When my niece Gaby first started working with me on The Trip Clip, I realized that her ability to follow step by step instructions meant she would be great at fulfilling orders for physical goods. This was important to me both because I dislike doing it myself, and because as the only employee at my company I had to figure out how to handle orders when I was out of town.
Having Gaby do my order fulfillment for me has been one of the biggest success stories of having Gaby work for me. Here’s how I set it up so that someone with Autism could do this task.
Writing Down the Process
The first thing I needed to do was write down the instructions that were all only in my head for shipping all the different products I sell. It’s a lot of steps that can vary quite a bit from product to product, and it was helpful even to me to have it all written down so that no details would be forgotten. As I did this, I thought about how the McDonald’s founders focused heavily on always making their food consistently every time so that all of their franchises would deliver the same quality across the world. This concept has been shown to be super valuable to all entrepreneurs who are trying to grow their business even if they’re not franchising. It’s a good idea to do this whether you have a special needs employee or not!
For each order, the instruction tree branched a lot. Some products needed to be shipped in a padded envelope, some in a box. Some needed an extra instruction sheet included, some didn’t. Different shipping methods were required based on the weight of the product. As a written document, this got pretty complicated. Luckily I’m a programmer, so I wrote a script that would programmatically display the correct set of instructions for Gaby to follow based on the product the customer had purchased. This was much easier for her to follow. It turns out it’s a lot easier for me to follow too. I am way less likely to make mistakes or forget things when I follow these instructions, so even though I invented the process, I don’t ship anything by memory anymore. I always follow the shipping instructions script, which made the time I put into writing the automated script super worth it.
Step By Step Learning
Once I had the script, I had to teach Gaby how to do each of the steps in all of the different branches. We took this slowly, because Gaby gets stressed out by learning new things. In order to help her, I used written instructions as much as possible to show her how to do the individual pieces. She processes written instructions much more calmly and thoroughly than verbal ones. She also can pattern match well, so having physical examples for her to see and copy helped. I’ve also considered at times making videos to teach her new tasks, though I haven’t tried it yet.
At first I only had Gaby fulfill clipboard orders. Those are the most straightforward with the fewest number of steps. She spent one afternoon attaching pens to clipboards and putting on hook & loop circles so they’d be ready to pop in a box when someone bought one. All she needed was an example of an attached pen and some written instructions to learn this on her own. Eventually I taught her how to print, cut, and package up magnet bundles. These are more complicated, but half of the process is the same as when she did clipboards, so that reduced the number of new things she had to learn. Most recently I taught her how to prepare the hook & loop bundles.
Adjusting For Gaby’s Needs
As we went along we had to do some trouble shooting on the script I’d written. There were a few steps that were hard for Gaby. For example, in one step she weighs the package using a scale, and then she has to enter that weight into the PayPal shipping website. The scale gives the weight with decimals, but PayPal’s form didn’t allow decimals. At first I wrote the instructions telling Gaby to round the number (she did math in school all the way through Algebra 2 and knows how to round numbers) but this was still tricky for her. She hesitated and was uncertain, and I needed to watch to make sure she didn’t make a mistake or get stuck on this step. So I changed the script. I had her enter in the weight into my script including the decimal point, and then printed out the rounded number she should enter into PayPal. This immediately smoothed the bumpy area for her, and provided an added bonus for me. Since she was entering the weight anyway, I decided to have her enter the amount PayPal was charging me for shipping as well, which allows me to more effectively track my shipping costs. Double bonus!
We’ve had some other bumps along the way. One notable time was during Covid when Gaby was working from her house to fulfill orders. I made a change to how I printed the To Do / Done boards, and it turned out that the printer at Gaby’s house didn’t handle the change the same way my printer did. The magnet boards she printed had a ghosted repeat of the header bar farther down the page. Gaby either didn’t notice, or more likely, didn’t know how to explain to anyone what was happening. Luckily my sister and I noticed before too many boards with ghost printing were shipped to customers. In fact only one had been shipped out. That customer was incredibly understanding, especially when the circumstances were explained, and was satisfied when I replaced it for free.
I find more than anything my customers are pleased that Gaby is working for The Trip Clip, and her efforts more than make up for the occasional problem she introduces into the system.
Recognizing the Value
At times, preparing detailed written instructions for Gaby, and in this case writing a detailed software script, can be a lot of work. It would be easy to question whether it takes more time to write the instructions than it does to just do the task myself. I have seen again and again that it’s always worth it. As I said above, I use the script I wrote for Gaby when I have to ship something myself. It has increased the accuracy of my order fulfillment and helped me track my shipping costs. I mostly don’t have to do any order fulfillment myself now which I quite like. Gaby has used this script many hundreds of times to ship Trip Clip packages totally independently. And this effort also paid off during Covid because Gaby’s independence with this task meant she could do it from her house while working remotely.
Gaby now does close to 100% of my order fulfillment. She seems to enjoy this task more than others, and she is very successful with it. If you have bought any physical products from The Trip Clip, they were almost certainly packaged up by Gaby!