Hire Employees Your Customers Will Love: 3 Companies Share Onboarding Best Practices

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Building a customer-first company involves every part of the business. Employees across teams and levels need to believe in the value of putting customers first and make doing so a priority day-to-day.

But, when it comes to employee onboarding, many companies talk about customer focus but don’t actually provide new hires with the training they need to deliver on this important company value.

The values new employees learn about in the onboarding process are foundational to the rest of their time at the company, including instilling that customer-first mentality. Your employee’s first week should include more than just paperwork and setting up new hardware—you need to make time to introduce them to your company values, too. While it’s important to keep employees from getting overwhelmed by information, sharing the larger company mission with them right when they start will ensure that every new employee is clued into these values, you also continue to cultivate a shared set of values and goals as your team grows.

So how do you go about imparting a customer-first mentality on new employees during the onboarding process? Here are strategies from three companies who have made customer support top priority

Put new hires in your customers’ shoes

Missouri Star Quilt, a company that sells quilting machines and supplies, has a dedicated following of quilters. However, most employees they hire have no quilting experience when they start. That’s why the company has every new employee spend their first six weeks learning how to make a quilt from start to finish. They learn the materials and process, deal with the challenges and, at the end of it all, experience the success of having created a finished product. When they’re done, each employee is better prepared to empathize with customers when they call in asking for information, advice and a sympathetic ear.

Start every employee on customer support

The founders of Arizona-based Tuft and Needle entered into the mattress business because they were horrified by the terrible experience they had choosing a mattress. So it’s only natural that a customer-first mentality is at the forefront of the Tuft and Needle onboarding process.

They begin by starting all new employees in customer support so they are exposed common questions and pain points of their customers. New hires are also flown out to mattress production facilities to see how the company’s product is made. This approach allows new hires to keep the customer in mind—and their fellow employees at the factory—as they transition into their more specific role.

Provide coaching and homework assignments

Diana Potter leads the customer support team at Customer.io, a SaaS email company that practices whole-company support. Potter found that new employees tend to share the same two struggles: Learning the product and figuring out how to communicate the product with the customer. To help employees overcome these challenges they partner them with a veteran coach within the company to help answer customer questions. This guidance helps ease their nerves about being customer-facing for the first time, and trains them to deliver more advanced responses.

Employees are also assigned homework: a ten-day set of emails with exercises designed to help better respond to customer inquiries. More broadly, new hires are encouraged to use the product as much as possible to get familiar quickly. This strategy gives employees the tools to get up to speed doing support quickly and efficiently.

The net gain of employee onboarding

Working separately from customers, it can be easy for employees to get bogged-down in the minutiae of a task and lose sight of the customer in the process. But companies like Missouri Quilt Star Co., Tuft and Needle and Customer.io help employees adopt a customer-first mindset from day one. Their onboarding strategies may be different, but they have one important goal in common: increasing new hires’ empathy for their customers. Each of these onboarding tasks fosters an awareness of customer needs and expectations that employees can take with them in whatever role they were hired for.

To make customer support a priority, it’s important integrate a customer-first mindset in every internal process—including employee onboarding. While methods like those mentioned here may seem like a big time investment, the ROI in the form of customer (and employee) retention is exponentially higher.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Given that, as with customers, the employee life cycle begins at the prospect and early experience within the enterprise, the suggestions you make must be sustained through cultural direction and ongoing cross-training. Otherwise, the effect of initial training and customer exposure can quickly wear off. To illustrate, here’s a quote from an article about Southwest Airlines” culture: “The airline has an implicit motto. It has always exercised the importance of their workforce as the most essential tool and asset of the company. It is apparent in their infrastructure of training, hiring and personal attention of the employees of the company. The statements and behavior of the company help to reinforce the value that an employee may feel while employed with the company. The behavior, in turn, reciprocates to exceptional customer service, low turnover rate, and delivers positive reinforcement of value and service to its customer base. So in essence, Southwest has effectively implemented the use of organizational culture in terms of value and beliefs by pressing a dominant culture of primary value to its workforce.”

  2. Great advice! I think that the most important one is to make your employees to actually use/try the products or service they are supposed to sell. That way they may find some aspects that can be improved, they will know the product/service in details and will show more empathy and understanding to the clients.

  3. Hey Michael! I totally agree – you can’t just stop at employee onboarding when it comes to instilling company values. There are many things you can do that stretch beyond those first couple of weeks but one thing that’s really important is that the leadership team and managers are leading by example and weaving these values into their everyday mentorship/leadership. This means everything from training, tying new projects to larger values and goals, in 1:1s, praise and critical feedback.

  4. Jim – YES! At Help Scout everyone we hire has a “support week” where they learn to use our product and work with our support team to help customers. It’s super valuable! And if you are in a sales role at Help Scout, it’s even longer than a week!

  5. “Start every employee on customer support” genius decision. Only those who know company’s products & related problems could be useful in the long run. That is why hotel managers, whilst still in college go through all possible jobs there are in the hotel. That way they fully understand the whole business process and how to run it smoothly.

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