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Scaling Customer Service for High-Growth Ecom Stores with Vincent Phamvan - Honest Ecommerce Ep. 15

Vincent Phamvan is the Head of Growth at Simplr, where he helps high-growth companies engineer unforgettable customer experiences through top-notch human + AI-powered customer service.

Vincent previously led business development and innovation for Asurion, where he helped launch several company initiatives, engineering operational business processes and leading process improvement initiatives that resulted in cost savings and growth.

Although Simplr is a sponsor of the show, we promise that this is not a super salesy episode – Vincent brings a LOT of customer service experience to the table, and he has a lot of insight that will benefit Shopify store owners.

In This Conversation We Discuss:

  • [4:30] The biggest and most common customer service mistakes
  • [7:00] The 3 things that customers are looking for: speed, empathy, and precision
  • [9:30] How Shopify store owners can best utilize live chat
  • [11:00] The best customer service tools available to small business owners
  • [14:00] Combining machine learning, AI, and a human touch in customer service
  • [19:00] The difference between Simplr and a live chat tool


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Vincent Phamvan

When you're interacting with a brand and it feels like you're interacting, not necessarily with a bot, but just a script, that's really where it becomes impersonal.

Annette Grant

Welcome to Honest Ecommerce where we are dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners.

Chase Clymer

I'm your host Chase, Clymer.

Annette Grant

And I'm your host, Annette Grant.

Chase Clymer

And we believe running an online business does not have to be complicated or a guessing game.

Annette Grant

If you're struggling to scale your sales Electric Eye is here to help to apply to work with us visit electriceye.io/connect to learn more.

Chase Clymer

And let's get on with the show. On today's episode of Honest eCommerce, we welcome Vincent Phamvan, the Head of Growth at Simplr and he teaches us all about customer service.

Hey everybody! Welcome back to another episode of Honest eCommerce. I'm sitting here next to the lovely Annette Grant.

And today we welcome to the show, Vincent Phamvan. You may know him as our only sponsor. But not him. It's the company he works for.

He is the Head of Growth at Simplr. Both him and Simplr helps high growth companies engineer unforgettable customer experiences through top-notch human and AI-powered customer service.

That was a huge mouthful, but I promise this will not be a salesy episode, this will not be all about Simplr.

Vincent brings a lot of experience to the table talking about customer service and his past. So without further ado, Vincent, welcome to the show and what makes you so good at customer service?

Vincent Phamvan

That's a great question. Hey, it's great to be here. When you guys originally told me about the podcast, we knew that it was something that we absolutely wanted to be involved in right away.

There are so many podcasts out there that just sell this dream of, you start an Ecommerce store and it's just going to take off like wildfire, you'll make your first million dollars and you'll quit your job. And that's just not the reality of Ecommerce.

And it's so nice and so refreshing to be able to get the truth and some of the hardest journeys. And the reality is, that folks that are successful, put a lot of work and a lot of grind into their venture.

Customer service, like anything else, is just something that you get with experience. And so the reality is, we're not smarter than anybody else better than anybody else. But because this is the only thing that we do.

We have so much research on it. And we've seen so much information across what great brands do, and also the mistakes that some brands make, not because they're not trying harder or they're not putting effort into it, but just because it might not always be obvious.

So I'm excited to be here and be able to share some of the learnings along the way from some of the best brands that we've seen.

Chase Clymer

Cool, so let's take it back a bit. What did you do before you ended up at Simplr?

Vincent Phamvan

So I started my career in retail, actually. I spent 10 years working at Best Buy across a lot of different roles. And then after that, (I) progressed into different types of support roles.

Running and supporting call centers up to 10,000 different people working for hundreds of different companies, I've been able to see some of the best and some of the worst in terms of practices and most importantly, what works in terms of being able to keep customers long term.

One of the things that we talked about is customer service impacts are not always obvious.

But if you take a look at it from a lifetime value lens, then that's really where it makes sense to take a look at how to provide not just good support, but amazing support that really wows somebody, which a lot of the best brands are doing.

When you take a look at Casper, when you take a look at Dollar Shave Club... Chewy.com is one of my favorites.

They're known for their customer service and that's really the thing that makes you go to Chewy instead of going to PetSmart.

And that's what so many of the upstart brands are doing today --they're digitally native-- they're putting service/experience curated products, and really high-quality products at a fraction of the price because it's direct-to-consumer. And that's what's making these companies take off.

