Let’s talk about fulfillment for a change. Why? Because you can have the greatest show on the planet, but if your customer has to wait 4 weeks for his orders without communication, it’s going to create issues. Tune in to find out how setting shipment expectations can make or break a business. After all, customer support is still marketing and staying human pays.
Today’s guest Irina Poddubnaia is a SAAS founder and a business consultant who specializes in Operations and Processes Optimization. Irina has a lot of experience in eCommerce over 8 years with its different challenges and obstacles, from running a fulfillment center in China where she was living for over 2 years to launching her own software @TrackMage.
@TrackMage allows eCommerce stores to have 5-10% extra sales by simplifying the customer experience. It allows them to track their products on the platform and do the upsell then automatic follow-ups for reviews. Download Irina’s free ebook, How To Make 5-10% Extra Sales On Autopilot Without Increasing Your Ad Spend Or Hiring More Staff: https://trackmage.com/flywheel-extra-sales/.
Learn how to create the best post-purchase experience for customers and get extra sales from existing customers. Discover what makes for a great sales journey and how to effectively communicate to get the attention you want. Get tips on managing expectations on all ends of fulfillment. Gain an understanding of when a customer needs your empathy and how to manage the time and money it takes to offer quality support. Uncover tips on offering effective product tracking and developing automated messaging. Hear about overcoming points of friction as a small business throughout the entire eCommerce fulfillment process.
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Creating The Best Customer Experience With Irina Poddubnaia
Our special guest is Irina Poddubnaia. We are looking forward to chatting with you about things like how to create the best post-purchase experience for customers and getting extra sales from existing customers. As a bonus, we are going to talk about fulfillment. We have some wonderful things to get into. Irina is a SaaS Founder and Business Consultant who specializes in operations and process optimization.
She has a ton of experience in eCommerce with over eight years across it, exploring its different challenges and obstacles from running a fulfillment center in China, where she was living for two years, to launching her software called TrackMage. It allows eCommerce stores to have 5% to 10% extra sales by simplifying the customer experience.
It allows them to track their products in the platform and do the upsell, then automatically follow up for reviews, which is so wonderful. It’s a topic we have not explored on the show before. Nicolas, I’m looking forward to hearing your questions, but first, I would love to hear an update on what’s going on with eStreamly.
I’m also super looking forward to this topic. In terms of updates, we have made some improved payment experiences for our CBD clients on the eStreamly side, so we are pretty excited about that. When you and I were talking about having Irina as a guest and whether we should have Irina as a guest, it is true that when you think about livestreaming or live commerce in general, you could think, “Why are we going to talk about fulfillment? This sounds a little bit disconnected from reality.”
For our conversation, I wanted to have that conversation because you can have the greatest show on the planet, but if your customer waits 4 to 6 weeks to get their order, if there is no communication, it’s going to create issues. I come from a world of B2B before joining eStreamly and founding eStreamly. Shipping late was a thing that we were doing pretty much 40% of the time. I remember the customer frustration and we were a B2B company. I am now an eCom shopper as well, and that frustration is even harder.
I felt that it’s a great topic to have because, at the end of the day, when you think about life shopping as an experience, it doesn’t stop with the livestream itself. It stops at the moment the customer has the product in the end and they are happy. That’s the reason why I wanted to bring that topic to conversation because I anticipate that for many of you who are reading, this is a topic that you probably have explored all about and know everything about. I think that there’s still an opportunity, and so that’s why I’m super excited about this conversation. Talking inventory, all the tracking, what’s the right strategy, and how do we do this? I hope this conversation will be helpful for our readers.
It sounds so great and thank you so much for giving the context. It had me thinking about my experience as a customer. There are a few items that I have ordered and one of them, it feels like it’s taking forever to arrive. The other, they set expectations far up front so I knew it was going to take a while. Even with that knowledge of knowing that a product is going to take some time, I feel that anticipation. Sometimes I wonder, “Is it going to arrive on time? Is it going to get delayed?” Fulfillment is so important not just for that experience, but it can certainly cause some challenges versus when you get something quick.
