Support has one of the highest turnover rates across all industries. About 24% of customer service agent agents quit their jobs every year, leaving companies with the need to hire new people on a monthly basis.
But hiring is only half of the problem support teams face due to employee turnover - and more often than not, it‘s the easiest part. Helping newcomers master their new job (as quickly as possible) is a whole other challenge.
Managers are always fighting with the inconsistency monster hiding in every support team, ready to cause trouble whenever a new hire lacks proper training.
With 58% of customers feeling frustrated by receiving a different treatment each time they contact customer service, one cannot overestimate the importance of proper agent onboarding to get newcomers to the same level as the rest of the team.
To create successful training programs, you need to approach this topic in a well-organized manner. We’ve made it easy for you.
Download this free checklist template and read on to learn how to set up your customer service agent onboarding program.
✅ Introduce support vision & goals
Before you dive into the details of how to do customer service, take a step back and describe your company’s support vision and goals. This helps agents understand why you do things the way you do and not like, for example, how it was done in their previous company.
Your first onboarding session should cover the following topics:
- What do we do? Introduce the customer service channels and services that you offer. E.g., Some companies provide quick help via live chat, while others aim for profound demos via video calls.
- Whom do we serve? Explain who the users are that you offer customer service to - and why. E.g., Some companies offer support to paying customers only; others treat all users equally. Help your new agents understand the reasons behind these decisions.
- How do we serve them? Customer service strategies range from fast and to-the-point replies to deep conversations targeted at upselling products and increasing user engagement. E.g., Many B2C companies with large customer bases focus only on providing quick answers, while businesses interested in support-driven growth implement various sales and marketing techniques in their conversations.
The answers to these questions might sound obvious to you and everyone who has been working on your team for a while, but they won’t to your new hires.
All newcomers arrive with their unique baggage of customer service experiences that they’ve gained as consumers or from their previous jobs in other support teams. Their ideas of what great customer service is about might not suit your company’s strategies.
Take the time to explain your support goals and vision. It’s a crucial part of the onboarding process that helps to make sense of the rest of the program.
✅ Meet the team
Customer service is a team game. Plant your cooperation seeds as early as possible and you’ll be happy to reap the fruits later.
You’ll be surprised to know how many support reps think that they are the only ones in their companies who know how to help customers. That’s a clear sign of team coherence going sideways.
Help new customer service agents establish good relationships with their colleagues:
- Share an intro of your newest hires to your team via Slack, email, or any other communication channel that you use. Having a new colleague should not come as a surprise to anyone.
- Gather your team for a morning coffee or lunch break to welcome new team members. Let them get to know each other.
- Do an office tour and introduce the rest of the company. Pay special attention to the teams that your support agents work closely with (like support engineers and product managers).
Without sharing the team spirit and introducing the support vision described above, your onboarding program will fall short of building co-operation among your team.
✅ Coaching and mentoring programs
Before we get to product training - which is the first (and often the only) part of new agent onboarding flows in many companies, - there’s one more thing you should set up first.
Create peer programs for intensive and efficient onboarding. Combine both of the following methods for best results:
- Coaching is one of the most effective ways to teach new agents about their job. Assign senior team members as their coaches to share first-hand experience and knowledge about how to provide customer service in your company.
- Mentoring helps new agents settle in the team. While coaching focuses mostly on learning about the daily job, mentors usually help newcomers on a wider range of topics like planning out professional development, introducing the right people to talk to for specific issues, or even just finding the best lunch spot nearby.
There’s a lot your team can learn from each other. Oldtimers usually know many great workarounds and resources that they can share with the new folks. That’s why teams like Automattic provide systematic peer feedback during (and after) onboarding programs.
By the way, coaching and mentoring is not just helpful for the new agents. Trusting your seasoned team members with this extra responsibility can be a major motivation booster for them.
✅ Product training
Flawless product knowledge is definitely one of the essential ingredients of customer service in all companies (it’s also one of the top 3 things to assess in customer service quality assurance). So, product training is an integral part of your onboarding program.
However, many teams find it difficult to create a proper framework for teaching newcomers about their product. Here’s a list of the key components you should focus on:
Describe your target users. Instead of jumping into the features and functionalities, start from discussing who the product is built for. For example, sales CRMs are usually built for sales teams; salespeople and their managers are their main users.
Most companies have defined their buyer personas for product development and marketing purposes. Introduce your ideal customers to your support folks, too. Knowing this background helps agents understand the broader context of why your products matter. Your agents will also benefit from getting to know the people they are going to be talking to.
Explain why your customers use the product. Users don’t buy or subscribe to products for their features. According to the Jobs-to-Be-Done business theory, people ‘hire’ products to perform certain tasks for them.
Note that different users might use the product for different purposes. For example, salespeople need a CRM to manage their contacts and deals, while managers use it for tracking and reporting. If you’d like to learn more about the Jobs-To-Be-Done approach, read about what customer service looks like from through this lens.
Go through different user scenarios. Again, don’t approach your product feature by feature. It’s difficult to get the true notion of what you’re offering to your customers if you focus only on its functionalities.
Look at each of your target user separately and walk your agents through real scenarios as if you were the customers using the product. Play out different uses cases and help your agents understand the reasons the product works as it does.
Outline options for advanced users. Only when your agents understand why people need your products and how they use them, should you dive deeper into any advanced use cases.
Once your team can grasp how the core product functions, head over to integrations, user permissions, custom variables, and other more complex topics.