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. Cool. You hit on a few things there that I want to bring up. So, you mentioned that you work with all these great brands. And not only do they...

You can see what they're doing good, but you can see the mistakes that they're making. Do you have any that come up top of mind when you're thinking about mistakes that people are making in customer service?

Vincent Phamvan

I mean, mistakes in customer service. The first thing is when it feels transactional. When you're interacting with a brand and it feels like you're interacting --not necessarily with a bot-- but just a script, that's really where it becomes impersonal.

The things that really make a good experience are when you get wowed. When you can feel like there's a human behind it or a relationship behind it.

And you're just not talking to a person at a company who's not empowered. And so the empowerment is really big as well.

Because, sometimes when you interact with really large companies, you get the sense that you're just talking to a person that can't make any decisions, really can't do anything to help you.

And they're really just there to respond or reply to you, but not necessarily somebody who has your back.

Chase Clymer

Yeah, so I'm assuming everyone on this call and a lot of our listeners have listened to the 4-hour Work Week or read the 4-hour Work Week.

And that whole chapter about how he empowered his service reps at his vitamin company or whatever. He's like, "Hey if it's within $100 just do it, I don't care."

And then his job, his requirements went way down because he empowered his people and everyone liked his company because of that experience and that shot way up.

So the empowerment there that... I just drew a parallel between that and the 4-hour Work Week. If you haven't read it, it's not a pipe dream, but it's kind of fluffy. It's an okay book. But yeah, that's what I was thinking about as you're going into that.

Vincent Phamvan

That's a very (good) sounding review, and I absolutely concur with that. It's a very okay book. At a minimum. (laughs)

Annette Grant


Chase Clymer

It was the first book I read where I was like, "Wait, I can be my own boss and not work?"

Annette Grant

Yeah. In defense of Tim Ferriss, I think he at least gets all of us thinking on a different path with the book at least.

Chase Clymer

What's your review of The 4-Hour Body?

Annette Grant

I haven't even read that one.

Chase Clymer

Oh yeah.

Annette Grant

Because that one, I'm probably not gonna believe in it. (laughs)

Chase Clymer


Annette Grant

So, Vincent, I have a question about... I know that sometimes with customer service, I feel like it's about speed and just getting the customer taken care of.

How do you suggest a company has the speed and taking care of the customer but still making sure that it's not feeling transactional and that there is a human behind it.

Because sometimes, I feel like in the world at Amazon, people just want to know like, "Okay, where's my order? When am I getting it?" And they just want answers quickly.

And so sometimes that leads a company to have the AI responding, or make it not feel as human.

So where's that line of speed and really taking care? How do you marry those two? Make sure you're taking care of both of them?

Vincent Phamvan

Yeah, that's a great question. When you think about customer service, there are three things that customers are looking for speed, empathy, and precision.

And so speed is actually the number one factor that customers actually think about in terms of evaluating customer service experiences. Brands get evaluated on customer service through surveys.

Taking a look at speed and improving speed is actually the quickest way to be able to make an improvement.

And that goes along with precision though. And that's where in your question of using chatbots (comes in). If you can get speed and precision at the same time, that chatbot is a great solution.

You should put that in right away because then that customer is going to get the instant answer.

The challenge is that customers do want speed but if precision suffers, they're willing to wait a little bit more time to get the right answer. And "wait a little bit more time" can be challenging.

The largest businesses, when they either build customer service teams or outsource customer service, staffing something like live chat takes at least a minimum of 5 to 16 people.

That's how you get to a point where you can answer nearly any question in a matter of 30 seconds.

And so the biggest challenge in Ecommerce right now, at least in the customer service space, is being able to compete with the big guys. But it is something where customers get wowed by it.

And those will be the things that --especially in the early days-- this will be the things that customers remember about the store --in addition to obviously the product and service-- was the experience.

It's definitely the thing that's going to make customers recommend a store to buy another customer. And that's how you start driving some organic acquisition without having to pay for every single acquisition.

Annette Grant

So for our listeners that don't have 5 to 16 people available for chat, how would you suggest they utilize chat where... I see chat come up a lot, and then there's no one there.

So how do you suggest someone dip their toe in the water to have live chat, but then not misfire on it either? When is that point where you need to have a live chat do you suggest?

Vincent Phamvan

I mean, if you were opening up a brick and mortar store, would you have that store open 24/7 to start?