Many of us are used to features like Amazon Prime. We have 1 and 2-day delivery, and I found myself more and more getting used to that. When a product takes a lot longer, it feels different and unusual. I think that is all part of that customer journey. I noticed the difference. There’s that sweet spot where you want to build some anticipation with your customer because sometimes, when you get something too fast, you don’t enjoy it as much.
A great example. I’m waiting for a pair of shoes I have been looking at for months and can’t wait to get them. I know what date they are coming. I’m prepared. The brand has been good at communicating. The anticipation is part of the experience, but that’s because it seems like the brand has been very intentional about setting that up for me as a customer. I’m excited to hear about this too and dive deeper into the part of the customer journey that we haven’t shared much on.
I want to add one more thing to that thought you have because when you think about that part of our audience, creators, host, brand, or founders that are looking to get into livestreaming or want to experience with their audience how to increase their engagements and maybe live out of those. When you think about the fulfillment aspect, the setting, and the right expectation in something, that doesn’t come naturally.
I hope that this is something that everyone expects, but in the end, we don’t talk much. Hopefully, this is going to be a conversation. Let’s stop discussing it. Let’s have Irina tell us her point of view on this whole conversation. The first question I would love to have for you, Irina is how do you get involved in eCommerce and why were you interested in the fulfillment aspect of it?
I wanted to add to the previous conversation first because you were sharing your experience with other brands when you were ordering some goods and they were taking ages to get there. I had that same experience. I ordered a custom T-shirt with a custom print. That t-shirt was shipped to Belgium, not to Bulgaria. That was the first thing that stopped me from expecting that package to show up on my doorstep.
When I reached out to customer support, they didn’t reply. I got a bounced email. When I reached out to their customer support by phone, there was an outer responder in German and it wasn’t even in my language. They didn’t reply at all. In the end, I went to PayPal. I issued a refund and then two weeks later, I got the T-shirt. It wasn’t the last of it. I got an email from the same service asking for a review and they were promising me a coupon for that.
I clicked on the link and it didn’t work. That’s what makes or breaks the business. They shipped the product. Yes, I got it, but we lost money on that transaction. What we do at TrackMage is help even small businesses or those businesses that don’t use Amazon fulfillment or Amazon in general as their means of fulfillment and delivery. We help them provide that same experience for the customer so that the customer knows at every point in time when the package is arriving, what to expect, and what is coming next.
Coming back to your question, I wanted to share the story because it’s a pain when you expect something, it doesn’t show up, and you need a refund. You get products for free, but what was that all about? I started in eCommerce when we moved to China with my husband. That was a very interesting experience because it was our first business, and we were under the impression that if you wanted to get the best goods on planet Earth, you should go to the source and the source was China.
We went to China to find great suppliers. Where we were for two years, we were shipping goods to various retail stores all over the world. We were fulfilling their orders for them and literally, we were providing all this post-purchase experience because they were selling and we were shipping and fulfilling it for them.
That was the point when I got involved in this eCommerce game, and that’s why it was fulfillment right from the start because that’s what we started from in China and that was the business itself. Later, we left China and closed the business for other reasons. We didn’t feel that country was the best one for us. We left with a system that we could reuse for our people. That’s why we released it on the open market and now everyone can use TrackMage as part of our technical stack.
You were talking about this experience you had and we all have had a similar type of experience in our eCommerce journey. These are through different brands. The product shipped to the wrong country, state, or place, and once you reach out to customer service, the email has not been updated on your site or something.
There are so many touchpoints when you think about eCommerce. As an eCommerce myself, I realize that there are so many links and things that you have to control and make sure that you are always keeping track. When you make a change, make sure that you make the right change to have everything, all the system is working perfectly and so forth.
I find it very interesting. I’d love for you to comment in this space of eCommerce, there are a lot of fulfillment options. You can get USPS on the label and then ship it through that. You can have a full-service thing where the person comes and picks up the product right at your door and then ships it for you or you have it to the warehouse. You don’t even have to touch any of the products and they will ship.
