Communication with Customers
Let’s talk a little bit about communication with customers. So, I think you know here’s an example where Amazon has very specific policies in terms of why and when and how much you can communicate with the customers and remember again, these are Amazon’s customers, they’re not your customers. So the biggest ones that I see are you cannot provide external links, you cannot provide or attempt to redirect customers to your website for example. You can’t offer coupons or cross-promotions to up-sell or cross-sell. Amazon’s basic aspect or definition is you can only contact a customer in regards to the order that they purchased from you and that’s pretty much it. Do you have any thoughts in terms of those policies or aspects that you see?
Chris: I do. So when I was working there a few years ago, we called it diverting. That was the internal term for if you happened to include links even unintentionally, right? It wasn’t something like a malice or forethought. If you were including links that directed people off of Amazon and on to your own website, they consider that diverting sales typically we’d send a warning and people would say, “Oh yeah, I didn’t realize I was doing that. I wasn’t aware. I didn’t know that was in terms” and so forth.
But now, they’re a lot more you know sensitive to it. They don’t want people to include a PDF, “Hey download our eBook” and then of course the eBook is full of special offers, discounts, links, things that might hurt your ability to– hurt Amazon’s ability to keep buyers on the platform instead you’re just sending them to all these other places, right? YouTube videos, you’re sending them to your site, you’re sending them to special discount landing pages. Whatever it might be, you’re sending them away and Amazon is trying to keep them right there. They want them to know your storefront and you want them to like and be familiar with their products but they don’t necessarily want and of course, unless you’re paying Amazon, you know advertising things like that. They don’t want advertising to be done on the cheap and jumping people off the site like that.
So, diverting isn’t as much of a problem now as it was when I was working there but people are still trying to be sort of tricky, crafty, in terms of well, how can I get people, you know, can I just say, well, I’m going to enhance the customer experience by giving you more information about these products but Amazon kind of knows that you know you’re covering outside the lines it’s a little bit…
Shannon: Yeah, that’s a really good point. The two places that I have seen this warning set first and foremost, because you can communicate through your email and it just uses that Amazon alias, a lot of times people will send an email to a customer and their signature just their email signature will have the website email address and Amazon will strip that out. And I have seen people even get warnings for that. So, just be wary that if you’re communicating with customers and you’re doing it through your emails as opposed to within the platform, just go ahead and strip that signature out to make sure that you’re only communicating within Amazon and you’re not providing other information. I think phone numbers are OK, customer service phone numbers but avoid any email addresses or websites that you may include in your signature line.
Chris: Yeah, and something else to consider is of course a lot of competitors are buying from each other to see if there’s a violation that they can report. If they’re trying to knock you off a listing or maybe even knock your account off. If they are buying for the purposes of seeing if you’ve stepped out of bounce and you showed them something that’s noncompliant, you can almost guarantee they’re going to report it. And obviously, if it’s actionable then investigators will review it, they’ll agree and will send a warning. If there’s multiple warnings like that then they’ll probably you know, size you up for suspension on the spot. So a lot of people don’t think about that.
Shannon: Yeah. the other one I’ve seen is tracking information so sometimes people have an automated system where they’re providing me alias email address at FedEx or UPS or their shipping provider and FedEx is trying to email the customer directly and typically will get a notice because Amazon’s – it qualifies every email address that is allowed to send the customer. So, you probably don’t want to include that link or allow that email address to send emails to customers because the one from FedEx almost always have website links. And even though it’s for the purpose of tracking, the better goal is to simply upload that tracking number to the Amazon account to the order and Amazon will send that email out to let the customer know when their orders is going to be.
Chris: Yeah. The direction the things are going whether it’s product reviews asking for feedback or anything else is eventually will get to the point 2019, 2020 Amazon will tell sellers, “Listen, we’re going to handle asking people for this stuff. So you don’t have to send an extra email. But they don’t want to get two emails. We’ll handle the one email.”
Chris: And willl handle the phrasing of it too which is – that might be a dark day for some people but I see that as a future. Yes.
Shannon: That’s a really good point. I think there’s just an aspect in general, a principle that I want to touch on which is you know you talked about people, one trying to intentionally divert Amazon customers away from Amazon towards our website. My philosophy is if they’re an Amazon customer, you want to keep them on Amazon 100%. Because I worked with a lot of companies and if you’re going to drive a best selling product, you don’t want them buying from your website. You want them buying from Amazon because it increases the conversion rate, it increases the number of reviews you get. So, in my experience, your goal is always keep other Amazon clients on Amazon. If you want to get more website visitors, use your own methods to drive traffic there. But you want to keep people on Amazon because that’s what’s actually going to increase your sales and get exposure for even a bigger audience.
Chris: Yeah. I think that some of it was driven by fear, you know maybe nowadays too but back in the day, sellers were afraid they were too leveraged by Amazon. They are afraid to lose everything and they didn’t want to lose all their customers if they lost their Amazon account. It was just that simple connection to, “If I get suspended, what if I can’t get back on? I hear that writing appeals can be hard. I hear that getting reinstated without getting the same denial message 17 times in a row it could be hard. What if that happens to me instead of somebody else?” So I think they’re trying to hedge their bets a little bit.
Shannon: Which is ironic because by hedging your bets if you violate an Amazon policy, you’re almost guaranteed future.
Shannon: The goal is kind of an online diversified strategy. You always want to be the first five and that’s probably the bigger conversation to have and we’ve got a great webinar on that as well.
Chris, let’s talk a little bit about A-Z Claims. What that means, what that look like for sellers and I know that there is a way to respond to those appropriately to get the best response both from the customer as well as Amazon. Let’s talk about A-Z Claims for a minute.
Chris: Claims are a bit– it’s funny because I started in A-Z guarantee claims in 2006 that was my first investigator role at Amazon before I went into merchant risk consult performance teams. And I saw a lot of interesting things, I mean I read the buyer side of the story, I read the seller side of the story. And back in those days, they’ve more or less told us you know, unless you really think that the buyer is way off base, you’re either arranging for returns and the seller gets their item back and issues the refund or you’re debiting the seller for this because it’s bad buyer experience and seller didn’t really come back with a convincing enough story about why it was the buyer’s fault. I mean pro-buyer experience, right?