Annette Grant


Vincent Phamvan

Probably not.

Annette Grant

Unless it was a convenience store. (laughs)

Vincent Phamvan

(laughs) Actually, that's a really good point. If it's a convenience store, it probably should be open. (laughs) I mean, take a look at Google Analytics. Understand where your high traffic hours are.

And if it's a brand-new store, you can staff your chat yourself because just like your brick and mortar store, you're going to want to be there at the hours that customers are there the most.

Almost every single chat tool has the ability to be able to set different hours to be able to cover support.

And some of the different chat tools make it so that it does show offline, some of the others, you can actually make it so the widget doesn't appear, or you can actually put that into the code on your website to make the widget not appear so that you don't appear offline.

So there's a lot of different options there. Definitely get a chat for in early on that you can answer questions from your cell phone.

And so that way, you don't have to buy a laptop. And the other option that some stores go with is to use a solution like Simplr to be able to cover nights and weekends.

But the first one early on, is to be able to get a chat for where you can program different hours and make sure that that's sending everything to your cell phone so that you can answer it yourself on your cell phone.

Chase Clymer

Cool. That's a great transition. So let's talk about the tools that are available for the small business owner. What are some of your favorites for ticketing and for chat?

Vincent Phamvan

Yeah, there's a lot of different players out there. In the Shopify ecosystem, one that's definitely up and coming and getting a lot of momentum is Gorgias. Gorgias integrates in with a lot of different other Shopify apps.

So for instance, if you're running a subscription box service, and you're using ReCharge for your subscription billing, you can actually access ReCharge and be able to do things like skip a box or cancel a subscription directly from Gorgias.

So you know, the old school way of doing that is you would have to log in to Shopify in one screen and then a ticketing system and another screen. Gorgias kind of brings that all together.

Another popular option is Intercom. Intercom is a really slick modern tool. It kind of feels like using a message on an iPhone where you can see if the other person's typing, you can see if a message has been delivered, has been sent. You can program it to pop up different messages on different pages.

And so there are some chats that you want to... Or some conversations that you want to push to chat. Like if a customer hasn't made a purchase yet, you really want that to go to chat so that you don't lose them of your website and convert.

But at the same time though, if you have a customer that's already placed an order, really not that big of a deal if they send an email because you really want to focus your fastest responses.

And especially if you're doing this for yourself, the ones that you really want to work on right away are customers that haven't yet made a purchase and might have a question about your product.

And then one gold standard in the space is Zendesk. So, Zendesk has a ton of market share because they've grown a lot and their capabilities are really great as you grow into enterprise space. And so those are typically the most common players that we see in the market.

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. Those are some fantastic tools. I'm actually a big fan of Gorgias and we had Phil on the show not too long ago, actually. He beat you to it.

Vincent Phamvan

(laughs) He's a great guy and I can understand how he beat me to it.

Sponsor: Simplr

Support for today's podcast comes from our friends at Simplr: a new way to staff 24/7 sales and customer service on your Ecommerce store.

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Chase Clymer

Let's kind of pivot a little bit into what's now happening in the customer service space. People are coming in with this blended approach where it is kind of some of this machine learning/AI and then they blend it with, like real human experience. Let's talk about that.

What are the pros there? What are the cons there? And why can't we just have computers do it?

Vincent Phamvan

In the future, there likely will be a world where computers will be able to do a ton. I think it goes back to being able to deliver for the customer on speed, empathy and precision.

So the computers are going to deliver by far the best speed. Today, precision is not 100% there for chatbots. And empathy is hard to be able to do.

Sarcasm is even harder to be able to do for a computer. And so you know, just like the self-driving cars, I think there's a capability there. That's really exciting for the future.

What's been interesting in Ecommerce is last year was by far for sure the year of the chatbot buzz. When you take a look at Facebook messengers when you take a look at chatbots that started showing up on websites.

And it was also the year of customers rebelling against it in some instances. And some instances, what I mean by that, it really depends on just what that customer is looking for.

So if that customer is looking for something like order status, that absolutely should go to a chatbot.

Because the chatbot will be able to answer it way faster than a human can answer it. And it can accurate it can answer that question with precision if it knows who that customer is and what they're tracking number is.

The challenge that lies when you have something like a boots store and you're trying to have a customer that's trying to decide between a size eight and a size nine.

