Organisational Fitness

The secret to the best employee onboarding experiences

Lydia Watson

Employee retention is one of those topics that just keeps coming up – fuelled by The Great Resignation, a competitive labour market, and the idea that your best bet is hanging onto the employees you already have.   

But that’s not often directed at your newest hires (the ones replacing the recently resigned). Because there’s a misconception that, once a candidate’s signed the paperwork, you can breathe easy. But would you take a similarly hands-off approach with a new customer? 

What does onboarding mean (for a job that’s business-critical)?

It’s not cheap to hire new staff (estimates sit around $4000). So it’s not something you want to be rinse-and-repeating regularly – and that’s just one reason why onboarding is so important. 

Regardless of the complications of remote or hybrid onboarding, it’s really not something you can afford to get wrong – since 69% will stay 3+ years in an organisation if you do it well. A good process is linked to, obviously, improved retention – but also motivation and performance too. 

So when you’re filling a role you really, really need, then getting that onboarding process sorted is crucial. And it starts with one simple step: thinking of your employees as customers. 

Why to treat customer experience & employee experience the same

As a people leader, thinking of your employees as customers might feel jarring. It’s a far cry from the “we’re family!” sentiment that many businesses used to encourage. It makes the relationship almost simplistically transactional – your staff get a salary and perks from you, in exchange for their time. 

But in such a competitive job market, that’s essentially the reality. Whether it’s a hefty paycheque or a great ethos, your people want something from you. 

It’s not a million miles from the customer-to-business relationship. You need to understand customer needs, so you can respond to them. You want them to have a good experience of your product or service, so they stay loyal and act as an advocate. 

You wouldn’t expect a new customer to stick around otherwise, so why not take this approach with your new starters?

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How do you onboard a new employee like they’re a customer?

1. Prioritise their onboarding journey

The secret to customer retention is simple: you need them to use your product or service immediately, and to make it a ‘must-have’. That’s why customer onboarding is key – as you’ve got a short window to empower people to use your product, so they can see its value.

The same is true with your new employees. Those first days, weeks, and months are crucial – that’s your opportunity to show them how your organisation adds value to their lives.

2. Standardise their journey (but do it well)

Most employee onboarding tools are underused – with just 20% used frequently. But if you make the most of them, by honing your process, they can be powerful. 

Consider a typical customer onboarding journey: welcome email, personalised messages, interactive tutorials for any software they need to use, access to a knowledge base… these are things you can include as part of a step-by-step process.

And like a successful customer journey, don’t forget to include regular check-ins and ‘mini celebrations’ when they reach milestones – like first 5 meetings booked, or first assignment finished!  

3. Remember that everyone’s different

After standardising the outline of your onboarding process, your next step is remembering that one-size-doesn’t-fit-all. Take this example: a white, middle-aged mother of two and a recently graduated woman of colour will have different aspirations, and face different challenges. 

A successful onboarding process doesn’t assume your employees want the same things, or experience the world in the same way. Personalisation, as with customers, is key. 

4. Help managers improve ‘customer service’

To treat your employees like customers, you need to get your managers on board. Provide them with training and guidance to deliver effective ‘employee service’. 

This might involve some considerable reframing – in terms of how they view their team members – but it’s a crucial step to making sure that onboarding experiences are positive. It’s about being proactively helpful, reaching out first, listening to their needs, and making new starters feel important. 

5. Listen and respond to their needs

Like with good customer service, you need to ask employees what they need. What’s missing, what could be better, what’s working well? Without those insights, you won’t know what improvements you need to make – so you may just keep making the same mistakes. 

You can make an ‘onboarding survey’ part of your process, for example (something we offer on the Qlearsite Platform). That lets you check if there’s something you’re getting wrong, while it’s fresh in the minds of recently onboarding staff – also giving you a chance to quickly course-correct.

Learn how to meet employee needs, just by listening

Treating employees like customers essentially comes down to listening to their needs, and changing what you do as a result. For a low-effort, low-cost way to listen, why not try our platform? 

With Qlearsite, you can send employee surveys and get actionable feedback. We’ve made it faster, simpler, and (for 21 days, free!) to understand what your people want. Sign up for a free trial today and see for yourself:

Faster, simpler surveys – get started for free 

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