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5 ways to successfully onboard customer service employees

Customer service leaders often cite agent turnover as one of their biggest challenges. At the same time, poor customer service has an enormous influence on a consumer’s decision to stop buying from that company altogether. So how can customer service leaders keep employees engaged, productive, and happy, while keeping customers happy?

One area to focus on to increase agent effectiveness and happiness is the onboarding process. It’s no surprise that most customer service employees are often happiest in the first three months of their job — that’s typically when onboarding ends and the job begins in earnest. Companies need to prepare agents for the realities of the position if they want to keep them happy and successful.

As a leader at Fundera, I work with many small businesses who take pride in their customer service. Here are the top ways I've seen businesses successfully onboard customer service employees so they feel engaged and happy for the long haul.

1. Showcase your values & internal policies

Whether you’ve got an in-house customer service team or remote employees, the first step to efficient onboarding is to hire employees who are a match for your business’s mission and values.

A major part of onboarding should be reiterating your values and internal policies. With a strong understanding of your values, your team will feel more invested in your business' success. And when they feel confident in your internal policies, they'll be more comfortable diving right into their work.

For example, at the software company Percolate, one of the first tasks a new employee needs to complete on day one is to read an “18-page Google doc detailing the history of the company, culture, values, how to create strong passwords and guidelines for running meetings.”

Don’t expect your employee to memorize an 18-page document, of course. But if you make familiarity with company policy a priority, they’ll know where to go when they need a refresher on company standards and values.

2. Create knowledge bases you can leverage for future hires

A knowledge base for customer service roles should take two forms.

One is creating a master document codifying everything from step one. Give new hires access to that document so they can always refer to the company’s guiding principles, as well as success metrics, best practices, how payroll works, and anything else you expect will help them thrive. This is good practice for any role, not just customer service. Informed employees are happy employees, and ultimately that will lead to greater employee retention.  

Secondly, a knowledge base that customer service reps can use to answer common questions will be helpful in addressing customer questions quickly.

You can get creative with your knowledge base. Take L’Oreal, which developed a mobile app for their onboarding experience. The app comes with bite-sized information “capsules,” fun challenges, and real-life missions that help them put the knowledge they’re learning into practice. You might not have the budget for an iOS app, but you can find creative ways to help employees get familiar with all the information they’ll need to succeed.

3. Pair them with a buddy to help them acclimate

Whether this hire is someone right out of school or an experienced agent, it’s going to take some time for them to get used to how you do business. To speed up that process, you can assign each new hire a buddy or mentor (note: not a manager) that has been through the process themselves and can answer any questions or impart information in a low-stress relationship.

Each buddy should be willing and able to provide hands-on support to the new hire, and to walk that hire through less obvious aspects of getting acclimated to the company. That could include the best lunch spots near the office, or how to use the coffee machine.

Game development company Zynga reportedly does exactly this, pairing up new hires with mentors who help them get through their first week of training bootcamp. The expectation is that both the new hire and the seasoned employee will learn from each other, and build a strong bond that will last beyond the first few days of onboarding.

This is especially important if your customer support is offsite. Remote workers can always use stronger connections with teammates — someone who can make them feel like they belong, even if they don’t work together on the same team.

4. Track onboarding progress

Much of the responsibility for an employee’s onboarding experience falls to the company. But just as you can lead a horse to water but can’t force it to drink, the same goes for employees and onboarding. They need to learn, understand, and display mastery of the company’s processes by engaging with the material.

How can you make sure that an employee is reading the material you provide them? Create a set of basic metrics that you can track and measure throughout the onboarding process, including open rates of onboarding emails and completion of certain crucial tasks.

Salesforce says that it delivers a “personalized journey” of content to new employees over their first few weeks, and tracks how many employees open and click through the content that the company pushes to them via text and email. As a result, Salesforce reported a 30% reduction in questions or “cases” from new employees, since the company can track what issues give new workers the most trouble and work to improve that aspect of each person’s journey.

5. Build relationships between new employees and leaders

The relationship between a new customer service employee and their manager can make or break their experience at a company.

That means it’s on the business to make sure that a new hire’s manager has enough time and bandwidth to address any onboarding issues. Don’t let employees clamor for the attention of a leader who can both answer more complex questions and keep an eye on team success.

To start things off on the right foot, look at Google, which reportedly sends an email to a new manager just before the new hire’s first day. This email lists five simple tasks, including “set up employee onboarding check-ins once a month for the new hire’s first six months,” and “Encourage open dialogue.” The goal here is to emphasize that new hires can and should go to their managers with questions and concerns — and that both parties are aware of this expectation.

Onboarding doesn’t end when the new hire knows where the fridge is or how to get their manager on the line — it continues as they grow into their role. Creating processes and policies like these will make onboarding your customer service employees a smoother, more efficient, and more cost-effective process. It’s no coincidence that some of the companies mentioned above are some of the biggest and most successful in the world: they care about their employees’ onboarding experience, and it pays off.

This is a guest post by Meredith Wood, the VP of Marketing at Fundera, a marketplace for small business financial solutions such as business loans.

Emily Hackeling, Content Marketing at Front
January 15, 2020