Customer Success (CX)

4 Tips for Hiring Your Next Customer Onboarding Specialist

Post by
Jeff Epstein
4 Tips for Hiring Your Next Customer Onboarding Specialist

Onboarding is a mission-critical function of the modern customer success (CS) department. And while there are plenty of strategies and technologies available to onboard customers faster, or more successfully, there’s no replacement for a good onboarding specialist.

So, how do you hire the right person for this essential position?  

Start With Your Organization’s Now

Before launching the job posting, first identify what personnel stage your company’s CS function is at today. Most company’s CS staff breaks down into one of three buckets: 

  • Generalist CS roles that are onboarding and managing customers post launch

  • Seome CS generalists, but leaning towards more specialized roles

  • Very specialized roles and responsibilities (Onboarding and Customer Success Manager are two different and distinct roles)

Now think about where your company will be in three to six months, or twelve to eighteen. Should you start hiring for onboarding and CS roles based on those projections? Only you can know that answer, but we often recommend hiring for where you are heading, not where you are now.

Build, Execute, and Refine Your Hiring Process

When hiring customer onboarding specialists and customer success managers, no organization can predict the future. By baking the following four tips into your hiring process, however, you should have a good indicator of which candidates have the correct stamina and mindset for customer success. 

1. Hire for Awareness 

Awareness is such an undervalued trait in today's world. We’re talking about self-awareness and situational awareness. Put simply, self-awareness is about knowing one’s self. A customer success professional with strong self-awareness is typically well equipped to self-motivate, self-correct, and navigate tense customer interactions with greater patience. 

Situational awareness, on the other hand, is about keeping one’s eyes and ears keenly open. A customer success professional with strong situation awareness tends to anticipate customer needs better, work proactively, and empathize. 

Ultimately, a person with solid self and situational awareness will be far easier to work with and ultimately have more impact in CS. One of our favorite interview questions to ask is: what are the pros and cons of you and the pros and cons of your previous manager? If the answer is heavily one sided in favor of their own performance, that candidate might be lacking in the awareness department. Even the worst managers teach us something. 

2. Seek Out Situational Adaptability

Building on the theme of situational awareness, you’ll want to hire for situational adaptability, too. How equipped is this person to problem solve on the fly, when the chips are high and the answer might be ambiguous? During the interview, try giving clients a challenge, along with the tools to complete that challenge, then take away the second base tool they have to solve it. You might ask them to solve a common support question, the answer to which is available in your knowledge base. Can they overcome the challenge without relying on your platform?

3. Recognize Process-Oriented vs. Relationship-Oriented People

Some people prefer—or even need—to do things by the books. They prefer to follow predetermined steps, or if-this-then-that-type workflows. This kind of process-oriented person might be better suited for an onboarding specialist role. While the onboarding process isn’t without sudden change or adversity, it’s far less nebulous than the world of customer success managers (CSMs). 

CSMs are typically more relationship-oriented people. They can empathize and anticipate the needs of a lot of different customers at the very same time. Relationship-oriented people tend to do better in non-linear situations, where the goal posts frequently move, and it’s their responsibility to keep the relationship healthy and forward moving.

4. Slip In a Few Creative Interview Questions

The goal here is to bring out a little more from a mindset, personality, and processing perspective. While the standard interviewing questions might land you a good onboarder, they might overlook some critical clues into how successful that person can be in your CS role. 

For example, how do they like to be trained? Does it match your training process? And could any discrepancies lead to potential friction? Also, how do they know what fires to put out and what fires to let smolder? This should reveal their approach to prioritizing the most critical issues and high-value clients first. 

Finally, give them a would-you-rather question. For example, would they rather spend an evening going out with friends or reading a book at home. These kinds of questions can reveal how social a person is. The higher the desire to be social, the more relationship-orientated that candidate likely is. 

Finally, Do Yourself a Few Favors

There’s some homework you need to do, too. You’ll want to come prepared to give candidates a clear picture of what their job looks like, both in the short and long term. Lay out the paths to growth available in their particular role. Give them an idea of where they fit into the broader CS team structure. For more on this, read The Definitive Guide to Customer Onboarding

Clearly lay out the ramping period, too, including specific items they should be able to do after 30, 60, and 90 days. After 30 days, for example, an onboarder should be a product expert, answering client questions for other teammates on their own. After 60 days, that person should be able to take their first customer that's supported by a more seasoned onboarder. After 90 days, that person should be taking customers on by themselves. While you’re at it, provide the concrete metrics they will be measured against. In 12 months, how will you review them?

The world of CS is very much people-driven. When you’re good to your people by coming prepared—even people you haven’t hired yet!—those people tend to be very good to you.