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Article 9 min read

How to onboard a remote customer support team successfully

Effective onboarding is essential to modern business success, but it's not always easy – especially if you're trying to onboard a remote customer support team.

By Joe Martin, VP of Marketing at CloudApp, @joeDmarti

Last updated November 3, 2021

Customer support reps have to be knowledgeable about the products and/or services sold by their company so that they can answer customer questions accurately. They also need to be aware of company policy so that they always interact with customers in brand-approved ways.

But teaching new team members these things when they work outside a central office can be difficult. To do so, you need a top-notch virtual onboarding plan.

Keep reading to learn about the benefits of proper onboarding and the four onboarding process steps for a successful remote customer support team.

The benefits of a proper remote onboarding process

Before we dive into how to onboard a remote customer support team, let’s discuss why onboarding new employees is so important.

By implementing a proper onboarding programme, your company can expect:

  1. Improved productivity from new employees

    Let’s be honest – employees are recruited to help organisations achieve goals. If your new staff members can’t contribute effectively for the first few months of employment, your company isn’t getting any closer to meeting its objectives.

    Fortunately, companies with standardised onboarding processes experience 50% greater productivity from new team members.

    This is because effective onboarding shortens the learning curve for new employees. When they know exactly how to accomplish their tasks – or at least the right person to contact when they have questions – they’ll be much more efficient.

  2. Increased employee satisfaction

    Your new employees won’t just work more productively after going through your company’s onboarding programme. They’ll also be happier while they do it. Studies show that employees who experience successful onboarding are 30 times more likely to have high job satisfaction.

    Happy employees generally work harder and more efficiently. In addition, employees who enjoy their jobs are more likely to feel like part of the team, making them open to collaboration with other team members and more creative.

  3. Decreased staff turnover

    According to ClickBoarding, new employees who experience proper onboarding are 58% more likely to be with an organisation after three years.

    This is significant because the cost of recruiting and training new staff members can quickly add up. In fact, a PeopleKeep study shows that employee turnover can cost anywhere from 16% – 213% of the departing team member’s annual salary.

    A proper onboarding program helps ensure that new employees understand their roles, can build important relationships with their colleagues, and enables them to feel comfortable and empowered in their jobs.

    All of these things help guard against high turnover costs.

A quick note on recruitment

The best onboarding programme in the world won’t benefit your company all that much if you recruit the wrong employees.

The best customer support reps are empathetic, have strong communications skills and are able to solve problems effectively.

But remote customer support reps also need to be extremely reliable and self-motivated. After all, you won’t be able to poke your head into their cubicle to check on them. You need to be able to trust that they’ll perform the tasks you ask them to.

If an employee that you’ve recruited isn’t a good fit for your remote customer support team, you’ll need to repeat the process down the road. Plus, you’ll have wasted company resources onboarding the first employee. Save time and money by getting your recruitment right the first time.

Onboard your remote customer support team with these four steps

Once you have the right people on your team, it’s time to onboard them.

Onboarding doesn’t have to be a complicated process. Simply follow the four-step outline below and you’ll be able to have new employees up and running in no time.

1. Develop an onboarding timeline

Your onboarding process should include more than a quick introductory meeting and a directive to read through your company’s employee handbook. In fact, onboarding should begin before your employee’s first day on the job.

Let’s take a look at a few key onboarding milestones:

  • Before the first day: You should send all legal documentation, employee handbooks and other important material to new employees before they officially begin working for your organisation. Encourage them to fill in the required forms and send them back ASAP. We also suggest creating a ‘first week’ schedule for new team members so that they know exactly what to expect when they begin working for you. 
  • The first day: Now that the big day is here, your onboarding process should change gear. Let all current remote customer support team members know that a new employee is joining their ranks. Then host a team-wide meeting to get everyone acquainted. Next, go through and explain your ‘first week’ schedule to new staff members and let them know what you expect of them.
  • The first week: Your new employee’s first week will probably feature a lot of training. Make sure that they feel comfortable in their new role and have been paired with a mentor who will give them any help they need. They’ll also need to be given access to the customer support technology tools used by your company. 
  • Beyond: Most experts agree that onboarding programmes should last for at least three months. However, studies show that employee retention increases when onboarding lasts for a whole year. Do what you can to build a lengthy onboarding programme that trains remote customer support team members thoroughly in how to do their jobs. 