If you don’t know where to start your product training - start from the customer. That’s the most important perspective from which to look at your business, especially customer service.
✅ Tools and proceedings
Now that your new customer service agents have become familiar with who you are, what you do and how do you help your users with your products, you’re good to go on introducing your internal customer service mechanics.
Make sure to cover:
- Tools that you use for support, internal communication, bug reporting, video calls, etc. Give access to those solutions and explain the whys and hows to make sure agents understand which tool to turn to in different situations.
- Proceedings for support-related issues like whom to approach in case the app is down or where to post feature requests, and other topics like how to schedule vacations or call in sick.
Team members often play an important role in helping newcomers get accustomed to the tools and proceedings of the company. Hopefully, you didn’t skip the mentoring part above.
✅ Customer service macros, templates & hacks
Once you’ve introduced your support team’s toolkit with your newcomers, tell them about your useful productivity hacks, too. If you have mentoring and coaching programs in place, you’ll be able to cover most of these topics with the help of fellow support agents:
- Macros and templates help to keep answers consistent across teams and reduce agents’ time spent on writing the same replies over and over again. Make sure your newcomers know how to use these.
- Knowledgebase articles, product videos, blog posts, and other resources are great learning materials for your newest team members. These are also great things to share with the customers in support interactions, so don’t forget to introduce these to your new teammates.
- Product workarounds that help agents help customers. Your seasoned support members know the most common issues your users face when using the product. Share your team’s workarounds with the new folks so that they will be prepared for the questions that are most likely to pop up.
Your customer service team is probably the best resource from whom to learn about the support hacks that make agents’ job easier. There’s no need to let every new colleague of yours reinvent the wheel and waste precious time on finding out things everybody else already knows.
“When reviewing tickets of seasoned Happiness Engineers, especially those of Team Ohana (they work with complicated, escalated tickets), I almost always have “Today I Learned” moments,” explains Grigorij Urasov, Happiness Engineer at Automattic, the benefits of reviewing experienced agents’ tickets.
✅ Communication style
Customer service is the voice of your company. So, you should not only be concerned about what your agents say but how they say it, too.
Let your newcomers know how you expect them to communicate with your customers:
- Voice and tone set the mood for the conversation. The first one expresses your personality, the latter reflects the specific emotion or attitude in a particular situation. E.g., be formal but not arrogant, or be fun but not silly.
- Language and structure aspects touch upon topics like whether it is OK to use slang and abbreviations. Also, are you fine with using emojis?
- Formatting covers topics like when to use bold, how to add links or which date formats to choose.
- Screenshots and other visuals should always be included with your style guide. Give your agents the right tools and know-how for creating images they can share with your customers.
Find real customer conversations to include as examples in your communication guide. This will help your newcomers understand the voice of your support.
✅ Real-life support cases with training wheels
When you’ve covered all the bits and pieces of your support from the company vision down to correct punctuation, it’s time to let your new agents get into the action.
Here’s how you can allow newcomers start talking to your customers without losing sleep:
- Review agents’ responses before they are sent out. For example, Klaus offers a special Training Wheels app on the Zendesk marketplace that requires all newcomers’ responses to be approved by dedicated team members before they sent to customers. This way you can prevent any mistakes from slipping through.
- Provide feedback on all conversations. During the onboarding period, you will come across responses that are correct but have room for improvement (e.g., suggestions to use a better opening line or to offer additional reading resources for the customer). Conversation reviews help you provide systematic feedback to your agents throughout the training program (and beyond).
Letting new agents hop into real-life support cases is the fastest way to onboard them to your team. However, doing it without any supervision can backfire quickly.
✅ Intro to team & company culture
We’re covered most of the parts of successful customer service onboarding. Before wrapping it up, let’s shift our focus to your team and company culture.
Help your newcomers settle in by introducing your traditions:
- Team events: tell agents about the non work-related things you do together. Some teams have monthly hangouts at the office, while others play badminton twice a week. Make sure your fresh colleagues know everything that is going on and don’t feel left out. Extend an invite to your favorite activity!
- Company events: introduce your company traditions like your Christmas parties, global team events and all hands meetings.
- Celebrations: tell newcomers about other events like birthday celebrations or the end of new teammates’ trial periods.
- Content: share books, blog posts, articles, and other content published about your company to help newcomers understand your corporate identity.
Working in customer service can be stressful, so most companies go the extra mile to keep their teams motivated and happy by creating a fun and enjoyable company culture. Let your newcomers know about your traditions, so they can be prepared for the fun part, too.
✅ Create your customer service agent onboarding checklist
Now that we’ve covered all of the most important parts of customer service agent onboarding, it’s time to complete the last task.
Create an onboarding checklist for your team. Download this free checklist template we’ve made for you and:
- Insert your company details into the topics we’ve covered (e.g. your company’s support vision)
- Fill in the specific names of who will perform each task on your checklist (e.g., coaches and mentors).
- List all the details based on your team (e.g. support tools, communication guidelines).
Give this checklist to your new agents so they’d have a clear overview of what to expect. Follow this flow and tick tasks off as you go.
The ten aspects covered in this post provide a framework for a systematic customer service onboarding program. The specific details under each of these topics vary from company to company. However, most successful teams include all of these areas when welcoming new agents.
Create a detailed checklist for your team and make customer service agent onboarding fast and efficient. Also, let us know how Klaus’s Training Wheels worked out for you.