This is part 1 of a 4 part series on CS onboarding & enablement. Stay tuned for part 2 next month!
We’re about to onboard our first remote Customer Success Manager (CSM), and I’ll be honest – if I didn’t work at LevelJump, I’d be terrified.
The fact that we’re onboarding a CSM remotely isn’t a huge surprise. Since COVID erupted into a global pandemic, we’ve done virtual onboarding and training almost every other role on the go-to-market team, including BDRs, AEs, and RevOps.
It was only a matter of time that we needed another CSM.
But customer success onboarding is a whole other can of worms.
Fortunately since we’re, you know, an onboarding and enablement platform, I’d say we’re pretty well-positioned for this challenge.
Why virtual CS is some scary business
It wasn’t until I sat down and mapped out my program that I realized just how hard it was going to be.
Customer Success (CS) is, after all, close to my heart.
I’ve been working in CS for 3 years now, and helping customers is something I’m incredibly passionate about.
The more I thought about it, the more the question of how to remote customer success onboarding program came down to four key pieces:
- How do you teach someone to be more than just a vendor to your customers?
- How do you teach someone to build relationships with customers, and validate that relationship building is happening?
- How do you replace the massive amount of learning by osmosis that happens when someone new starts? How do you quickly impart the institutional knowledge they need, when its so baked into your business that it’s difficult to even surface yourself?
- How do you teach someone your organizational culture?
I figured if I could build a top onboarding program that did these four things, I’d be in good shape.
At the same time, I knew that virtually onboarding a CSM was going to be a lot more difficult than other roles because the stakes are higher.
For example, if a new BDR doesn’t deliver the value prop perfectly to a prospect, the opportunity cost is pretty low. You might lose a lead, or maybe create a poor experience for your brand. But all in all, it’s not that big a deal.
In contrast, a CSM failing to make a customer successful can cause that client to leave – a pretty expensive mistake.
That’s why our BDRs are certified and talking to people by day 1 of week 2, whereas our CSMs don’t run their own customer calls until month 3.
Finally, I knew that my standard approach wasn’t going to work.
Normally when I run customer success onboarding, I have them learn the product, come and sit in calls with me, and basically spend the first 30 days asking a zillion questions to everyone around them.
By the end, they’ve internalized so much institutional knowledge that the formal onboarding process basically rides shotgun to the natural learning that’s happening all the time.
Without that, I knew I had to approach the problem differently.
Phase 1: Train on product knowledge
I only realized when I started transitioning our existing customer success onboarding to virtual that we’re extremely light on formal product training. When a new hire is sitting in the office with you, that doesn’t matter so much.
When they’re sitting at home by themselves, it matters a lot.
So the first thing I did was beef up our product training.
- I added in technical Salesforce Trailhead trails to help new CSMs learn the Salesforce ecosystem that we’re a part of.
- I added more technical training via Zoom with our product team.
- I added in self-directed learning with specific content in our community.
- I added in tons of Gong calls where we dive deep with customers on thorny technical questions to get them familiar with the more intricate capabilities of the product.
Lastly, because we’re remote, it can be difficult to ask questions as they come up. It’s hard to reach over and tap someone like you can in an office, because it feels weird to have a 1-minute long Zoom call.
So I added in sections where new hires have to comment to confirm that the exercise is complete, creating a space to ask questions or clarify something. I also embedded quizzes for a more formal knowledge check to track progress over time.
I believe this will be enough to get the basics down, and set up new hires for step 2.
Phase 2: Using LevelJump
I’m a big believer in learning by doing, but I also didn’t want to push a CSM who wasn’t ready onto our customers.
So I had our product team spin up a product sandbox for each new CSM.
And this is where our onboarding gets a lot more interesting.
Now, just like we tell our BDR team:
‘ok, you’re trained on the people, product, and process – now go book meetings.’
we can tell our CSMs:
‘ok, you’re trained on the people, product, and process – now go solve some customer problems.’
For this section, I mapped our CSM onboarding to the customer onboarding experience, so our new CSMs would go through the same things our customers do.
It’s almost like they’re the customer and their own customer success manager – with me running regular knowledge and quality checks along the way.
For example, the first thing that our new hires have to do when they get their sandbox environment is get our RevOps team to install LevelJump for them.
They have to go to the AppExchange and actually download the package – same as our customers.
From there, it’s a simple process of moving along the customer onboarding journey, from finding content, establishing benchmarks, building program metrics, etc… all the way to launching their first enablement program.
As each new step is made in the sandbox, there are related milestones in the onboarding program where the new hire has to record a video showing what they did, or have their work reviewed by a senior CSM who can provide feedback as needed.
By onboarding through the customer experience, we not only teach product knowledge that our CSMs need to have, but we also start to build the empathy that’s critical to a positive relationship with the enablers we help.
Phase 3: Start troubleshooting
Once our CSM is rolling with the product, I wanted to shift their focus from being the customer to troubleshooting specific problems that our customers run into.
Partly, I wanted them to learn the common problems people have so they know how to solve them.
But also, I wanted them to be able to say to our customers: ‘I get it. This is super annoying, I’ve been there, and I have the fix you need.’
So the next part of our onboarding essentially runs troubleshooting scenarios in a
learn ==> validate ==> practice ==> review model.
I’ll use the example of a scenario around our just-in-time (JIT) content delivery system to explain.
First, our new hires learn about our just-in-time (JIT) content by reading community pages, release notes, and listening to specific Gong calls (pre- and post-sale) about the feature.
Then, they’d have to validate what they learned. I’m using quizzes and stand and delivers for this, to prove that they’ve absorbed the knowledge. It also gives them a chance to ask questions or clarify anything they don’t understand.
Next, they’re going to go to the sandbox and solve a specific JIT scenario. They won’t know exactly what it is, but it’ll be based around the JIT feature.
And finally, they have to validate their effort with a more senior CSM. Did the fix work? Was it implemented correctly? Did it take the right amount of time?
This review session, again, gives our new team member a specific opportunity to ask questions or clarify anything they don’t understand.
By going through a troubleshooting scenario, we bake in customer empathy as we teach them what they need to know.
Phase 4: Building culture
The final phase for our onboarding is all about building culture. I needed to instill the values of our organization on a new hire, without them being completely surrounded by it.
So to do that, I embedded culture-building tasks directly into our onboarding program. Culture is a core piece of who we are as a company, so there’s no reason for it not to exist alongside the technical requirements of a role.
For instance, on day 3, our new CSMs have to “book a virtual coffee with someone from the engineering team.”
We’re also fortunate that while we’re all 100% remote, most of our team is still located in Toronto Canada, so we can put socially distant team building events in their onboarding, like relaxing together in a local park.
And finally, we ensure they have a great first day. We’ll have a virtual lunch with our CSM team, we mailed our new hires LevelJump swag to get them pumped up, and we ensured their home tech was all set up and ready to go. These minor details matter, and are critical to making your new hires feel like part of the family when it might be weeks or months before you meet in person.
Onboarding is a journey. It’s not over after 30, 60, 90, 120, even 150 days.
There’s always something to learn.
For our new CSMs, next up will be taking everything they know and applying it to real customers. First, by shadowing on customer Zoom calls, then by helping other CSMs in the background (with their work being evaluated and checked) before finally leading and the soloing meetings for accounts they’ll eventually own.
But that’s still to come. Today, I’m happy with how we’re onboarding for the first month.
Be sure to check in at at the end of the month and see how we got on -- and see what onboarding metrics we're looking at for customer success onboarding.
Now if you need me, I’ll be celebrating my newest team member over rye and gingers in the park.
Image credit: Mikey Harris via Unsplash