That's where you get into a situation where, if you throw a chatbot out that and the chatbot just sends you a sizing chart, sometimes the customer is going to be like, "Well, I already saw this sizing chart because it's like an inch above the Add to Cart button. And I clicked it and I looked at it already. But I still have questions and that's why I reached out to you.”

And those are the circumstances where being able to have a fast human to be able to respond to that is what's going to drive that conversion without that person bouncing off your site.

Chase Clymer

I think the second that computers learned sarcasm, it's game over.

Annette Grant


Vincent Phamvan

(laughs) Yeah.

Chase Clymer

I'll definitely be terrified of that. No, you made some great, great points there. So I'm not going to drop the name of the company, but I was talking with someone the other day.

And it goes to your point about like how the sizing issue is like a huge deal. So what they're doing with their solution is that they're tracking the data of why things are getting returned.

And they're actually gonna put a widget on the page, and it's gonna be a true-to-size widget.

And then if any of these AI companies that have these solutions integrate with that new widget, the app/the bot will be able to give them an answer to that question using that data that was derived from reasons for return meaning the size was off by X or Y.

Annette Grant

That's genius.

Vincent Phamvan

Well, I think it's brilliant. And I think we'll continue to see a world where more and more solutions like that become available and get integrated across the ecosystem. And I think that's super exciting.

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. So, here's the next big thing --and it's the worst-- is when people think customer service costs them money. It's not even... It's not an investment. It's just a cost, cost of doing business. What are your thoughts on that?

Vincent Phamvan

I think that the cost of doing business is worse if you're acquiring traffic to go to your website, and you can't convert. I think about how much money goes into paid search and paid display ads and Facebook ads.

And you know, what's challenging when growing a site and part of what having something like a live chat widget on your site will do is it'll help you refine your messaging.

It'll help you understand the things on your product page and the things in your description or things like customers want to know when a package is going to be able to be delivered before they place an order.

And those types of things, if you don't have some of those things built into your product pages, it's going to hurt conversion, and now you're losing the traffic that you've already paid to set to send to that page.

So I mean, the cost of support, we tend to think of it a lot of the times as an investment in acquisition cost.

So for instance, there are stores that we've worked with where one out of every five cats turns into a conversion right off the bat, just because there's some type of information that either was on the product page, and the customer just didn't see it or didn't read it, or wasn't on the product page and it was able to be answered by a human.

And absolutely should be something that gets added to the product page after the fact.

Chase Clymer

That's awesome. So I kind of want to pivot a bit here and actually explain to our listeners the difference between Simplr and these chat tools because I realized,

I know what the difference is because we've known each other for quite a while now.

So Simplr is not a chat tool. It's not a ticketing tool. Do you want to kind of say what Simplr is and what your guys's value proposition is for people that may be looking to solve that problem?

Vincent Phamvan

Yeah, absolutely. So this whole thing started because I've worked in call centers that have been massive with thousands of people in the past.

And that's hard to scale. And the reality is those are the types of things that the big guys have access to be able to compete in the customer service space. And Simplr really started because we wanted to level the playing field.

We wanted the stores that are solopreneurs, all the way to the stores that are doing 250 million in revenue, to be able to get access to top-notch support that's based in the US (and) that doesn't cost you an arm and a leg.

What Simplr is a network of Simplr specialists all across the US. So these folks are amazing. They're stay-at-home parents, they're high school teachers, they're looking to supplement their income. There are military spouses who have to move across the country.

And so we basically have created a platform that allows these folks to be able to jump on our platform and help businesses with customer service.

Now, they log into our platform, but it connects to all of those ticketing systems that I just mentioned earlier. And so for a business, think about it as on-demand human labor, but the human labor is AI-assisted.

So what we do is we do the things like the sizing that you were talking about earlier, by providing that information at this person's fingertips.

So that when a sizing question comes in, --even though this person might work for a few different shoe stores on our platform-- they'll have the exact sizing information for each of those brands pop up on their screen, they can use that to be able to either answer that question in a chat, in a text message, in an email to that customer and this whole solution is on-demand.

And so we've had partners, they've run a Kickstarter, and they've raised over $10 million, and they sell 50,000 of these widgets. And they're a team that's rapidly growing.

But because of the influx of thousands of emails that are coming in all at once, using this network, they're able to keep response times under just a few hours. And then that you mentioned earlier speed.