I work with a lot of large sellers I suppose who can afford to just refund things and to make sure that there won’t be first of all, charge back down the road from the buyer but there won’t be any headaches in terms of messages the customer service, made up stories about “Hey, you know, I lost the claim but this item is fake and I’m going to write a product review” you know kind of that menacing approach that some people have when they just want to get back at somebody because they return wasn’t accepted, the refund didn’t go through. So to avoid all that mess, I had most of my clients, as long as it’s not completely way off base, issuing a refund for the good of all parties because Amazon is you know a pro-buyer marketplace, right? So…
Shannon: Let me ask you a follow-up question to that because I think that’s really important, if somebody submits an A-Z claim we have phenomenal customer service people that we work with that will bend over backwards, set– guarantee and ensure the Amazon customer experience so that’s always out top goal. So, if there’s an issue with the product, we’ll replace it. If there’s a problem, we refund it. Is there a difference in terms of the account health of just doing issuing a refund on an A-Z claim versus asking the Amazon customer to actually retract that claim?
Chris: I mean if you think that you can work it out with the buyer, you can certainly ask them– I wouldn’t do that, it’s the blanket policy trying to get everyone to retract. I mean pick your battles I guess is the short answer. Some of them just take a look at it, size it up, if it’s going to be a big headache, if it’s not that much money, refund it. Cost to doing business with Amazon it’s been that way for a while. Other cases, be strategic about it. You might have a higher value item. You might have a buyer who is you know more interested in communicating with you, more willing to message you back. If you’ve got questions for them maybe they’ve got questions for you. I mean a lot of times, you’re trying not to have too many messages going back and forth because Amazon is counting the contacts per order, right? But beyond that, you can work it out if you’ve got– send the message, see if they’re willing to engage, if they’re not, from the first message then you’re kind of abandoning the effort at that point.
Shannon: Is there a difference? Is it better for your seller account health if they retract it versus if you just settle it and issue the refund? Or, is it basically the same resolution on Amazon size and they’re just happy that you dealt with the customer in a positive manner?
Chris: Yeah, I mean technically it’s better if they retract it but you want to be judicious about trying to get people to retract it. You don’t want to start getting to the point where you want everyone to retract and then you’re sending them too many messages and then they complain about that. You know that things can spin out of control quickly. So, you know, obviously, if the buyer withdraws the claim, that’s the best you know you’ve managed to work out the return or the refund. You didn’t have to go through the claim system it’s less headache for Amazon as well.
Shannon: Yeah, so, you know basic principles here, our customer service, you need to have somebody checking the customer service messages every single day. You want to make sure you’re being there seven days a week if possible. And you always want to make sure that you give the customer the benefit of the doubt, I know sellers who, they’re like, “Oh, I can’t believe they want a refund that they’re charging me on this” and I say, you have to look at the big picture. You’re– you’re talking about somebody who’s asking for a refund for 34.95 and what you want to avoid is negative seller feedback, negative product reviews because somebody had a bad experience. You have to look at the bigger picture, you know, for whatever amount it is over the course of the month, you’re going to write it off because over the course of time if you provide superior customer service, you are going to sell more products. That’s just the baseline that I’ve always seen so far.
Shannon: So, go out of your way, provide superior customer service, that’s part of the backbone of the Amazon and if you get inline with that, you’re going to be more successful and you’re going to have fewer problems with Amazon.
Chris: Right. I mean and just as a follow-up point, I think some sellers lose sight of some of that while they’re considering what’s fair and what the buyer is trying to get for free and that sort of thing. What if it’s a first time buyer who is going to come back, maybe it’s an item they’re going to need many more times in the future. So, some of these resolutions do result in 10, 11 more sales that you wouldn’t have had if you really made life hard for the buyer. I mean maybe not every buyer is just trying to gain system.
So, think some of the long term consequences through before you threw it down on everybody you know because it’s not always about a philosophical discussion about what’s fair on Amazon and what power buyers have over review and to claim. You might be right, I mean there are people who come to me with those types of arguments and maybe it’s not about a claim or a buyer, maybe it’s about their relationship with Amazon. I might agree with that but you have to have a holistic approach to you know what does this really works? Is this the battle that you want to fight till death? Right?
Shannon: Yeah, and I mean just the sellers that I work with, the better you understand Amazon, the better you’ll understand relationship, the more successful you’ll be in doing that relationship.
Shannon: And so we have a company that we took you know that had just started off a brand, it had been selling on Amazon for 25 years. They decided to do it directly but because they understood it and worked well with Amazon and played with an Amazon system, you know, they became a million dollar business on Amazon within 15 months. And it was all legitimate.
Chris: Yeah. Exactly.
Shannon: And it was all done correctly and we’re leveraging best sellers, number one best sellers now, so…
Chris: Yeah, yeah. I mean that’s a lot of the coaching I wind up doing. I mean plenty of people associate me with suspensions and reinstatement work and writing appeals and so forth but first of all, most of my clients are active sellers. So, I might work on reinstatement where it puts ASIN level reinstatement, right? They get their top selling ASIN suspended and they stay active maybe some of them have never been suspended.
But it’s that communication you know and building the relationship, understanding how Amazon wants you to communicate with them. And I’ve worked with I don’t know how many private label sellers that started off with maybe 800,000 a year, 1.2 million you know then you start doubling year over year, 2.4 million, 2.6 million. And before you know it in three to four years and I mean I’m sure you talk to people about this all the time, right? Before you know it, they’re 8 million or you know 7 million, 8 million, 9 million, 10 million a year. And that’s because they understood their relationship to Amazon. They understood what’s important to Amazon and then knew how to communicate and they grew in that responsible smart way.
Individual Listing Suspensions and Suppressed Listings
Shannon: Yeah, that’s a really good point. You touched on this briefly. I want to touch back on it. You talked about like individual listing suspensions or suppressed listing. So that’s different than account suspension. Can you talk about what an individual suppression looks like versus an account suspension and how those are best dealt with.