When developing onboarding protocols for your company, make sure that you include each of the milestones listed above with an onboarding checklist. Doing so will help you create a more effective programme.

2. Create engaging training materials

Training new employees, while necessary, can feel extremely tedious – especially if the training only consists of dry employee handbooks.

Instead of using written documents exclusively to teach staff members about organisational policies, the products or services that your company sells and the customer support workflows used by employees on a regular basis, consider adopting other content types.

Screen recordings, GIFs and annotated screenshots can be highly engaging training materials that fill new employees with enthusiasm about the work you’ll ask them to do.

Research from CloudApp suggests that 83% of employees prefer to watch a video to learn how to carry out a new task. It’s a good idea to include visual training elements in your company’s onboarding programme.

3. Track onboarding progress

You can provide new employees with the training materials they need, but that doesn’t guarantee that they’ll absorb all of the information. That’s why it’s so important to track each new employee’s onboarding progress.

Check in with them on a regular basis and make sure that they:

  • Absorb their training content
  • Understand what it means
  • Know how to ask questions when they arise

We recommend establishing a set of basic metrics that you can monitor – things like email opening rates and the completion of vital tasks in each stage of the onboarding process. This will make it easier to gauge each new employee’s progress to becoming a contributing team member.

Note: If a new team member doesn’t prioritise their training or completely refuses to go through with it, you may need to question your recruitment processes. While training can sometimes feel like a chore, successful employees should realise its importance and be willing to endure it in order to better serve your company.

4. Prioritise remote team building

Remote work has many benefits. In fact, remote employees are generally happier, more productive and cost their organisations less.

But working outside a traditional office setting can also have drawbacks. Remote workers can become lonely because they don’t usually have the same level of human interaction as their in-office counterparts and it’s harder to get to know the company culture.

When onboarding new remote customer support team members, make sure that you prioritise team building and provide practical ways for staff members to build relationships with each other. You can do this by scheduling group video calls, hosting team-wide Slack chats and facilitating non-work conversations between colleagues.

According to the Harvard Business Review, employees who have a best friend at work are generally happier, healthier and seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. Win!

Remote onboarding tips

If you follow the four-step process outlined above, you’ll be able to implement an effective virtual onboarding process quickly for your company.

Now, if you really want to kick your onboarding efforts into high gear, bear these three tips in mind:

Share company values

Pro tip no. 1: Share company values

The onboarding stage is the perfect time to share your company’s values with new employees. That way, they’ll understand from the start what your team stands for.

This is especially important for remote customer support teams, whose members won’t be able to learn about company values by observing their colleagues on a daily basis.

Sharing your company’s why will immediately engage new team members in their work and make them feel more invested in your company.

Buddy system

Pro tip no. 2: Use the ‘buddy system’

The best onboarding programmes include at least some element of mentorship. If possible, pair new employees with more experienced team members, who can show them the ropes and help them get up to speed in their new roles.

The key is assigning a mentor who’s right for each new employee. Mentors should be willing participants and able to take a hands-on approach.

While remote colleagues won’t be able to meet in person, the buddy system can still be used thanks to modern technology. Encourage new employees and mentors to connect on a tool such as Slack or via video conferencing to build positive relationships.

Asynchronous communication

Pro tip no. 3: Invest in asynchronous communication

Lastly, we suggest investing in asynchronous communication.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, asynchronous communication is any form of communication that does not happen in real time. For example, most emails, Slack messages, video recordings and Google Doc comments don’t need to be responded to immediately.

Asynchronous communication is almost mandatory for remote customer support teams. This is because remote employees generally operate from multiple locations around the world, which implies different time zones and working hours.

By investing in an asynchronous communication channel like CloudApp, remote customer support reps will find it easy to create:

  • Screen and webcam recordings
  • Fun GIFs
  • Annotated screenshots

They’ll also be able to communicate with each other in a productive manner.

Boost your remote customer support team

An effective onboarding programme for your remote customer support team will help boost productivity and employee satisfaction, as well as reducing staff turnover.

Fortunately, implementing a successful onboarding process that works isn’t rocket science.

  1. Develop an onboarding timeline
  2. Create engaging training materials
  3. Track onboarding progress
  4. Prioritise remote team building

Remember, the onboarding experience isn’t a one-off deal. It’s a continual process that ideally starts before a new employee’s first day on the job and ends at the end of one year. Good luck!

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