Are your new employees aware of the multiple ways customers are interacting with your brand? Do they understand your brand promise and what distinguishes you from your competitors? The answers to these questions are critical to delivering an exceptional customer experience (CX).
When onboarding new employees, make sure your organization’s customer-centric philosophy, values, and principles are not buried in an introduction or as a passing mention. New employees are already navigating a steep learning curve, so they may quickly get sidetracked by “what” needs to be done and “how” to do it.
Instead, your organization’s customer-centric culture should be driving and fueling the onboarding process. It should be front and center. Doing so will keep their focus on “who” the customer is and “why” the customer experience matters.
The onboarding process is also an opportunity to emphasize that every employee impacts the experience. If they understand how critical each of their roles is, no matter where they will be working, it will be easier for them to adopt and adapt to your organization’s customer-centric culture, policies, and processes.
Onboarding Versus Orientation
First, let’s understand what onboarding is. Onboarding and orientation are sometimes used interchangeably, but they mean different things.
Onboarding is a process. It is a series of events designed to build awareness, engage, train, integrate, and establish new employees. An effective onboarding process begins right after the job offer is accepted and ends when the new hire is a fully functioning employee. This usually takes at least three months, but it can extend up to a year.
By comparison, orientation is a single event. It is the welcoming stage of onboarding that generally coincides with the first day (or days) of employment. Orientation can include activities such as providing an overview about the organization’s policies and benefits, assigning security passes and passwords, and facilitating introductions to other employees.
When customer-centricity is ingrained in an organization’s culture, both opportunities can be leveraged to empower and align new employees.
The “Orient” Express
Often led by the HR team with input from other departments, the welcoming phase is an opportune time to orient new employees about what to expect and what to focus on. During the orientation event, presenters can:
- Describe customer-centricity as being a big part of “who we are” as an organization
- Emphasize why keeping the brand promise is so important
- Ensure new employees understand that the customer experience is a journey, a series of multiple interactions and touchpoints (not a single transaction)
- Communicate that it is every employee’s responsibility, across the organization and no matter their role, to contribute to delivering exceptional customer experiences
- Provide an overview of the organization’s collaborative, cross-functional processes and systems that, together with people, support customer-centricity
As work becomes more digital, so must our concept of the physical workplace. If some employees no longer need to commute to a specified work location, it becomes particularly critical during onboarding and orientation to impart your organization’s culture and values.
While welcoming new employees in a virtual or hybrid work environment can be more challenging than in an office setting, it is not impossible. Innovative organizations incorporate creative, fun techniques to encourage team building such as ice-breaker social games, screen shares of memes and videos, informal “votes” using emojis in the chat function, and collaborative whiteboard exercises.
It is also important from the outset to enable remote employees to engage with their co-workers, supervisors, and managers through internal messaging. Remote workers should be included in invitations to events such as virtual meetings, town halls, and ceremonies. They should also be apprised of career advancement opportunities. In essence, their location should not be a limiting factor unless it is absolutely necessary for them to set foot in the office.
Onboarding for the Longer Haul
Following orientation, new employees will begin the process of learning their roles and acquiring the knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed to be successful in their job. Over the course of weeks and months, new employees may be asked to engage in learning activities encompassing cultural, technical, and compliance, as well as process or systems training.
During onboarding, new employees can be coached to develop an understanding of what is at stake and appreciate why their contributions matter. The goal is to increase their confidence, as well as their sense of responsibility and accountability, as they work toward a common purpose.
To plan an end-to-end onboarding journey for new employees that takes them in the right direction, consider integrating the following phases and activities:
After the Offer Is Accepted/Prior to the First Day
- Share the organization’s mission, values, culture, and brand vision
- Send a personalized welcome letter encouraging new employees to “take a customer journey” to experience products and services firsthand
- Connect employees with a buddy or mentor in a frontline role to help prepare them for onboarding
- Ensure the buddy or mentor will mention that every role, including back-office processes such as approvals, billing, fulfillment, and shipping, are connected to the customer journey
Connect employees with a buddy or mentor in a frontline role to help prepare them for onboarding
- Host a welcome event that celebrates the organization’s customer-centric culture and reintroduces the organization’s mission, values, culture, and brand vision
- Highlight, through storytelling, examples of customer-focused principles, practices, and behaviors
- Describe possible interactions and touchpoints of the journey and how they can impact the overall experience
- Invite new employees who took a customer journey prior to their first day to share defining moments from a CX perspective
- Enroll employees in formal brand-building training (i.e. what the organization is doing to improve the experience, grow brand awareness, and strengthen brand loyalty)
- Explain CX performance expectations such as loyalty measures and service standards
- Showcase CX resources, training, and CX recognition programs
First 30-90 Days
- Immerse new employees in a sales and service ride-along and/or product experience
- Plan a group activity to welcome honest feedback about the experience (demonstrate that the organization encourages a diversity of perspectives, knowledge sharing, and innovative thinking)
- Deliver formal job-specific CX training
- Arrange for job-shadowing with a customer service representative, like a contact center agent, to hear how the organization shows empathy and solves problems
- Recognize achievements and behaviors aligned with the brand promise and ideal experience
- Survey new hires to bring forward CX improvement opportunities
- Encourage participation in CX innovation sessions to bring a new voice to the design-thinking process
Organizations that only communicate CX principles and practices to frontline employees, such as customer service personnel and sales representatives, risk creating imbalance in the work culture. The most customer-centric organizations take responsibility at every level. For example, the following opportunities exist for:
Executives and Department Leaders
- Define and design the ideal experience, while ensuring the brand promise is communicated and understood across the organization, in every role
- Be role models of customer-centric behaviors, such as interacting with customers on a regular basis
- Inspire collaboration and model inclusiveness
- Implement CX measurements and reward programs that will help managers motivate customer-centric behavior
Managers and Supervisors
- Implement effective performance measurement and CX management systems
- Understand quality standards inherent within the end-to-end experience and how that translates to everyone’s role
- Ensure back-office employees understand how their behavior and actions impact the journey (i.e., responsiveness, empathy, problem-solving, and innovative thinking)
- Ensure employees understand policies and procedures that influence service standards
- Emphasize the types of behaviors that consistently deliver the ideal experience and reward those behaviors
Staying on Track
Throughout and well beyond the onboarding process, defining and reinforcing “who” the customer is and “why” customer experiences matter is of vital importance. Also critical is ensuring employees appreciate how each role is connected to a shared vision.
By understanding the customer journey and its many possible interactions and touchpoints, both new and veteran employees alike will be better equipped to contribute to a customer-centric culture. They will be invested from the start to deliver on the brand promise.
Like a train that keeps on rolling, every passenger will be on board and heading in the same direction.