What do you think makes for a great fulfillment experience? Do you think it’s the service or do you think it’s how do you communicate with your customer? What’s your point of view? I’m assuming I have an idea about what the answer will be. I love all the comments that you were making because when you think about it, we all have had a very similar experience. Either the product not shipping to the right state or I don’t think we had the shipping to the wrong country. The US is pretty big, so probably shipping to the wrong place. Maybe we had a previous address on file and then they shipped it there.
Now you have to call your old landlord and say, “I probably have received a package there. Can you send it back to me or something?” I wonder, from your perspective, being in this space for some time, what do you think makes for a great experience for sale? Is it trying to find the right partner or is it trying to have the best communication? I’d love to have your take on that. When I mean the right partner is the right partner to fulfill because there are so many options out there. You can ship it yourself. You can have a company doing the shipments and all that. Is it finding that partner or is it the communication element of it?
I would probably say it’s both because one thing is the customer. The customer, when they press that buy button, receives their order confirmation email. That’s the only communication they receive from the brand until they receive a package. For them to be entertained while we are waiting, they want to do something actively.
That’s why they write to customer support. That’s why they write to the social media of a brand and ask, “When am I getting my shoes or my T-shirt?” The customer wants to take part in this journey. That’s why communication is vital. On the other hand, we have a fulfillment partner, suppliers, and various ways you can fulfill the products. Starting from print-on-demand, where you don’t hold any inventory, and with actual fulfillment centers where you buy the inventory upfront and distribute it to all your customers.The customer wants to take part in the journey. That's why communication is vital and important. Click To Tweet
It depends on what you want to focus on. As a person who spent a great deal of time packaging boxes and shipping it to suppliers, that was not fun. I would not recommend that. If you can outsource this part of your business and find a reliable third-party fulfillment center or a reliable partner who is going to do it on your behalf, do it.
You can make more money marketing the product, creating the brand, and doing some creative activities, something like livestreaming or doing whatever you do to attract your customer’s attention without having to deal with the boxes. Unless you touch the product, that’s probably easier for you as an entrepreneur.
I would say that it’s both because communication with the customer keeps them more connected to a brand and communicate. Having a reliable fulfillment partner reduces the cost and shipping time, and the customer gets the product faster without you having to do all the work. Fulfillment isn’t very straightforward. If you haven’t done this before, you will discover that it’s much harder than it seems from the first side.
When I think about fulfillment, I don’t think it’s only entrepreneurs that have an issue with fulfillment. I come from a B2B background myself and I used to be on the sales side selling to a pretty large company. I remember that our product as a B2B company, we had to ship our product from various parts of the world to those manufacturers and that manufacturer was going to produce that product and then potentially ship that product to their retailers and so forth.
What I remember as well is that some of those big brands or medium-sized brands also had their own D2C channel Direct-to-Consumer and the whole eCommerce. Now that I’m on the other side, I can imagine because we were having delays all the time. I wonder, from your point of view, how do you recommend those mid-sized and large-sized brands that have eCommerce but whose primary business is focusing on shipping to Walmart, Target, or those big retailers?
How do you recommend managing the balance between the consumer who is looking for the, “I want it right now?” I will say the supplier on the other side, like I was before, “Your product is not ready and I don’t know when it’s going to be ready. If you are waiting on me for your production, then you are probably going to have to wait for some time more. I don’t have much info at the moment. I will let you know once I have my product so you can make your production.” This is what’s happening constantly. I wonder how you manage because this is a B2B problem. How do you manage those bottlenecks on the B2B side and then translate that into a communication smooth to the shopper and all that? Do you think it’s only inventory?
I have a very special point of view when it comes to inventory because inventory always poses risks for entrepreneurs. When you invest your money in inventory, you always have those costs that are associated with restocking and keeping the goods. You have to always think about whether you are going to sell the whole volume of this.
It’s great if you have millions of customers who are waiting for your product to be on the shelf, but sometimes that’s not the case. The inventory, you have to dispose of it. I would say that in this particular situation, when your supplier is telling you that you have a delay, we had to deal with that a lot in China. We were servicing those retailers and the suppliers, they varied a lot because some of the suppliers were very reliable and they shipped almost over the next day, and some of the suppliers were unpredictable.
