That feeling of being a new hire: it’s exciting but a little freaky. Like starting at a new school with people you’ve (probably) never encountered. If you’re joining a product organization, you may find yourself facing more than the regular social politics that surround a new workplace. You may wonder, “How the hell does this product even work?” Even if you learned the basics during your interview process, that question can puzzle new hires, since they often don’t have exposure to the product space.
A new product is scary; it’s overwhelming. And when you’re an early startup, your product IS the company.
If you know our co-founder and CEO Latif Nanji, you know that empathy is a common word in his vocabulary. (As a new hire at Roadmunk, prepare to hear that term at least 10 times in your first day alone.) That’s why it’s no surprise that he understands exactly how his new hires feel coming into this space. A new product is scary; it’s overwhelming. And when you’re an early startup, your product IS the company.
To ease the onboarding process, each new Roadmunk hire does customer support in their first two weeks — no matter the role or department. If that sounds scary to you, imagine how new hires feel… (To this day, I can still hear the ping of a new customer inquiry in my dreams.)
Are we insane?
Did our users get the help they need?
Did our app come crashing down?!
Seeing as all our employees have gone through the process and our customers are still happy, it’s safe to say we’ve survived. Which is why we wanted to share the goldmine of positive reasons for why we’re committed to this initiation phase. Here’s how it benefits our entire staff, company and ultimately, our customers.
Where did we get this idea?
A few years ago, Latif picked up the book Delivering Happiness by Zappos’ CEO Tony Hseih. The book explains how a company-wide focus on employee and customer happiness resulted in one of the fastest-growing startups in Silicon Valley. It was the perfect guide for Latif’s own company vision: a vision entrenched in user and employee empathy.
No matter your role, your job always relates to the company vision and, by extension, the customer.
One of the key concepts Latif drew from Hseih’s book was that customer service is the responsibility of the WHOLE company, not just one department. No matter your role, your job always relates to the company vision and, by extension, the customer. When talking to the customer is the first thing you do in your role, you immediately begin to understand the people whose mission you’re serving. Without that understanding, you have a second-degree connection to the customer.
Why settle for a flimsy, second-degree connection when you can have all employees really comprehend the who, what and why of their user base? By putting employees on the frontline, they immediately form emotional connections with users and — dare, I say it — gain empathy towards their problem.
How to implement this idea (without losing quality)
The philosophy and intention behind having new hires do customer support is all well and good, but how do you put it into practice? To get the ball rolling, our new hires train closely with our Customer Success team in their first few days. Some of the things they learn include:
- How to use Roadmunk
- How to use our customizable template library
- How to use our customer support tool
- How to directly chat with users through the platform (including learning our voice & tone and canned responses to common questions)
- How to use our Knowledge Base to find answers to customer questions
- How to handle tricky and complex customer inquiries
- How to track conversations with customers
- How to find user information
There are three central questions each employee needs to know before plunging into support:
- How do you respond to common questions that are asked?
- How do you do research to answer incoming questions?
- How do you look up information about the customers?
Once they have absorbed all the knowledge like the sponges that they are, the new hire descends into the trenches, where they spend half of their days for the first two weeks responding to incoming user inquiries.
What to say to the nay-sayers
Some of you may be shaking your head at this point and screaming, “Won’t anybody think of the risks?!” What if they give the wrong answer? What if they cost you a customer? What if they accidentally send a GIF of an annoying mannequin challenge? The possibilities.
If we’re being honest, there is a risk in letting brand new employees talk to users at the very start of their stint. But to that we say: Meh. We acknowledge the ‘danger,’ but we have full trust in our Customer Success team and our new hires’ savvy. We have a highly supportive process that ensures Customer Success is:
- Reading through cases
- Reviewing answers by new hires
- Providing feedback
- Taking over complex situations
The Customer Success team is the rock behind the whole process, and they understand that the new employee is being s̶a̶c̶r̶i̶f̶i̶c̶e̶d̶ thrown into something new. So while a risk may exist, you can still have a process in place that will ensure the quality of the employee’s responses and that they receive continuous feedback.