Chris: So you mean like a restriction. Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean suppressed listings are listings that nobody can list, right? So, like restricted products or things like that. They’re taking notes, items out of the catalog. They don’t want anyone to list or sell them for various reasons. It could be an ingredient and the consumable. It could be a safety defects that they’ve identified in that particular product or even just similar products to it. So, in terms of ASIN level suspensions, people lose– receive notifications and lose top selling ASINs all the time. The process is largely the same in terms of how you write the plan of action and get that ASIN back. Most of the same steps are what you go through to the see what– on an account suspension. So, of course, if I help somebody get their account fully reinstated and they have ASIN level suspension later on could be and item quality complaint, it could be a safety complaint, return rates that are too high whatever it might be. It’s largely the same approach in terms of identifying the process and proposing solutions.
Shannon: Yeah, and then other two that I’ve seen that might be a little different or just use a different language, so, one type of lifting suppression that I have seen is for example if you had images that aren’t up to spec or maybe if you include language in the listing like if a promotional offer, only buy from the seller.
Shannon: It was almost suppress the listing temporarily until you fix that issue and then they’ll react to it.
Chris: Yeah. And a lot of that is just compliance that maybe certain companies or certain Amazon account managers didn’t notice a policy change or they just didn’t understand how titles need to be created to begin with. Maybe it was delegated to somebody else who had been doing it, gaps and process like that. And that’s why part of your appeal needs to identify what those gaps were and why they happened. And then of course, the rest of it is solutions, how you’re going to fix that so it never comes up again.
Shannon: Yeah, and the other one I’ve seen is it’s happened a couple of times, one, an example where just the warehouse that accidentally use the wrong FNSKU label and then sending the wrong products, and all of a sudden we started getting all these returns and complaints because they have ordered one product and we’re getting another one. So Amazon send us notice had us pause that, we actually had the request the inventory box so we can fix those labels. And in that case, it’s temporary. Amazon is notifying you to fix it.
And then in the second issue, it was just a bunch of random customer complaints, I think it was returns and it was something like, “Oh well, we already had one of these, I didn’t realize it, we’re returning it.” Somebody said “I didn’t like the color” and somebody else said “It was damaged”. But Amazon algorithmically flagged all those and basically pause it and they put it in our court, they said you’re allowed to basically state why this was an issue and pick issue it was and fix it.
Shannon: We can essentially reinstate yourself but we want to make you aware of it so there’s a systematic problem, you don’t keep selling those and you can put a pause on it if you need to.
Chris: That’s exactly right. Yes. We’ve seen it several times
Shannon: Yeah, so those are in terms of suppressed listings or individual listings.
What you can do to proactively Prevent Suspension on Amazon
Seller Account Health Monitoring
Chris, let’s move on to the second component which is what we can do or what can sellers can do to proactively prevent suspension on Amazon. So, I’m just going to go through the list. We’ve touched on a couple of them already but let’s go through because there are two types of dealing with Amazon. One is prevention and the other is intervention. And prevention is always cheaper and more cost-effective than intervention. So, let’s talk about seller account health monitoring and you mentioned that their shipping and inventory integrations are making sure that’s all up to your code. But let’s touch briefly on what people can do to proactively prevent suspension looking at those two things.
Chris: Well, you definitely follow on with your notifications, you don’t ignore them. You communicate back when you’re warned for something. If you do a receive a notice that you’ve got return rates that too high for a particular item and you check out some of the comments I mean you take that seriously, you do something about it. They want to see you acting as opposed to sitting back and letting these messages just, these alerts pile up on your account. But some people if they don’t lose the listing they don’t take it seriously, some people you know if they get warns like a notice claim of infringement and they just think to themselves, “Well, I’m not going to sell that item anymore. So, I don’t really have to reach out to the rights owner.
And you know when it comes to infringement cases, those are things that hit whether private label or reselling, the infringements might be able to be different but it’s an issue for everybody. Anybody could get a patent warning. Anybody could get a copyright warning on an image or depends on what it might be, even an intellectual property complain so that could hit a private label seller too and if you prepared for these things. I think what some sellers don’t understand is that you can’t wait just wait until that happens to you, you have to kind of think ahead in terms of “Well, you know, am I vulnerable to it? Somebody saying I infringed up on their patent.”
Before you get into all the design issues, before you get all the manufacturing done, have you put all your ducks in a row because if you needed legal advice somewhere in that process and you either got poor legal advice which is kind of rampant in the Amazon world or you didn’t understand what legal advice you got and you misinterpreted it and that mistake could be hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix that mistake. And it could be very painful process to go through aside from whether or not you actually get suspended for it, right?
Once you get the warnings then OK at least react to them, at least do something, say something, know how to respond. If you’re not sure how to respond a certain kind of notice claims for instance, or we talked about safety violations early, then I guess that’s what you’re referring to in terms of intervention, right? Then at least find somebody who actually knows what their talking about which I know can be hard these days. But find somebody who understands what’s behind the safety violation. Don’t just say, “We test our products, we know they’re safe. Here’s a bunch of FDA documents to show that these consumables are good to be sold.” I mean I had stated it to me, that’s a lot more complicated than that.
Shannon: Yeah, I actually had a brand I worked with and they have a bottle that they had license from the manufacturers kind of you know a company that would make a type of bottle and they would license companies to put their logo on it. And so, all of a sudden they got a Patent Infringement notice because the company had just sort of sent them out somewhat arbitrarily to every bottle that looked exactly like theirs. And of course, it was in fact their bottle but they had a license to use it. And it was a very simple matter of contacting the brand owner, contacting the company that they have licensed it from and they issued a retraction and it was a done deal.
So, it can happen to anybody. And I’ve seen you know suspensions come from all kinds of things where a seller was selling on a listing and somebody else made a change to that listing. And everybody received the notice that that wasn’t fixed. And their account got shut down for one day but it was a $20,000 loss.
Shannon: And it’s knowing ahead of time what to do in those situations to protect yourself.
Chris: Right. And also, if you’re not legally trying to make a legally-based decision, right, just because you don’t tell yourself what you want to hear just because it’s smart, cost-effective that way. Or, trying to putting it out of your mind won’t necessarily make it go away. I mean I’m not returning myself but I mean I’ve got one or two good ones, I can refer you to if you really need legal advice that makes sense and is reliable. Because if you take on, I mean it’s the same with people who get suspended and they want to take four or five, six stabs at getting themselves reinstated, right? They want to – oh, I’ve written appeals before and I got my ASIN back so this is pretty much the same thing. I’m going to try the 6, 7 and 8 of these and then they go looking for the help that’s come to late at that point. You don’t want to sort of– I’m all for the DIY’s as long as you’re doing it the right way and doing it responsibly.