In TrackMage, for example, we have multiple workspaces where you can separate your incoming shipments and outgoing shipments, like inbound and outbound. You have the monitoring with statuses called Days In Idle. You can monitor when the order is expected to arrive and then calculate the days that it’s not shippe. The thing is, with suppliers, you can only breach that gap of communication or even proactive communication. You can reach out to them more often and ask, “My order, you said that it’s going to be delayed, but how long exactly?” Continue communicating until you get the shipment.
Usually, that helps even if you are having some constraints from the supplier side. With COVID-19, the markets and how the supply chain suffered overall. The delays are expected. You can always mitigate that with proactive communication and monitoring. It helps, for example, to have a system like TrackMage in place to monitor all the shipments across the whole global communication chain. It’s not only about the supply chain. It’s about the communication chain as well. When you have this 360-degree view, then you can just troubleshoot, “This is the delayed shipment. Now we can take action with that.”
This is fascinating for someone like me who doesn’t know this much. I haven’t worked on this side of things before. The only type of fulfillment I have done is when I had merchandise for my social media accounts many years ago. I was taking orders, marketing the product, packaging it up, and sending it out. I got to see this on a very small scale.
I think that maybe people gave me more grace because they knew I was doing it all on my own, versus there are a lot of different perspectives when it comes to a big brand. You think that they should have this all together. Going back to the experience that you shared, Irina, it reminded me of something else that I experienced when I bought a gift during the holidays.
I would love to hear about holiday fulfillment or any time. Let’s say we had Amazon Prime Day. I imagine companies, whenever they have a big sale day and when I have a time period of people are placing a lot of orders, that’s got to be a lot. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed because the company did a horrible job communicating when the product would arrive.
Before I made the purchase, I expected it to be there in time for Christmas. After I ordered, they started updating the tracking and it changed. That disappointment I felt as a customer, especially around something that felt like I had an emotional tie. This could not be the typical holiday, but it could be a birthday. What if it’s something you are buying as a condolence gift to somebody? When there’s an emotion on the line, it creates even bigger tension between the customer and the brand.
When something is late, that can be a huge deal for somebody. Sadly, this company that I ordered from lost me forever because not only did they not meet my expectations, but they also had horrible customer service. I know one thing you can speak to is balancing customer service in terms of your budget. It costs money to hire a team for that and keep those costs afloat.
I imagine some companies don’t have a lot of great customer service in place because either they are mismanaged and/or they don’t have the financial structure to offer it. That’s what I needed at that moment. In order to keep me coming back, all they had to do was listen to the issue, understand why I was upset, and find a way to resolve it.
Instead, I didn’t feel listened to. They copied and pasted their messaging, not customized to me at all. They never tried to resolve it in a way that worked for me as a customer. Not only did they lose me, but when it came to writing a review, I was going to write an honest review. If I had been in a different state of mind, I probably would have written them a scathing review, but I had to think about it from the brands and have some compassion for them. It was very clear to me that they were mismanaged. I’m curious about your thoughts on that type of management, but also, how does that tie into your costs in terms of customer service to deal with an issue like this?
I could only offer my sincere empathy for this situation because I have been for this quite a lot as a consumer. Sometimes, customer support is perceived as this call center where you hold the money and you already made the money when they bought the product. Customer support could be the profit center of your business.
It’s not uncommon when people feel that they are cared for and that the brand is always there whenever we have a problem. For example, there is this special case where international shipping is going from one country to another, and then there is customs. Customs sometimes ask for additional invoices or additional information about the goods and this information is nowhere to be found.Customer support could be the profit center of your business. People want to feel cared for and that the brand is always there whenever they have a problem. Click To Tweet
I created so many invoices for the customers myself, but I question why we have customer support in the first place if I cannot even get an invoice from them. The thing is, with customer support, a great deal of this work can be automated because the most frequently asked question is still, “Where is my package? When is it going to get where?”
If you have good systems in place like TrackMage, for example, you could automate that question and it doesn’t have to be asked. It’s answered proactively for the customer. They always know where the package is and get emails and notifications about the package. The idea is that when they receive a package, the service also asks to leave a review, then they have already received the package.