Dealing with hesitation from new hires
Naysayers don’t stop at external skeptics. How do you deal with resistance from the new employees themselves? I’m sure the last thing many recent hires want to hear when they first join is, “So, you’re going to be doing customer support this week! Yay!”
Talking to users is the fastest way to learn their most critical issues — and learn the nuances of your new job.
The response: customer support should be seen as an opportunity, not a burden. Your customers are busy people. They don’t have an hour to spare here and there. Speaking directly to customers and understanding their processes and goals is a huge benefit. Talking to users is the fastest way to learn their most critical issues — and learn the nuances of your new job. Go through the pain with them and you’ll understand it better than anyone.
“The people who speak to our customers the most perform the best at their job,” says Latif. “I want to augment that thinking from the start, especially as a product company. Go help our users and work through the product with them. Not only do you immediately immerse yourself in the company culture, but you will transform your mind to adjust to the product space and align to customer thinking.”
Why does this benefit our employees?
We know Latif is a huge proponent of this idea, but I wanted to know how my fellow colleagues felt about and benefitted from their stint in customer support.
Chatting with our Operations Manager, Roxy, I found out she was a big fan of the process and gained a lot from the firsthand customer contact, especially as an employee who doesn’t directly deal with clients.
One of our developers, Feng, admitted that support was a difficult process to wrap his head around, but in the end, he saw the light. Turns out he still references support conversations to this day.
Eleni, our Marketing Director, felt more confident with her marketing decisions thanks to early exposure to user psychology.
Yes, the process helps employees onboard faster. And yes, it helps new hires learn the product more in-depth. But the benefits extend way beyond the first two weeks:
- Employees refer back to previous support conversations when developing solutions for problems that pop up further down the line.
- They understand the user mindset and apply that knowledge in their day-to-day tasks.
Based on my chats, the process is an empowering experience. As a new hire you’re brought on for your experience. However, chances are your past experience isn’t tailored to your specific new product or market. With exposure to customers early on, new hires adapt their ideas to the new market and have more confidence in their earlier decisions.
How does this align our company?
We delved into why we maintain this practice on an employee level, but what about company-wide?
I spoke to our resident Product Manager, Sameena, to see how the practice affects cross-departmental work — since she gets the privilege of working with everyone.
Stephanie, the head of our Customer Success team, deals with support on a daily basis. She has seen a more cohesive, collaborative and empathetic environment across the board.
With a benchmark understanding of the product established early on, employees and departments jive and grow together much faster. (It’s that damn empathy.) Nothing is more annoying for a company than when your departments lack a cohesive understanding of your vision and product.
When there’s a central understanding, you’ll run a tighter, better-oiled machine.
And finally, how does this help the customer?
We’ve already discussed how putting new hires on support benefits both our staff and our company. But there’s one major reason left to discuss: benefits for the customer.
Our customers are the reason we do this. They’re the sun to our solar system, the peanut butter to our jelly, the cream cheese to our bagel, the… You get the point. So with employees and company culture benefitting from the customer support experience, it only means positive effects for your customers.
By encouraging new hires to communicate directly with customers, companies foster a wider pool of more knowledgeable employees from which to solicit feedback. This means more voices speaking for the customer, figuring out how to solve their problem.
Organizational and departmental trade-offs are viewed differently as decisions are made with more emphasis on the customers’ needs.
Additionally, the more employees speak to users, the more the company shifts towards operating from a customer success standpoint. That is to say, organizational and departmental trade-offs are viewed differently as decisions are made with more emphasis on the customers’ needs.
For example, instead of solely being revenue-focused, the focus is on such things as:
- Understanding the users’ problems (and preferences)
- Holistically understanding how your product fits into their life and/or work
- Ensuring smooth onboarding and ongoing support
Your success relies on providing the best customer experience — with the belief (and proof!) that revenue and growth will flow from that approach. When a customer sees a company understanding their frustrations and honing in on their best interests, it builds loyalty to your brand and your product.
As we mentioned previously, experiencing a user’s pain firsthand puts you on their wavelength, which ends up being way more powerful and impactful than any other means of customer interaction. It’s what Latif calls the “modern way of empathy.”