Automated Shipping and Inventory Integrations
Shannon: Yeah. That’s a really good point. In terms of the shipping and inventory integrations, as what I mentioned so you know, you have to have some redundancies, you have to have some back-ups, no software is perfect and we’ve worked with warehouses where the warehouse was functional but there was a…
Shannon: … issue on theirs and even though that you shipped out all of the product all the time, their system failed to upload the tracking information. Amazon didn’t care that it was shipped out five days ago.
Chris: That’s right.
Shannon: Because it wasn’t entered five days ago so you can’t retroactively put that in. So, you have to be monitoring this on a daily basis, if you have a customer service rep, have them go in and have them look at the orders if their merchant fulfilled, make sure that they’re shipping on time, make sure tracking numbers are going in. It’s a very, very well cost for the benefit that you get. And it doesn’t require a lot of training to make sure that they’re answering all the customer messages. And double checking on your seller account health in order to make sure that all these integration are still in place and working correctly.
Chris: And there’s different kind– companies with different kinds of integration but, I mean they work in different ways but setup some alert, setup some flags so that you’ll– something search looking or getting out of whack, you get an email and you get somebody on it. And you task some operations personnel to figure out. I mean there’s a couple of responses you need to fix the problem and then you might be actually sending an email of this seller performance, “Hey, you know, we had a technical glitch, we identified the problem. We’ve already put the solution in place.” it’s a good thing to tell them.
And they might go a little bit easy on you. You might get an automated warning as opposed to a suspension. Q4, holiday, they have systems setup so that your relationship goes over 4%, a certain number of this sellers would just be automatically suspended. I mean that’s why you can’t necessarily plan to just get a warning and explain what happened there that it was some sort of storm or snow storm or act of God, I mean it doesn’t really work that way. So, at certain times of the year you’re just on your own. You’re either getting it done or you’re not and they don’t really care about the storm.
Fast and Efficient Customer Service
Shannon: Yeah, it’s really important. So again, we’ve touched on this before the fast and efficient customer service. Make sure you have a well-trained customer service rep who knows how to respond to customers who knows policy-wise what they can and cannot do, what they can and cannot ask customers to do. I see a lot of issues with that. Make sure customer service people are well-trained.
Abiding by Amazon Policy
Shannon: And then make sure that you’re abiding by Amazon policy. And this is a key aspect that’s so important because there is literally so much policy to know and it hinges all the time that you can’t just rely on you know one off webinars here and they’re to keep you up to date.
The seminars and events and the workshops are really, really good but you have to make sure that you’re getting updates, Amazon updates of policy in particular. You want to make sure that you’re implementing that into your training, into your core processing response because again, that’s a violation waiting to happen. And if you can prevent it, it’s going to be much more cost-effective than if you have to wait and fix it later.
Chris: Right. And they want people proactive. They don’t want to see that you’re reacting to things that you only move when you’ve been warned for something. So, whether it’s in-house compliance experts that you hire and train or somebody outside, I mean compliance is a big deal and it’s something you want to pay attention to, you don’t want to just set it and forget it and kind of forget to stay on top of this stuff because to them, this is a 24-hour, 7 days a week experience. So it is for buyers.
Chris: So, anything buyers might be doing 24 hours, 7 days a week, they want you to be ready for it too.
Responding to Amazon Notices
Shannon: Now, you mentioned this before but you talk about responding to all notices quickly. Notices show up in the seller performance notification at the top and again, I’ve had sellers that they were too busy running their business that one of the customer service people logged on, didn’t notice it, didn’t see it, they didn’t respond to it. Is there a way that you can ensure that as a maybe the owner of the business or whatever that you’re getting those performance notifications or is it simply a matter of training your people to recognize when those come through and make sure that they’re flagging them and those are going up the chain of command to be dealt with very quickly.
Chris: Well, I mean if you’re an owner of a business, don’t be disengaged and just hire an Amazon account manager and assume that they’re going to keep you informed on everything all the time. I mean you should be familiar with seller central anyway.
Chris: And you should be able to, I mean it’s very easy the sign-in and go straight to the performance tab and going to the notifications and read if you have anything important. I mean that take seconds, right? You probably, if you’re an owner of a business and you’re busy doing the things you just described, you’re not necessarily signing in to the account everyday but checking with whoever is delegated that responsibility because if they’re not signing in everyday, you probably have a problem.
Chris: Keep an eye on your inbox I mean I know where, I don’t know what your inbox is like Shannon, I miss things sometimes, I mean I’m getting dozens of emails– it depends on the day and what’s going on in Amazon land. I might be getting dozens of emails that day or even a dozen in one hour. It’s easy for me to miss little alerts on certain days if I’m not paying attention or if my assistant isn’t you know backing me up.
So I would have just anything in Amazon account related I would have a system of checks and built-in back-ups and maybe audits that processes you know was there an email that came in a couple of says ago and we missed it until today? Why did that happen? What was something not in that day and they were the one responsible for reading notifications. So, you know it sounds like a small thing but it can be really important if– I mean what if they gave you 48 hours to correct a problem? What if you had things wildly out of whack in terms if pricing errors? I mean it’s just something that you have to be paying attention to all the time.
Shannon: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I work on putting together I think a resource that when track, where those emails come from, things that are specific in terms of the subject line that would allow people to setup a rule in their Gmail or their Outlook that would flag it, that would make it important, that would forward it to multiple people in the team. Because the faster you’re able to respond to that, the more you’re going to be able to drive off and prevent any negative…
Chris: Right because none of us know what tomorrow will bring. If you think, well, I got a warning on Monday and I’ve got a conference or a business meeting I’m going until Wednesday so we’ll probably have that one morning from seller performance draft up by Thursday and as long as it’s within three days, I’m comfortable with that. Well, what if while you were working on the first one, another one comes in. You know what I mean?
