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5 onboarding tips to help prepare customer-facing employees

By Liz Melton · July 4, 2023
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My first job out of college was advising companies about Salesforce best practices. The problem? I didn't even know what Salesforce was. My employer knew that, but they threw me in the deep end, having me perform unit tests on day one. And within a few weeks, I had my footing.

Since then, I've been thinking of how to replicate parts of that experience to enrich and accelerate onboarding for customer-facing teams. Here's what I came up with.

5 ways to onboard customer-facing employees

Managers of customer-facing teams have a distinct challenge: they don't have a lot of time to spend coaching their direct reports one-on-one, but they need to be confident that they can trust their employees to work directly with customers.

Here are some ways I've found work to maximize the resources you have and get your new hires client-ready faster.

1. Help with QA

Testing is a major part of product development. The more eyes you have on something, the more likely you'll be able to catch bugs before shipping a new feature. But often, QA testers are the most tenured people in the company—they know the product in and out. 

Why not flip that script and give some of that QA work to your new hires? It gets them into the tool right away, and in turn, they grasp expected product behavior faster. And in the meantime, they might even surface errors or blockers customers may encounter without your knowledge—or maybe they'll even come up with a solution to the problem.

2. Write SOPs

Some leaders have new hires shadow their peers. While that's usually helpful in some capacity, the new folks rarely retain everything they've seen. It's information overload, and it's hard to expect them to internalize it all. 

Another common approach is to make new hires read through standard operating procedures (SOPs). But until these employees have access to all the right tools and experience with the teams involved, SOPs aren't very practical. 

My suggestion: combine the two. As new hires shadow their colleagues, have them document the processes they see being carried out in real-time.

The resulting "SOP" may not be completely accurate, but that's kind of the point. Typing out their own version of an SOP forces them to consider whether steps might be missing. Or, if they don't understand the purpose of a certain step, they're prompted to ask questions that will fill in the gaps.

Your new hires will also see these processes with fresh eyes. That means they're more likely to spot opportunities to streamline workflows—something that can turn into one of their first projects.

And, of course, the act of writing things out helps people remember what they've seen and connect different ideas together in their heads. That way, they form a more complete picture of what your team and your customers do and why it matters—faster.

3. Design an interactive demo

If your company has interactive demo software, consider giving new hires a license and asking them to create an ideal interactive demo that shows off one of your product's best features. Since interactive demos are relatively short, new hires will have to put themselves in the customers' shoes and identify the most important use cases and features.

They'll also have to think about how to tell a story in a way that produces "aha moments"—points at which the customer understands the product's value and how it solves their main pain point. It's a great way for the new hire to get to know the customers and for the company to benefit from a fresh perspective.

4. Run through the free trial or demo request workflow

Your free trial or demo request form is one of the first touchpoints you have with potential customers. Hopefully, someone on your team is running through this workflow regularly, but it's easy for it to become a set-it-and-forget-it workflow.

By having new hires go through the flow, they can pick up on any errors, inconsistencies, or confusing points—all while learning more about your product or service and the messaging attached to it.

They'll also get a taste of what their clients went through during the lead cycle, giving them ideas for communicating and highlighting certain features in a way that your ideal customer will appreciate.

5. Interview a customer or partner 

Most new employees don't meet your customers or partners until they've been working for a while. But why not? When new hires join, they're still a relatively impartial contributor. They haven't built the product, developed the service, or constructed the messaging. They might be able to get more honest responses out of stakeholders and learn things you didn't even know. 

Giving new hires that kind of freedom seems risky. If you're not completely convinced, have them prepare a list of questions beforehand that you can review (and shadow them on the call in case they need backup). If you're really not into the idea, you can get similar results by having the new hire pick a handful of reviews of your company and then summarize their findings.

Encourage reflection

One last tip: ask new hires to reflect every week during their first month. These three questions can help them strengthen their understanding of the company and the customers: 

  • What surprised you?

  • What frustrated you?

  • What can we do better?

You might even gain some suggestions for improving the onboarding process itself.

Related reading:

  • How to automate employee onboarding and offboarding

  • The best employee onboarding software

  • 10 tips and tools for IT teams to onboard and offboard employees

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