Osmotic Learning for Customer Onboarding Teams: How to Make it System-Driven

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Often the success or failure of customer onboarding and implementation projects falls squarely on the work of a single individual. To onboard a customer effectively and make them successful on your solution usually takes a combination of acquired experience, heroic commitment, and ad hoc supporting material. Banking on such experience and know-how isn’t scalable, and typically the success of the top-tier individuals cannot be easily duplicated. Most organizations are not successful at transferring such tribal knowledge or at cultivating the right individual traits and skills needed for the most effective customer onboarding.

Prior to COVID-19, training employees for effective implementation and onboarding was through osmotic learning: the informal learning that team members receive through overhearing and collaborating with a successful onboarder. What has previously been a by-product of office work culture and proximity now needs to be reconsidered for any setting. Besides, the hit-or-miss nature of such training and preparation must become more consistent and methodical. The osmosis must be engineered and formalized instead of being left to serendipity.

Designing an osmosis-friendly process for effective customer onboarding ensures that one can quickly equip onboarding and implementation specialists to run projects without risking gaps in the customer experience.

Particularly with mid-market and enterprise customers, there is often a marked variation in goals, behaviors, and approaches for particular customers or segments of customers. It is important to recognize these differences and know the specific playbooks to apply. Seasoned team members, for instance, may have knowledge of workarounds and previously used approaches for customers facing certain situations that may not be part of a formal training program. Companies cannot let these subtle and even less subtle differences and their corresponding approaches slip through the cracks because of uneven training and missed learning moments.

The most important improvement that can prepare and equip customer onboarding teams for optimal success is evolving from a people-driven approach to a system-driven approach. Rather than being left up to the team member being in the right place at the right time and gaining knowledge from seasoned onboarding professionals, a systems-led approach captures all of that know-how, along with the nuances and proven insights to help both train and guide the onboarding team.

Here are six steps for building more system-driven osmosis:

  1. Create and incorporate checklists: More than training programs and guides, checklists help shape the right behavior in your teams. By iterating on checklists regularly, you can preempt or avoid future problems. Creating and using templates and playbooks with checklists help drive consistency and excellence.
  2. Clone the latest experiences to evolve project templates: Build in systems that ensure teams use the latest templates and don’t use outdated documents or plans. A unified repository enables version control, collaboration, and consistency, while avoiding unnecessary reinventing of the wheel.
  3. Establish a way to create centralized development and continuous improvement of the onboarding methodologies and documents: Ensure all team members take charge of the documents/templates on a fortnightly basis, as this brings in the best ideas from everyone and creates a sense of ownership around these templates and playbooks. You could also share regular updates with all team members to highlight changes from every cycle. Proactive communication of what has changed, and why, is important for the team to absorb those changes.
  4. Collect periodic customer feedback and ratings: Incorporate a structured feedback mechanism from customers to establish a closed loop for the team member to learn, improve, and course-correct.
  5. Utilize “information radiators”: In office settings, physical information radiators (such as whiteboards) help make updated information visible to all members. In a digital setting, invest in a tool that can ensure regular and consistent communication with all team members. This could even be done through a slack channel where people post about things that worked or went wrong for them in a recent implementation. Others can learn from these insights and incorporate into the system.
  6. Integrate tools/software: Too often, customer onboarding teams use a myriad of general-purpose tools and collaborate on multiple documents during every implementation and onboarding journey. A system that can seamlessly integrate project management, communication, document collaboration, and workflow into one unified experience enables a new level of efficiency and effectiveness, in addition to centralizing content resources for ease of access. There’s new work created from documents, project plans, meetings, and they all need to be tracked as a single workstream to avoid people dropping the ball. Also, enabling internal and external collaboration to coexist in one space ensures critical conversations and learning moments aren’t hidden away in direct messages or emails.

Osmosis should not be left to happenstance. Tribal knowledge is a good thing, but it needs to feed a system and be evaluated, improved, and available for all team members to absorb and use. The system is more than just specialized software. It needs to capture know-how and experience and align it with goal-oriented, collaborative plans and processes. Systems do not supplant quality practitioners; instead, they empower and multiply their efforts. The combination makes customer onboarding efficient for the team and effective for the customer.

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