A Guide to Onboarding Customer Success Specialists with Ease (Free Template Included)
You've hired a customer success specialist. You're ready for them to do the work, but how do you ensure they start on the right foot?
As their manager, it's your job to help them navigate:
- What can be an overwhelming number of faces and names;
- Technologies and tools;
- Customers they must meet with during the customer onboarding process, employees, and clients who will rely on the CSM.
We've compiled our best tips for onboarding a customer success specialist or CSM (Customer Success Manager).
We also included a free 30-60-90 onboarding plan template you can easily customize to your organizational needs.
You'll help your new hires get the most out of the onboarding process, setting them up for success right off the bat!
✈️ What is customer success onboarding?
Customer success onboarding involves integrating new customer-focused employees into your company's operations and culture.
Onboarding plays a strategic role for customer service specialists:
- It helps them build long-lasting relationships within their team and across the organization.
- It helps new hires understand the product's value quickly.
- It shares insights into how customers can use your product to solve their problems.
- It establishes a foundation for long-term customer success by helping customers start small and build momentum.
➡️ Discover how to create an onboarding strategy in 5 steps and get a free onboarding strategy template.
What does a customer success manager do daily?
There are two salient aspects that customer success specialists cover daily:
- Recognize and help customers accomplish their goals with a product after purchase (an essential factor for the Software as a Service (SaaS) business model).
- Facilitate a strategy for a brand to keep customers by providing support that encourages repeat purchases.
Who is a customer onboarding specialist?
The CSM will get customers up to speed with your products by:
- Taking the customer from being a trial user to buying the product and offering ongoing support.
- Explaining their best uses.
- Making sure they get the best benefits out of the product;
- Offering guidance on best practices;
- Answering questions.
❗️ Why is customer success specialist onboarding important?
Jaime Torchiana, M.S at Exemplary Performance, outlined some critical data on the need for CSMs:
Why is customer success specialist onboarding important?
- Customer Success roles have seen a 736% increase since 2015,
- Companies that consider CS as a strategic 1+ see a higher improvement in key metrics.
No other position requires employees to know the ins and outs of a product in so much depth.
New customer success specialists must gain a thorough understanding of the products. Plus, this role requires specific skills to ensure customer satisfaction.
Your CSMs need to learn the products to help customers get up to speed.
During and following the customer success onboarding process, the CSM will learn, among others, about:
- product USPs,
- sales processes,
- goals and customer base.
"Employers don't have a lot of time to make a good impression, so you have to make employee onboarding count. A successful onboarding program engages new employees, sets their expectations for working with your company, and makes them feel you're invested in their success." HRCI Learning Center.
The onboarding process for a CSM is different because the new hire's duties serve as the first interaction between customers and your product.
The CSM onboarding process should prepare your new hire to:
- Train new customers to benefit from your product or service.
- Work with other teams to help customers and resolve issues.
- Become a specialist in the uses of the product.
- Apply product knowledge to benefit the customer for better user experiences.
- Keep in touch with your customers and address any concerns.
- Support the customers to determine whether they can accomplish their goals.
By centralizing all processes on a single platform like Zavvy and integrating them with other departments, companies can create an onboarding process for CSMs that works like magic.
🏆 9 Essential objectives of the customer success onboarding process
Preparation is everything
Pair the CSM with an experienced colleague: an onboarding buddy. A mentor makes your new Customer Success Manager feel welcome and acclimated to their new role.
In many companies, new employees start with HR-specific tasks—signing, documentation, and learning about your company's communications tools (Slack, email).
Define the new CSM's role
Define the role of a customer success specialist and how they fit into your company.
Role clarity makes it easier for CSMs to do their job effectively.
This stage is an excellent opportunity to connect the CSM with other employees through:
- team leaders chats,
- listening to the functions of different roles,
- jumping on a call with the trainer during a customer interview.
These interactions will clarify the role and connect the new hire to the company's departments.
New employee engagement is key to success from day one. So check out 11 best practices to boost it in your organization.
What are the CSM's goals? How will they help achieve yours?
Set clear boundaries on time allowed for:
- Meetings, e.g., schedule 30-45 minute one-on-one meetings with department heads.
- Customer interaction.
- Administrative tasks.
Another element to focus on is learning outcomes.
Jason Cordes, Founder of Cocoloan UK, stresses the need to set clear expectations for the learning curve when onboarding. He also adds the extra tip of incorporating self-paced learning:
"Making progress is more straightforward when you can see the entire path from start to finish. [...]Encourage self-directed learning. [...] training staff should promote self-learning rather than going through everything from beginning to end."
Encourage a fresh perspective
A new CSM is in a prime position to ask questions. Fresh eyes on every issue allow them (and the company they represent) an unbiased view of all matters.
Tip: Invite the CSM to ask whatever questions as their onboarding journey progresses.