Chris: Then you’re fighting a two-front war. Does that mean you’re only going to do 50 percent of what you would have done previously in terms of the work and the resolution? Because you’ve got two things to deal with or the same thing and you’re going to reply, mentioning both cases in the same email. I mean it starts getting strategic and it starts getting tricky for you.
Proactively contacting Seller Performance (if necessary)
Shannon: So let’s talk about this last aspect and this is really important. You mentioned this before. I’ve had a couple of experiences that I will relate. But we talked about proactively contacting Seller Performance and I will tell you the two stories where this happened.
The first one was we had affiliates that got a hold of our video of a product that we produced and the thing went viral. It got 30 million views in about a week and all the traffic went to Amazon by using Amazon affiliate links.
Within a matter of days, we had sold something like 20,000 units and even though we jumped on, we were aware of it, we started increasing the lead time, two days to three days to four days to five days. Even with multiple warehouses working at full capacity, we were not able to get all these orders out on time and I was able to do the calculation and say here’s our on-time shipment rate. Here’s how many orders we left. Here’s how many we’re going to be behind.
We’re going to go over and I just knew that and so I crafted a very careful email to Seller Performance. I explained exactly what happened. I explained the anomaly of it. I showed them in ShipStation that it showed our orders went in. It was a 103,000% increase from the week before.
So I think you can take that with a grain of salt and say this is not typical and I think that here’s how we’re dealing with it. Here’s how we’re fixing the problem and it was actually the first time I’ve ever gotten a proactive email back from Seller Performance and they said, “Hey, thanks for letting us know.”
I think they were just so impressed by the story, they actually responded. But the other time, it was a company where the inventory had not been updated correctly. It was done by manual entry. It went over a weekend.
By Monday morning, we realized we had oversold. We looked at installation rate. We knew we were going to be over and again we crafted that email to Seller Performance ahead of time, detailing everything we would have done had our account been suspended and said here is the issue. Here is how we fix it. Here’s how we are going to systematically avoid them in the future and in both cases, our account wasn’t suspended.
So I’m not saying it works every time. But I think that is something that people need to be aware of. You can be proactive and not just sit back and cross your fingers and hope your account doesn’t get suspended.
Chris: I completely agree and I believe in that proactive philosophy entirely and the people that are afraid to talk to Amazon about something that they’re going to discover anyway.
Chris: You know, I don’t want to draw their attention to it. Well, if your metric is widely missed, their attention is probably – they have automated systems and triggers to draw their attention to it. Yeah, I don’t know. People call this different things but the poking and dragging, I guess that’s the one that’s used the most. I suppose there are outlier examples where maybe letting it go would have been a better idea one percent of the time. Ninety-nine percent of the time, you’re doing exactly what you described as whatever –
Shannon: Yeah, and I think there’s an aspect of that as well. When you do reach out to them, there’s actually different email addresses for the different seller performance in different countries. So if you’re selling in the UK or Canada or Europe – and I will provide those in the resources as well.
If it’s a Europe issue and all of Europe has a suspension problem, then you actually need to reach out to all of those. But there is something that is really effective about contacting them ahead of time and I’ve seen that work well. When you know what you’re doing and when you phrase it correctly, you know how to address that.
Chris: When you mentioned the canceled orders, I’m curious just about that. Was that you were – you considered canceling them and you didn’t, you just checked the loss from fulfilling? You had to cancel because you simply did not meet inventory?
Shannon: Yeah. In that case, they actually had run out of inventory and so we had to cancel a certain amount of orders and we actually did it strategically, trying to get additional inventory in. We’re seeing a few inventory. So we canceled just the bare minimum that we had the first day. We canceled just the bare minimum that we had the second day and by the third day, we realized we’re not going to get inventory. We’re going to have to cancel the rest of these. That’s going to put us over. We reached out and it was just –
Chris: Oh, great. So it’s a happy story, yeah.
How to Get Your Amazon Account Reinstated
Shannon: It was. Chris, let’s get into the third part and talk about creating a successful reinstatement request or what’s known as a plan of action or POA. You got about four steps that you kind of listed and outlined. The first is what is a plan of action and I’m just going to kind of let you go through these and define them and let’s provide whatever valuable insight you have, seeing as how you worked in Seller Performance at Amazon.
Chris: Yeah. I mean what it is, I mean most of your viewers and listeners probably understand that this term has been around for a while. There’s a lot more information about what it is. Yet we still – my team still sees a lot of interesting ones, so to put it charitably. It’s supposed to be a page, page and a half document. It’s formatted in a very specific way, bullets, numbers. Certainly not bullets that have two or three words after them saying we fixed this, but getting into a bit more detail. They want you to address the causes of your suspension of course, whether or not you agree that you’re getting enough information about what happened.
Amazon Plan of Action
They’ve already come to the conclusion that the account is worthy of a suspension. So they don’t want to tell you exactly everything you need to write in this document. You’ve got to do some reading around, digging for the causes of – maybe it was a quality issue. Why were so many people complaining about the product? Is it not working, not being what they expected, not being worth the price they paid for it for example?
You know, why did it happen? They don’t want to hear the what. A lot of people, when they have to give the causes of the suspension and the first part of the POA, plan of action, they simply say what they were suspended for.
I mean Amazon already knows what you’re suspended for. They’re the ones who suspended you. So you want to get the why, right? They want to hear the how. I mean that’s where you have to – you know, the rubber meets the road. That’s where you have to kind of do your homework and show them that you know what’s going on. If you haven’t really identified the root causes, they might not even get to your plan of action below it where the solutions are present. So that’s kind of a summary of how I would summarize plan of action.
You want your best writer. You don’t want to necessarily have the business owner writing this just because they’re the most important person in the company or maybe you don’t want the Amazon account manager or maybe you don’t want – what you do want is the person who’s the best writer, the best at presenting ideas clearly, directly, concisely because again, using – the numbers, you have a small amount of space to convey very specific ideas and information and if you’re too vague and if you just say, “We’re planning to do this,” or you’re describing incomplete actions, you’re going to lose your reader, which is your audience, the investigator, very quickly and they’ve got a lot of incentive to just get past you and get on into the next person.
