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.