Define the desired outcome
Your new hires will have a better experience when they receive clear success metrics. For customer success specialists, the metrics can be customer focused. One example can be: "we want our customers' NPS score to exceed 50."
Other metrics can be customer retention or churn rate to measure success.
Regardless of what metric(s) you use, it's essential that new hires understand why these numbers matter and how they relate to revenue growth goals and individual performance.
Achieve product understanding
The CSM must become a product expert. A clear understanding of your product features will enable the CSM to offer the most relevant advice. Plus, a CSM onboarding should explain the product value proposition, i.e., why customers buy your products.
Product training will clarify what questions to ask during a customer interview and how feedback improves products or services.
Jason Cordes, Founder of Cocoloan UK, stresses the importance of value-driven knowledge when onboarding a CSM:
"The first and most crucial step in onboarding a new employee in customer success is to emphasize that the value that customers will derive from the product, not its features. Although every CSM should be a product specialist, their primary responsibility is to assist clients in using the product to solve their business challenges."
Jason also stresses the need to train your new customer success specialist on the appropriate terminology: "Consistency is crucial for clients learning how to use a new product. Your team should use the same vocabulary in all the tools that consumers may utilize, from help center articles to live chats with a CSM."
Get to understand the sales process
The new customer success specialist must know salesperson performances and provide feedback if necessary by 60-90 days into the process.
Speak with customers
This part of onboarding in the first 60 days accomplishes:
- Learning the USPs by speaking with the users.
- Supporting customer expectations through their product usage, pre-sales, and after-sales, especially when problems arise, i.e., product demonstrations.
- Solving problems through customer engagement to provide solutions for common issues.
Develop relationships with key personnel
This includes stakeholders, senior leadership, and other business units. This onboarding phase brings the CSM up to speed on processes and enables them to develop relationships with key personnel:
- Sales reps to understand what features are important for each type of buyer.
- Sales development representatives to understand how to use buyer persona accuracy to understand the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns.
- Product developers to understand how they translate and prioritize customer preferences, needs, and challenges into components of the final product.
👀 What does an effective customer success specialist onboarding process look like?
An onboarding process for customer success specialists should focus on:
- Getting to know the company, products, key stakeholders, and objectives.
- Learning the customer journey from a customer's perspective.
- Understanding how customers use the product or service to solve their problems.
➡️ Make use of video. Here are examples and template scripts to help you swiftly create an onboarding video for your new employee.
Roadsurfer used Zavvy to share quizzes that enabled CSMs to quickly learn their campervan FAQs and pricing terms.
"Before Zavvy, we strongly relied on in-person events to train people. With our rapid growth and the pandemic hitting, we needed a digital solution for that. People had to be smoothly introduced into our more and more complex processes. At the same time, we still wanted to give people a warm experience from day 1." Barbara Imm, Head of HR, Roadsurfer.
A robust onboarding process over 90 days allows the CSM to:
- Integrate into the company culture and understand the product mission.
- Understand target customer base needs and expectations.
- Create feedback questionnaires for internal departments monthly.
🚀 Your customer success onboarding 30-60-90 plan template
This roadmap outlines the specific objectives, milestones, and deliverables over 90 days. At the end of this timeframe, the CSM understands how product usage affects customer value and retention and how to drive long-term growth.
Read Zavvy's approach to a 30-60-90 day plan to see the structure that is to follow.
Here is your plan to onboard a Customer Success Specialist.
Preboarding: Day 0
The preboarding process allows you to ensure that the new hire knows:
- What resources are available to them.
- How you can help them succeed in their role.
- What onboarding will be like, and who will contribute.
➡️ Preboarding software offers the optimum way to engage with the new hire before the first day. It provides an opportunity to get to know your CSM better before they meet role-centric challenges.
- Use Zavvy and Slack to briefly introduce the company and its culture through videos or reading material.
- Send out a welcome onboarding email that includes any documentation that needs signing, and account access details, e.g., Slack, Office, tax forms, NDAs, etc.
- Send the welcome pack to the new hire at this stage.
- Ask your new CSM to fill out an employee profile.
- Schedule the first onboarding meeting to introduce yourself and meet the onboarding buddy.
- Create a schedule for the first week of onboarding.
- Create a 30-60-90 onboarding checklist that sets priorities and goals.
- Inform the new hire of their schedule for their first day, so they know what to expect.
First Month: Days 1-30
The first month on the job is all about getting to know the company's business goals, customer profiles, and systems. In this way, the CSM will understand how their work will affect the company's bottom line.
Key Objectives: Get to know team members, relevant departments, and tools, attend meetings, and experience the customer success plan journey.
Start the introductions and training for the tools.
- If in-house, greet the new hire on entering the premises and provide the CSM with relevant access to the building, e.g., cards.