I have been in this situation where I was waiting for a package and got an automated email asking for a review but didn’t even get the goods. I wasn’t in the right state of my journey to leave a review. The idea is that customer support is still marketing. If you do a great job in the conversion stage, selling to the customer and even communicating with them frequently through marketing emails, that’s not enough.
They still need to feel the connection and that the brand cares about where customers are because it almost feels like I bought from you and now you don’t care unless I buy something else. If I can give one tip for all the entrepreneurs who perceive their customer support as an additional or something superficial that you need to put on top, it’s not. Give your customers a venue where they can reach out to you and ask questions if they need to because staying human pays. Your brand is going to be head and shoulders above the competition in the market because it’s not very crowded there. Let’s be honest.
For the audience and retailers, the brands and creators that are reading, what TrackMage is doing is interesting is not only are they helping with tracking the information where it’s at, but they also provide this anonymized or something that you can white label page where a consumer can go in and then put their order in and then they will have the tracking info and say, “Where is my order at this moment specifically?” It gives information. From my understanding, it’s like, “I want to know what’s going on and I can go and reach out to that.” Irina, what do you think about that?
I would add that we provide the brand with a brand tracking page. It’s not a TrackMage page. It’s part of a store and it has the same branding as the store. What happens most of the time, when brands communicate about the packages, they send the tracking number and the page from UPS, FedEx, DHL, or whichever carrier. Those systems don’t have even the slightest mention of which brand the package is coming from or what is inside. They are anonymizing the business in that case.
What TrackMage does is that it replaces the page that is anonymized with a branded page where social media links are present and where additional products that the customer can buy from the same brand, as well as all the brand colors and logo. Everything is present there. The customer has this same seamless experience where they understand what they are expecting from this brand and they are getting it from that brand. Also, you can put your chat widget for customer support on that same page. Everything is going to be at the immediate disposal of the customer if they have a problem or question. That was one thing that I wanted to add.
I hope from that conversation that all readers will get a couple of things. We are talking in this show about livestream shopping and how you get better. How do you improve yourself or how do you grow yourself? The shopping experience is also super important. I hope that through that conversation, our readers will get that thinking through fulfillment, providing the right information and human contact.
We keep talking and hearing about that having a chat available post-shopping. It almost makes me think about what Olivia was saying. Having a chat available where the shopper can go back and engage with your customer savings. Customer service is not a call center. It’s a profit center where you think about going back and having a conversation.
I would want to challenge a medium-sized brand that is predominantly focusing its efforts on retailers. That’s often where I see the pain points is that when you are not like am eTailer by choice or by definitions. You are operating under old standards. In the new standard, people want instant communication. They want proactive information and they want to know what’s going on and everything.
In the old standard, it’s okay when you don’t know, but the reality is you want to try to find that balance. Sometimes what I see big brands doing is that they have the same customer service fulfilling a big brand or retailer like Walmart or Target, and also the small shopper. The challenge comes down to the fact that they can’t get the same level of service.
When Walmart sends you an email you are going to respond right away because it’s Walmart and it’s a big business. If you have a [email protected] sending you an email saying, “Where is my order?” you are like, “You are a nice guy, but right now I have Walmart to take care of.” The problem is that this is a big friction point. I can only recommend and dedicate to the person.
If you are thinking of customer service, you want to internalize that customer service and make sure that person only does that. It’s so important because you give the opportunity to your team to be successful. I hope for that conversation, we will achieve that, at least on time, making you think through that and having that conversation open.
I could only add to that. What was mentioned is that sometimes systems don’t have any capability to fulfill and support the customer after the purchase. A good example would be sales funnels. A lot of sales funnel software doesn’t even have the simple table of orders where you have to use Google Spreadsheets or something custom-made, duct tape, and a lot of paint to support that same experience.
