How to correctly document your shipping process
What exactly does “documenting” your shipping process even mean? And more importantly, why do you need it? Well, here’s a rundown:
If you operate a small business, you probably have one or two staff members who have your shipping processes and policies down solid. They could do them in their sleep, more than likely. But what happens when you lose that one person who knows how everything works and the best way to do it all? The answer is, they take their knowledge with them, unless they wrote it down somewhere.
However, if you are a big operation, with hundreds of employees, you likely have some type of training or documentation, maybe for your seasonal staff to review each year before the big rush. But be honest – when was the last time you reviewed it? Does it contain outdated information? Is it as effective as it could be? Can your staff refer to it if they have questions, or do they have to find a person to ask for help in most cases?
While documenting your shipping policies and processes may not sound like a priority, it is extremely important. After all, that’s time you could be managing orders or promoting your brand. But documentation is a powerful resource that can actually save you more time than you put into it. A lot more.
Here are a few of the benefits good documentation can provide:
Consistency: Documentation makes your policies and processes explicit, making your staff more consistent in how they perform their jobs.
Quick Reference: Your staff can reference documentation when they have a question and be confident they have the right answer. This also means fewer interruptions for senior staff who can focus on solving real problems.
Synchronicity: Documentation syncs the knowledge among team members and between other teams. Everyone knows what’s expected and works in a unified way.
Productivity: Work continues uninterrupted, even when key staff is not present.
Improvement: Written documentation provides an opportunity to review and improve your processes. You can be sure you are doing things in the best and most efficient way and your team can give constructive feedback if they see a way to do something better.
How should you document your process?
There is no one right way to do your documentation. You have to find what works for you, your staff, and your company. A good place to start is to decide what final form the documentation will take. You have a lot of options, each with their own pros and cons.
The format you choose will depend on your audience needs and what tools you either already have available or can easily access. To help choose, you should answer the question: What is the most convenient way for my staff to access this information? If you are not sure, ask them! Here are a few example formats you might consider:
Typically better for very small organizations. Printed copies can be laminated or stored in a binder and kept at a workstation.
Also good for smaller organizations. The PDFs could be available on a specific work computer, downloadable from a shared location, or distributed by email.
Excellent for small to medium-sized organizations. You can share the link via email or keep in a team drive accessible to everyone.
For each format, you should consider how easy they are to create, maintain, and access. The matrix below shows some of the considerations necessary for each format.
Finally, you’ll need to organize this information in a way that makes sense to your team. Regardless of the final format your documentation takes (printed, Google Docs, etc), there are a few tried and true methods that will help make your documentation easy to use and understand.
Group information by topic:
Use headings (large bold font) to identify each topic so the reader can find what they are looking for quickly.
For printed documents, consider using tabbed separators or different colored paper to indicate each section.
Lead with the most important information in each section.
Use lists! Unlike full paragraphs, lists make it easier to identify key information. Use numbered lists if sequence matters, use bullet lists if sequence doesn’t matter.
List any procedure or task in the order it should be performed (chronological order)
Keep sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. One way to do this is to use active language. If you are telling someone to do something, tell them directly to do it! Avoid words like “you can” or “try” or “it should be done.” Instead, use “go here” and “do this” so there is no ambiguity.
Use tables to present repetitive information. This is good for things like:
Lists of names, phone numbers, and email addresses
Lists of products and their required packaging and/or shipping service
Lists of warehouse locations for products or supplies
Include images if something is difficult to explain.
Include links to the resources you may mention. For example, international shipping regulations or login pages for your postal accounts.
Have a table of contents if the document is more than a few pages. Most digital tools can auto-generate these for you, especially if you use headings properly!
Don’t be afraid to repeat information if it will make the reader’s life easier. For example, just because there is a contact list with everyone’s name and phone number at the end of the document, doesn’t mean you can’t include the contact information of the office manager in the Supplies section as well.
You may also need to separate content by role, if you have different people responsible for different things within your organization. This could mean you have entirely separate sets of documentation, or it could mean separate sections within one set of documentation. Either way, make it clear to each person performing each role what their responsibilities are.
To sum up
The more consistent and confident your staff is in the shipping process, the more likely it is that your customers’ expectations will be met with each and every shipment. They’re orders will be accurate, intact, and on time. And your staff will be happier and more efficient.