- Have a 1-1 meeting to go through the first week's tasks and expectations.
- Hold a 1-1 meeting at least once a week for the first month.
- Team Introduction: Introduce the new hire to team members of the departments associated with the role, e.g., product teams, marketing, and sales.
- Get the new hire familiar with the daily tools and prioritize virtual tools if remote.
- Introduce the CSM to the onboarding buddy (optional: and mentor).
- Introduce to other CSMs in the firm, as there will be a common point of interest to share on job expectations and daily tasks.
- Host the first team meeting with relevant department managers attending.
- Start a plan to create a product expert with broad knowledge of best practices and identify potential case studies.
- Everything builds on the CSM's foundational understanding of your product or service.
- The mentor should shadow a senior CSM (or their mentor) through a use case with a customer: describe the customer's challenges, and compare their progress against goals.
- Complete networking within the company teams.
- Attend 1-1s and team meetings.
- Accurate documentation of calls while receiving mentoring, meeting discussions, and training.
- Fill out a survey to find out how the CSM feels about the first 30 days.
Here are some questions to ask the new CSM at the end of the 30 days cycle.
- Did the job meet your expectations?
- Have you encountered any major obstacles or setbacks?
- Do you feel your workplace provides the tools and training needed to do your job?
- For the next month, what would you like to accomplish?
- Do you have any other thoughts I should know about?
Second Month: Day 31-60
Key objectives include relationships with key stakeholders and how the new hire fits into your organization's overall strategy.
Focus: Now it's time to get started on building relationships with customers!
- Start initial customer success calls to gather data on customer satisfaction, understanding, and brand loyalty.
- The CSM should establish customer value achieved by using the products, i.e., does the price fit the value? Prepare a list of customers to contact for this first customer success task.
- Continue with training on any new tools or processes that arise.
- Customer communications via phone, email, or video call must include identifying users who need training, unhappy customers, and top concerns.
- Is there a potential plan to upsell existing clients?
- Set up a meeting to discuss these insights in broader discussions with sales, marketing, and relevant product teams. Is the marketing strategy reaching buyers? Do we listen to our customers' needs and satisfy them? For this you can use a report automation platform, for example a Databox alternative.
- Every 30 days, the new CSM fills out an onboarding survey. This will inform you of how the CSM feels about the role and what needs attention.
- The CSM will collect data and connect with customers without the mentor at this stage in the 90 days plan.
- Schedule a meeting to discuss the most important issues identified and a plan for tackling them.
- The CSMs should create a customer strategy, decide on critical KPIs, and learn about product roadmaps.
- Maintain buddy check-ins and 1-1 meetings to help social and cultural integration.
- List any areas of concern and agree on the fixed goals for the next 30 days.
- Get to know customer needs.
- Collect feedback from customers and understand the most common issues.
- Start building a list of potential solutions for these issues.
- 1-1 meetings with the team leader to cover the month's progress and raise questions.
Third Month: Days 61-90
The CSM should now understand how everything works within the role and what you expect daily: accountability, productivity, and what small changes will have an impact early on.
Focus: Build the confidence to work independently.
- Discuss the metrics and goals in a 1-1 with the CSM. Does the new CSM understand how they fit into the overall strategy of your organization?
- Establish further relationships with key stakeholders.
- The CSM continues to analyze customer data, including renewal dates and health scores, to understand the priorities of their customers.
- Discuss expectations on churn KPIs so the CSM can prepare customer success queries to reduce churn.
- Discuss how the CSM can scale the role from this point onward.
- Review all the data from 30 days and 60 days. Ask the CSM to prepare a list of potential solutions with department heads and decide which are the best ones.
- Review all of your data from 30 days and 60 days.
- Go through customer feedback and identify potential solutions to their issues. Highlight the solutions that best serve the customers.
- Review progress and gain an overview of any changes needed, e.g., stakeholder feedback, sales, and marketing feedback.
- Set out a plan for customer success tasks over the next 30 days.
Here are some questions to ask the new CSM at the end of the 90 days cycle.
- Is there anything in your job or in the organization that you do not fully understand?
- Do you feel your ideas are heard and respected?
- Can you give me an example of a change made based on one of your recommendations?
- What have you done well in the last week? What did your customers appreciate about it?
- Do you feel that there is any way in which your performance could be improved?
- Do you have any other concerns I should know about?
➡️ Automate your customer success onboarding process with Zavvy
Zavvy offers a very intuitive and user-friendly virtual method to onboard your new hires in the customer success industry. It allows you to customize your onboarding plan for your new hires from our onboarding templates so that you can get started promptly and effortlessly.
Check out our onboarding software in a free demo and see for yourself how much time you'll save on HR tasks.
The automated workflows, event scheduling, and Slack integration will make it easier for the entire team to keep track of when things are happening.