So don’t just say, “We’ve made a lot of improvements,” and then never mention what they are. I mean you have to mention what they are and you have to give credible improvement. So you’re not just talking about – you’ve talked a lot today about customer service. I see a lot of POAs that include commentary about how wonderful their customer service is. But the suspension had nothing to do with getting back to customers quickly.
So give them something they can use. If they’re going to consider your reinstatement, they need material that specifically addresses what they expect to see from you, not generic template type stuff. I mean customize, tailored language for your specific case. There are themes that present themselves over and over and a variety of different plans of action that I see.
But if it starts to sound tinny to their ear, like something that you just came up with, because you thought they wanted to hear it, it’s not going to get the job done, right?
So that’s kind of some background on how to write it, what it is. In terms of the solutions, just make sure they’re convincing because it’s easy for them to just kind of push a button saying, “We need more information,” or “This isn’t good enough. Come back to us when you have more.” Don’t expect them to give you a lot of details about what you’re missing, right? In terms of, you know, well, you gave us three good bullets there. But there are three more that we need and they need to say this.
I mean we would love to have it all stirred up on a platter like that. But they’re not going to do that. They don’t do it for a reason. They need you to go through this – sort of the growing pains of figuring out what might have gone wrong and how you’ve remedied it.
I’ve seen a lot of kind of crazy people saying, “Well, I need more information before I can write this appeal,” and asking them for more when they’ve given you all they’re going to give you, which might just be a couple of bases or might just be one sentence that describes what they think you did wrong.
I see a lot of content that just has nothing to do with the suspension cause. We’ve been selling for X number of years. I wish I could tell you that selling for 10 years versus 10 months means a lot to them. It doesn’t seem to anymore or even revenue levels. I mean it’s supposed to be a level playing field where if you’re selling one million a year or twenty-five million a year, you’re more or less treated the same. We may or may not agree that that’s what happens in practice. But they are supposed to be just as tough on somebody who sells 20 million a year who has done the same violation that you have. So just keep these things in mind. Don’t think you’re going to send them a snow job on how great your metrics are when it’s not a metrics-base suspension.
Shannon: Yeah. I have just two comments on that. The first is Amazon can send template emails. You can’t. It doesn’t work both ways.
Shannon: But it’s important. It’s important to understand the game and forget fair. It’s not about being fair. It’s about how the platform works. The better you can understand that and the better you can leverage that, the more successful you will be, guaranteed. The second one is –
Chris: And it’s better for you too. I mean you’re not trying to trick them into something. What if the same problem comes up next month? They will just be suspended all over again. They wonder why they reinstated you the first time.
So it’s better for you to get at the root causes of what went wrong just so you can fix it permanently and then not looking for short-term solutions. They want long-term ones.
Shannon: And that’s a really good point, Chris. I worked with a seller and he had been suspended. I think it was for late shipments and they wrote the plan of action and all of the things they were going to different. Then a month later, they were suspended for the exact same thing. Now Amazon has even less incentive because all the things that you said you were going to do, you didn’t do. So the bottom line here is don’t bluff. Amazon will catch it.
If you’re going to make specific changes, actually make those changes. If you say that you’re going to do something different to prevent this from happening, make sure that you actually implement the strategies. The second one is very, very simple. Amazon works off algorithms. That’s why A9 the search – you know, the search engine is actually shorthand for algorithms. That’s what it stands for. So everything Amazon does, you have to remove that level of emotion. You talked about not getting emotional and bringing a bunch of information and content into the conversation that’s irrelevant. It’s not a love letter. Your goal is to look at the facts. An algorithm is what suspended you. It’s not that Amazon is out to get you. They don’t care about why – you know, what happened per se. But you have to address it systematically.
So I’ve seen people write reinstatement plans, plans of action with typos in them, providing limited information, that they’re upset. You have to take the time to make sure that you address it correctly and I would say, well, you want to make sure it’s accurate and you want to address it within a time period and sometimes Amazon gives you a time period that you need to address it. Don’t wait six weeks to address it. But at the same time, you grab a couple of coworkers, look at it and fire off an email to Seller Performance in 10 minutes. It’s also probably not a good idea. You want to make sure we do it correctly.
Amazon Suspension Appeal
Shannon: Let’s talk a little bit about the second point that you meant, which is how to address the POA. What does that look like?
Chris: Well, I mean the format is going to be basically causes and solutions. I mean I would suggest an introduction that gives a few lines to set them up for what they’re about to read for one thing, because they’re reading these things nonstop all day. But also gives them the sense that you’ve made corrections and that they’re going to see just how complete your actions were. You’ve already implemented them and they’re – like I said earlier, convincing, they won’t have to come back and look at your account three weeks later.
I mean it’s sort of a mark against that investigator if you give them a flimsy POA and then reinstate you and then they get re-suspended three weeks later. It sort of makes that investigator look bad for not pushing you for a bit more information and a bit more indication that you understood the nature of the problem to begin with.
So the one-page format, I mean sometimes we go to a page and a half for providing some new supplier information. For example, you’re dumping your old suppliers because of the bad batches of products you got there. You’re getting suppliers differently. You got new suppliers. So there might be some additional information that will lengthen it to a page and a half. But you generally – I mean 90 something percent of the time, you do not need any more space than that and they’re really reviewing these quickly. You can’t assume – I don’t know why I still see POAs people write that are three, four pages long. I mean they never read those. They don’t have that kind of time. Investigators have metrics just like you do.
So I know it’s tempting to cram everything you’ve ever done or seen on your Amazon account from 2016 into a suspension letter you have to write from a suspension last week. But it doesn’t work that way. Economy of words. You know, you have to – that’s why I said your best writer. I mean somebody who’s not going to tell a long story when you can grab somebody else at the company who can write something and communicate the same ideas in two or three lines. That’s what you need, that format, bullets and numbers.
Shannon: Yeah, there’s a poet I forget, who said, “I apologize for writing you a long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.” I think the same thing applies. You have to work hard to make it very concise, get with the logic, address the issues. Ignorance is not an excuse. You have to know your business and you have to understand it’s Amazon business and in the case that it was a policy violation that you were unaware of, I would guess that admitting that and being able to proactively put into place solutions is going to be the best way to do that.
