might be posed because of the dependencies of tasks upon each other & cases where the next task cannot be commenced before the completion of the previous one.

    CPA detects the minimum & the maximum time involvement of a particular individual or team to execute the task, thereby arriving at the overall deadlines associated with the project.

    At Your Retail Coach, we design the Critical Pathway & review it periodically to ensure the project is on track & the progress is measurable.

    BUSINESS STRATEGY & BUSINESS PLAN

    Business Strategy includes the vision, mission, goals, business model, business plan & strategy for all the functions within the organization.

    Business Strategy is a well-defined plan that outlines who, what, where, why, how & when for the company; for example, who would be the target market, how to attract the target audience, when to launch new products, where to operate from, how to handle competitors, what would be the USP, what would be long term goal of the organization & several other answers to the 5Ws of Strategy.

    Business Strategy aligns the organization towards a common goal. Business SWOT helps company to identify & overcome their weaknesses & focus to sharpen the strengths. Business strategy forecasts future risks and helps business in building skillsets to overcome the potential threats.

    YRC’s Business Plan focuses on creating a “Blueprint” of the business, thereby deriving the feasibility of the concept & gauge whether the opportunity is lucrative to invest time, energy & effort. Business Plan creates cash flow understanding i.e. building inflow & outflow cash projections from Week zero to week 60 i.e. 05 year projection. Business Plan calculates the capital investment, operating costs, one-time costs, recurring costs & all the other numbers relevant to obtain the breakeven sales, return on investment, return on capital, internal rate of return & several other ratios. Business Plan is also one of the important requirements if you are targeting the “Investor Route”. Fund raising becomes extremely transparent & channelized. With business plan panned out clearly, the business will know until what point must it be stretched & where to stop, which reduces the probability of unplanned investments.

    MARKET RESEARCH

    Starting the concept of Ecommerce Fashion brand with Market Research ensures we get detailed understanding of the industry & this research report also acts as a social confirmation for your concept. Market Research helps in understanding the target locations, their population, potential online buyers for your product, competitors for each category, and top selling products of the competitors, competitors’ price range, offers & their responses & much more. Market Research helps in thorough understanding of your brand position as compared to our competitors. It helps in identifying gaps in the market, in your category along with the scope of the said product in the desired market. This will help in validation of your concept & prevents you from making the same mistakes as your fellow brands, eventually saving your time, energy & efforts. This phase is also a make or a break phase, as the market research study may at-times come up with some eye-popping numbers & statistics which might compel you to re-think on your product or category that you are planning to sell or alter your entire concept itself!! Market Research Reports analyse the competitors’ webstore for their traffic, conversion & sales. This is extremely valuable information to derive our inventory budgets & projections, which takes us to our next phase.