Onboarding Remote Customer Support Agents

Remote work model is the future of every industry and it has steadily increased in the last 20 years. But setting up remote work culture isn’t just about not having an office. It requires a lot of thought process to go into. You need to change the mindset that people can be equally productive even when working remotely. In fact, as per the survey report by Tinypulse, 91% of the respondents think they get more work done when working remotely.

In addition to that, you need to make sure there is clear set of guidelines on performance analysis for the remote employees. This is because it’s important to let them know whether they will be judged for 10 mins delay in replying to a slack message or will the performance be based on successfully delivering a task assigned to them and the overall impact they have on the business. Not having such things in place can lead to friction between both the employer and the remote customer support agent.

And most likely you’re not going to get it perfect in the first go. But there is nothing wrong with it as long as you’re moving in the right direction. You will have to go through many iterations as you grow.

While providing the right equipment and environment for the remote employees is important you also need to put in an equal effort in planning their onboarding. It’s because this is going to be the foundation towards making him/her a great contributing team member. Once you get the foundation right you will start seeing the benefits it brings. It will increase support availability with support agents across different time zones.

In the last few years, I have had the chance of mentoring customer support agents. And for me, mentoring a colleague who sat next to me was a grand success (no one ever said otherwise ?). But it was when I had to mentor a remote colleague that I realized the huge difference between onboarding a remote support agent and in-house support agent.

In this article, I will be sharing a few of the tried and tested ways to successfully onboard remote customer support agents.

Accept that Onboarding a Remote Support Agent Needs a Different Approach

As I mentioned earlier, switching from mentoring someone sitting next to me to someone who is remote was a huge difference in itself. Unless you accept the fact that these two things are different you probably won’t be able to do justice to the onboarding. Yes, it is going to take extra effort, extra time, and a lot of flexibility for the both the parties involved. So, you’ve to prepare yourself for that.

Tackling Time Zones with the Support Agent Can be Easy

One of the biggest reasons to hire employees in different time zones is to increase support availability and have a pool of the best support agents from around the world. But this very thing can become a bottleneck when it comes to onboarding someone from a time zone which is not the same as the company’s timezone.

So, whenever you assign a mentor, make sure they are able to adjust their shift timing to match that of the new employee or the other way around. This is very important because you don’t want to leave the new employee on their own for half of their work day. This can start making them disengaged (which is not good for a start).

Stay Connected with the Remote Support Agent as Much as You Can

While Slack was doing its job for written communication between us still there was something amiss. It’s at this point we realized that we should go for at least one video call a day until things settle down. But at the same time you should not make someone feel like you’re micro-managing them.

Most of the times people who go for remote jobs are self-learners and need the freedom to manage things on their own. But if you’re both okay with this, having a call can also help to connect with each other and build the rapport.

The other thing which is very helpful is to do screen share sessions where the new joinee gets to shadow a colleague or a mentor. It not only helps in engaging them but you can also pass on some of the best practices you follow already which can help make their work easier.

In fact, as Zapier mentions in its remote work guide that they have video calls to map out that week’s work. They even do an all-hands-on-deck call in order to get everyone together. If this is required for existing teams, it is equally important to practice this with new remote employees as well.

Arrange for the Mentor to Work from Same Location as the Support Agent

I know this might be a big ask but if logistics permit this can do wonders. You can fly down the new joinee or the mentor so that they both work from the same location for some time. It not only brings the advantage of building rapport and make it more pleasant experience for the new joinee. It also brings in the possibility for quick help when required instead of having to wait on someone in a different time zone during the onboarding phase. One week is a good start to walk someone through your company processes and tools.

Pro Tip 1: Get the Support Agent Involved in a Knowledge Base Project

Your tech support knowledge base always requires iterations as your product evolves. From experience, I have realized that you get to learn the product better when you try to explain it to someone or by writing a self-help article. Getting your new joinee to get hands-on with a particular topic and to write an article on it is another way to coach them and get them involved. This also makes them independent when looking for information.

Tools to Help in Onboarding Remote Support Agent

In all this, we should not underestimate the tools that can help you in successful onboarding. I made a Trello board which I shared with the new support agent. We used that to track everything right from all the tools she needed to be given access to, to all the support processes that she had to be walked through. We kept moving them to different stages as we went on. It helped us a lot!

Besides, you also need to use the right communication tools. Slack, of course, is my choice but use a communication tool fits your requirement best. It’s important that the tool lets you connect in the most effortless way and allows you to make communication fun and easy.

Pro Tip 2: Hire the Right Persona for a Remote Customer Support Role

At this point I’d also like to mention that it is essential to hire the right persona when hiring remotely. One of the things you expect in remote working is to show the path to someone instead of hand-holding. This means you’ve to look for people who are self motivated and are good at managing things. It’s true that we’re moving towards a remote culture but it’s not for everyone as of now. You’ve to make sure that it’s the closest match.

In Closing

When onboarding remote employees the key is to make them feel engaged. Lack of interaction can hamper or limit someone’s ability to contribute in the best possible way. It’s very important to put the thought process into planning the overall onboarding process in advance before you even start hiring people.

P.S: In all this focus on the new joinee let’s not forget that the mentor also needs to be understood and given the flexibility to adjust things as required. Because after-all they’re both remote!

These are some of the things I learnt or came across while mentoring a remote colleague. Let me know if you have any more tips and ideas to add to this list. ? 

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