Shannon: One of the things that people have to consider again is if you look at the infrastructure of Amazon, the integration with the warehouses, the one-click checkout, all these things that they’ve done, they have built incredible systems. I ordered a sunglasses case the other day and it literally took me 30 seconds. So I was in the kitchen. I scrolled through my phone. I did the search. I found one that I like. One-click checkout. Two days later, it showed up.
Amazon loves systems. The better your internal systems can be for your business, the better you’re going to be able to operate with Amazon. If you have internal business processes and systems and integrations instead of doing everything manually, the better and more successful your life is going to be on Amazon and that’s just really key in terms of ordering inventory, in terms of the customer service.
Make sure you have those systems in place. The better your internal systems are, the better your success on Amazon will be for sure.
Chris: And be ready to either fix them if they break or describe them because like I agree with what you said. I mean audit things. Test systems. I think sellers should mimic Amazon and have as many systems in place as possible with a – maybe an automated element. Sure. It might be better than risking human error. But it’s human element, manual direction, management, somewhere in there to make sure that automated processes are running well. They accurately audit these methods of getting work done and make sure you test them before you even roll them out, right?
Shannon: Chris, let’s talk about the last aspect, which is how to submit. What is from your best practice is an advice for actually submitting that plan of action for reinstatement?
Chris: Yeah, and this one is tricky. I’ve seen a lot of change in terms of how people observe – like the appeal button for instance. You said a moment ago some people want to reply in 10 minutes. I mean some of that is anxiety and emotion. They think that the quicker they appeal, the faster they will get their account back.
You know, that’s true 0.05 percent of the time for most people. Take a step back. Think about it. Go through some of the things we talked about today. You’re greatly improved and just because you have a tempting button there, don’t press it and just look at their instructions.
I mean a lot of what they tell you to do to appeal some of the generic information they give you plays almost no role into how I help someone format a plan of action. They don’t give you the format that I use necessarily.
So some people think that they’re just sort of filling in blanks. Well, they ask me for this. I will give them that and they’re asking me for some other information here.
I mean the appeal button, you can’t even attach anything, right? You can’t even show them invoices and authenticity letters that way, for instance. So you just have to kind of back off from that. If you get stuck, if they don’t answer your right away, don’t immediately write Seller Performance saying, “Where’s my answer? I’ve been suspended for six hours now,” as if their email queues have no contacts in them and investigators are sitting around waiting for an email from you.
I mean understand, like I said earlier, your audience. Don’t spam them. Don’t give them lots of extraneous information they can’t use. Like you said before, emotion. There’s wild misunderstandings about – you know, you sent them the appeal and nobody got back to you or they got back to you asking for more information. Escalation time. Now we have to escalate. We have to write to Jeff. We have to write to Jeff’s dog. I mean this isn’t how it works.
It might feel better. I understand there’s a therapeutic value. You know, your energy level is up and you’re panicking to an extent. But decisions made while you’re panicking are probably not as sound as the ones where you – like I said, step back, take some time, go over what you’ve written. Write a draft and then maybe read through it. Make some edits before you – just like if you were writing a school paper, right? It’s sort of the same concept because you only have so many cracks at it.
If you start going in this direction, going in that direction, trying to guess what they want to hear, even making things up, because you think you don’t understand why you’re suspended. So we’re just going to tell them what we think they want to hear. But none of that is even true. I mean these are bad decisions, right? Then you just get stuck in these cycles where they’re asking you for real information and you’re just hopping from one foot to the next.
Shannon: Is there any validity in sort of the statement that your initial plan of action is the most likely to reinstate your account or is that sort of a fallacy and it just depends on the account and the situation, that there may be some follow-up that’s required and a couple of emails after they request more information you submit the follow-up that they asked for or in some cases, like you mentioned, they may ask for documentation.
So in one case, the seller was selling on a listing. Somebody added a completely irrelevant product to a child variation. It messed up the listing for everybody and they were able to upload the flat file to show their contribution to the listing so that they have a part of that. Is there anything in terms of wanting to put your best foot forward in terms of the first response getting the best response from Amazon?
Chris: I mean I would say percentage-wise, most sellers aren’t reinstated on their first pass. If you nail it and you get everything that they wanted to see on the first one and you’ve addressed all the relevant issues to your suspension, your odds of sailing through on one try are greatly improved.
I mean we have plenty of people who – some of them are even surprised after all the terrible things they’ve heard out there, that we’ve managed to get them back on at one shot. But it doesn’t happen every time. Usually there’s a revised plan of action, a second a plan, a tweaked plan. Maybe you do a little research to find out that there was something you missed and you can kind of go back and reformulate things a little bit.
You’re certainly not just moving words around and taking one bullet that was at the top, putting it at the bottom, switching them and sending this plan.
I mean one thing I would like to emphasize is I know there are people out there that are – I guess would be experts or escalation experts or plan of action experts who are pretty much just writing one plan for a client and telling them to send it everywhere. You know, they don’t modify it at all. They just have the same plan that might have only been 50 percent of the way there to begin with, to a bunch of different people because it’s like – I guess this like statistical approach where – well, one out of a hundred people that reads this is going to think it’s valid and reinstate the account based on that.
I can’t emphasize this enough to dissuade people from only writing one plan and then if it’s rejected, just writing the same plan to Jeff saying, “Nobody read our appeal. Nobody reviewed it. We got a standard automated response.” I mean that’s the best way to guarantee that you’re just going to be stuck for a long time.
They will keep you suspended until you get – if you keep showing that you don’t understand how they work, that you don’t understand that you missed certain key pieces of information the first time around, they’re not going to be badgered into taking a subpar plan of action. So those are my words of caution.
Shannon: Yeah, they’re not hurting for one seller. Chris, this is going to be different for every seller. But at what point would you suggest bringing an expert on to help with the plan of action? I think in some cases, it’s going to be the first one and in some cases, the sellers who are more experienced, who are aware of it. They reach out. They communicate with Amazon. After a couple of times, they realize they’re not getting anywhere. They’re not getting it.
Again, it’s going to be different for any seller. But are there any points – say at this point, you want to bring in somebody who really knows what they’re doing to help you out.