This is how you can scale and still have speed. And the old school way of doing this and having speed was hiring a bunch of people before you have the volume, which is just a waste of money because you're paying people that are sitting there waiting for the growth and waiting for the volume come in.

Annette Grant

So, Vincent is Simplr is something... Let's say during the holiday rush, is it something that a company could hire on just temporary, like use you temporarily?

Vincent Phamvan

Yeah, absolutely. And you know, you shouldn't have to pay for things when you don't need them.

And the old school, the traditional way of doing this was you had to sign like a 2-3 years contract, you had to commit to minimum volumes, you had to pay for dedicated headcount, you had to give 30 days notice if you wanted to ramp up the volume, because you were planning a big product launch.

Those are all the types of things that we felt like, just were horrible in the industry. So yeah, absolutely.

Some of our favorite partners that are using the Simplr platform today, I remember one of them actually reached out to us two weeks before Black Friday, and they said, "Hey, we just signed a massive deal, we're going to get way more volume than we expected.

And the week before Black Friday, we launched them on the platform.

And because of this machine learning and artificial intelligence, we were able to program our algorithms to be able to have some specialist help them pretty much instantly without going through like the weeks of classroom training that are traditionally necessary to be able to get folks up to speed to be able to support.

So this past Black Friday, we actually helped one of the largest cell phone case manufacturers that sell through their own store as well as on Amazon.

And they went from hundreds of tickets a day up to thousands of tickets a day. And we scaled straight up. And then at the end of the week, they went back down to hundreds of tickets a day, which is the normal volume.

And so this absolutely is something that you can use temporarily, you can use it long term, you can use the nights/weekends, you can have it on 24 seven. Super flexible.

Chase Clymer

Cool. So, Vincent, my name is Tom and I have a side hustle. I sell widgets and I'm only doing like $1000 a month. Is this a good fit for me?

Vincent Phamvan

Yeah, we have no minimums. You know, our goal here is to be able to bring enterprise-grade solutions that do scale into enterprise volumes but also be able to provide it to any business of any size.

And so Tom who sells widgets on the side, if Tom were to start a software company, Tom can just go to AWS and sign up and use AWS with a credit card.

And the largest of the largest startups can also use AWS and we built the same thing to be able to provide enterprise-grade solutions to the entire market.

Chase Clymer

Cool. Well, thank you so much. Is there anything else that you want to kind of add on to this in the realm of customer service, or just Ecommerce or just anything cool that you've read lately?

Vincent Phamvan

Customer service, I think the biggest thing that we talked about here is a lot of folks think of it as an afterthought in doing Ecommerce.

Often than not, building the site getting traffic to the site is number one to start to get some conversions. And what we found is really good support and being able to use tools like that can actually accelerate your conversion.

So there was a study by the American Marketing Association that actually found that customers who use live chat are three times more likely to convert.

But for Tom who's building a website, I would say that the biggest thing initially, is it's the fastest way to learn about your customers. And so that's why we're excited. The other thing we've done those... We've also scaled those insights.

So for instance, when Tom does get to the point where Tom needs way more people, it's not going to be possible for Tom to be able to read every single customer service ticket anymore.

So sometimes it becomes hard to be able to get a pulse on your business. And so this is where there are ways of being able to analyze those insights at scale.

And that's why using the ticketing systems that we mentioned earlier, helps get you those analytics, but Simplr also uses machine learning to be able to analyze those conversations.

And we can actually tell Tom, "Hey, you just launched a new product last week, and we're seeing a higher defect rate than normal." or "Hey, the warehouse that you're using, for some reason last week, their packaging just changed and you have more damaged packages than normal."

And so these are the other types of things in Customer Service, where it's not just the cost of doing business, it's the best way to be able to understand exactly what your customers are thinking and feeling about your product and how to improve the product. But it's been great chatting with you guys.

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. And then, as always, there's a free trial if you go to simplr.ai/honest, and I'm sure somewhere in this episode Aiden's chop in that ad. Without Simplr, this podcast wouldn't be here. They helped us get off the ground and running.

They help us buy all this equipment. So seriously, check them out. Like I said, this wasn't a sales... If it makes sense for you go check it out. It's free for seven days. And with that, Vincent, thank you so much.

Vincent Phamvan

Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me on.

Chase Clymer

We can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing the truth. Links and more will be available in the show notes.

If you found any actionable advice in this podcast that you'd like to apply to your business, please reach out at electriceye.io/Connect.

Annette Grant

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