The thing is, customers still will expect an Amazon-like experience. We need information. We will reach out and prioritize some customers. You can do that on a human level, but on the business level, you shouldn’t. Every customer should be equal. They have equal rights. It’s not about margin. It’s about one person who is going to have a delightful time with your brand and then is going to be your ambassador and then going to recommend your business to our people too. “I bought from this brand and I want to buy more.”One person who is going to have a delightful time with your brand is going to be your ambassador. They will recommend your business to other people. Click To Tweet
Statistics shows that customer who bought from a brand and had a good experience are 27% more likely to buy again. If they bought 2 times, they are 47% more likely to buy again. From the 3rd purchase, it goes to 57%. They are the biggest asset of additional sales that you can get from the existing customer base. You don’t have to pay Facebook. You don’t have to pay our customer acquisition channels for that. You have to nurture the same customer base and they are going to buy again.
The interesting part is that customers treat emails about the package status not as marketing emails but as transactional emails. We discovered that these emails have a very unheard-of open rate of 60%. What happens then is the customer checks the tracking pages almost daily. If you put your products there, if you put your brand there, not, promoting DHL, UPS, or FedEx, but your brand and your products. You will get additional sales without having to pay for them, without having to promote it through some retargeting or additional marketing. That’s the easiest and hidden-in-plain-sight channel where you can get extra sales from existing customers.
You have shared so many great tips that are very simple. Using software like yours can make a huge difference. I feel so grateful for all of this because since I’m mostly on the customer and marketing side of it, I feel like I couldn’t agree more. The marketing in itself through referrals and reviews is so powerful. That is one of the first places I go to look for information to make a decision. I don’t want to see the sales sheet. I want to see what other people are saying about it.
I want to see if any of my friends bought something. What do they recommend? That’s often a place I will go to if I’m trying to decide on something. I ask others first and you are right that if I have a positive experience with a brand, I’m so much more likely to buy from them versus going to somebody else, and the opposite is true too. If I have a negative experience, not only will I not buy from them, not only may I post a public review, but I’m going to tell people that I know that I had a bad experience and recommend against it. It’s amazing how some small shifts, as you shared, can make this huge impact.
I can relate to that so much because when this brand, like the custom t-shirt brand I mentioned, they reached out to me to fill in the survey. I found another form where I could submit this information. I did and then they asked like, “What can we improve in our business?” I said, “Everything.” What else can make it improve?” I’m like, “Everything. You have lost me.” That’s the idea.
If we are talking about customer experience, it’s vital for our business to care about this and give the customers the opportunity to communicate all the time. The best part about reviews, for example, in TrackMage, you can always see them in the admin panel and reach out to customers who were unsatisfied and provide that extra touch like, “We understand that we screwed up. Thank you for trusting us, but we did a bad job. How about we make it better? What can we do for you?” At least it’s going to save you some headaches about removing a negative review from people for our platform. Just a simple sorry.
That’s such a great point, too, as how can I make it better? You learn as the company and the customer, you may be able to earn them back somehow, and I don’t see enough brands doing that. Thank you so much for sharing this. As people are thinking through the live eCommerce shopping experience, these details matter. We focus so much on this show about creating a great show. How do you market your show?
The next step, as Nicolas said at the beginning, is what happens after they make that purchase and not dropping the ball. It does not end there. Thank you for going over all of these details and sharing tips. I love the statistics that you offered. This has been lovely. For those readers who are interested in learning more, not only are we going to link to your website, but we also are going to include how to download a free eBook.
It’s called How to Make 5% to 10% Extra Sales on Autopilot Without Increasing Your Ad Spend or Hiring More Staff, and who doesn’t need advice on that? That’s amazing. Thank you for writing that. Thank you for sharing it and thank you for being here to go over all of the questions and discuss this in depth. This has been great.
Thank you very much for having me here because I appreciate the atmosphere and how invested you are in the customer experience itself. This topic is underrated. It’s not discussed enough. Now, when the economy is going into recession, it’s vital to retain every customer to make sure that everyone is spreading the good word about the brand. The more fans you have, the better.
I couldn’t agree more. Thanks again. Thank you, Nicolas, for all your wonderful questions. Thank you for the reader reading. We hope you learned a lot. We will be back again with another episode. If you haven’t checked out the previous episode, we have been building an incredible database. Nicolas, when I look back on all these topics, I feel like this is a business school training for everybody on all these different levels of running a small brand and being an effective creator, host, and marketer. There’s so much here. I’m thrilled. It’s all available at eStreamly.com/podcast.