Shannon: Yeah, it depends. I think you should decide early on what degree of help you want. I mean there’s no reason not to get at least a little help before even the first one. I mean if you’re 100 percent sure you can nail it without anybody’s assistance the first time out, then go ahead and take a shot at it as long as built into that decision, you understand that if the first one doesn’t get you through, you at least need to get an hour of somebody’s time.
I mean there are people who will put an hour – book an hour of my time on my calendar and they never officially retain me or hire me to write anything. We talk them through it. I look at their plan of action. I give them some feedback on it.
That might be enough for a revised POA that gets them back on in the second attempt and they’ve really only gotten an hour’s worth of help. For people that don’t understand how these processes work and they don’t think they have the capability to write this sort of plan that will get accepted, well, I do a little percentage play. I just take a stab at it. Unless you kind of don’t care if you get the account back or not – I mean most people want the account back.
So if the account doesn’t mean that much to you and you don’t view a consultant’s assistance as an investment, then have at it and then just accept with – you know, if the result is that you can’t get yourself back on, accept that you chose that path from the beginning.
But don’t play both sides, right? Don’t say I want to try this six times and then bringing Chris to rescue me. I mean I still get contacts from people like that. But I mean I’m at the point where I really want to be involved from an early stage, if not right away at the beginning.
I’m not always involved in the first appeal but get me in for the second or the third. Beyond that, you’ve sort of shot yourself on the foot and you might be beyond saving.
Shannon: That’s a really good point and two quick points to that as we start to wrap up. The first one is you have to look at what’s at stake. If you’re doing $15,000, $20,000, $30,000 a day, it might not be worth your time to try and do it yourself and play around as to the amount that’s at stake. If you’re doing a couple of hundred dollars a day and you can afford to spend some time doing some research, that’s great.
But the other aspect that is really important, if you have diversified strategy, diversified marketplaces, if Amazon gets shut down, you can temporarily – it’s not going to be the worst thing. It takes the pressure off. You know you’ve got other marketplaces that are bringing income and I had a company that – you know, very diversified strategy. They got shut down in Q4 on Amazon and their other marketplaces took up all the slack and increased the revenue that they needed.
So they were able to deal with it much more methodically. It wasn’t irrational. You do not want to be in a situation where Amazon is the only basket where all of your eggs are in.
Chris, one last question in terms of Seller Performance. At what point would you say you could reach back out to Seller Performance if you hadn’t heard from them? Six hours is not enough time. But if it has been a couple of days, what’s the recommendation in terms of reaching out to them if you haven’t heard anything back?
Chris: Typically if it has been a few days, I mean there are queue levels that vary. It could take them three days, even not Q4 for them to get back to you, just because their head count is low, their team capacity, their workflow. You know, they could have a backlog. It really depends on how many people are spending that day or week. They could have lots of appeals more to go through that day, that week than they anticipated.
So you don’t want to wait forever because your contact could have been lost in the ether somewhere. But you don’t want to start saying, “Well, we’re so desperate. We’re so anxious. We have to just send another contact every day and hope for the best.”
If you send them six contacts, they will dump five of them and they will read one and it might not be the one that you wanted them to read. They will answer that one and annotate your account and move on. If they think that you haven’t really spent a lot of time on it, you’re just rushing through it, then they rush through what they do for you, right?
They’re kind of rushing anyway. But at least they’ve got – if they have the sense that you’ve given them something they can work with, they at least should and probably will take at least a little bit of time to review it and give you a fair shot.
So the people who are – you know, I get a lot of this. Last time I wrote to Seller Performance, they got back to me within 10 hours, within 6 hours, within 2 hours. That means absolutely nothing in terms of how quickly they will get back to you today when you email them. It’s all about queue levels.
Chris: And a lot of emails in the queue, it’s going to take a lot longer than the day they got back to you in two hours. It’s 100 percent insignificant how quickly they got back to you last time.
Shannon: Yeah. I know there has been a couple of cases where Amazon hadn’t provided themselves the information and it took pushing a couple of times where we reached out to them and after a week or so, started pushing and badgering a little bit and saying, “Hey, what do we need?” and eventually they gave us more information. We were able to address that and –
Chris: Yeah. I’m not against pushing seller performance if they’ve got a trouble ticket and assigned you to one particular person and that person is not around and they’re just sending you generic messaging saying, “We will continue to review this and get back to you.” I mean you can’t wait for that. You eventually have to say, “OK. I gave you some time to review it. It seems like there’s nobody working on this ticket or on this contact and you need a fresh contact from me to at least request an update.” There’s nothing wrong with doing that.
Shannon: You mentioned that you can’t add an attachment to the initial plan of action. Would you recommend sending an email to Seller Performance following that with an attachment so that they have that documentation once you get your –?
Chris: Yeah, it depends on the suspension cause. Sometimes in the notification itself, they won’t ask you for supplier information. Like I said before, authenticity, letters of information about your manufacturer, trademark registry and whatever it might be. They won’t ask you for those documents. So there are times where we just submit the plan. We don’t attach anything we use to the appeal button. If it’s absolutely necessary, you can send supplemental documentation to Seller Performance from the primary email associated with your account.
Things do get missed. Things do get lost. But they shouldn’t have a problem as long as you’re contacting them from the right email address, locating which account those documents belong to.
Shannon: You also mentioned that it does need to come from the primary email address on the account. So make sure that you have access to that and then even if it’s not the business owner who will be sending that, that you are using that primary email to contact with Seller Performance.
Chris: Yeah. If you don’t get a response, if you get nothing over days, then maybe you’ve sent it from another email address and didn’t even notice it. Sometimes people don’t get a response because there’s no account found.
Shannon: Yeah. Well, Chris, thank you so much for joining me. Again, you can reach Chris at www.ecommercechris.com and we’ve got a special offer for you.
If you would like a sneak peek of a former Amazonian’s proven method for crafting successful Amazon appeals, Chris will be giving you his insider secrets on success with communicating with Amazon and if you want to understand how to write an appeal the right way, you can save $40 if you join before February 28th. Chris, thank you so much for your time and I appreciate your insight in all this.
Chris: Yeah, thanks Shannon.
Shannon: Appreciate it.