Fog Creek

4 Steps to Onboarding a New Support Team Hire

At Fog Creek, every now and then the Support team has the pleasure of onboarding a new member. We know what most of you are thinking “Wait! Did they just say ‘pleasure’?” Yes, yes we did. Team onboarding does not have to be an irksome obstacle in your day-to-day work – it’s a key milestone for your new hire’s long-term success and the process should be repeatable and reusable.

If you’ve ever been in support, you know there can be a lot of cached knowledge representing the status quo, and there is usually, and sometimes exclusively, a “show and tell” style of training. This is the fire drill of knowledge transfer, and it’s an arduous process for all concerned. Not only does it take longer for the new hire to get up to speed, but you also have at least one person no longer helping your customers. For anyone who has ever worked in a queue, we’re sure you can agree that when someone steps out, the team feels the impact immediately.

Our Support team mitigates this by using a well-documented onboarding process. And we do it without a giant paperweight… err training manual. Similar to how we onboard new hires to the company, we also leverage Trello to onboard our new Support team hires. The items on the board are organized and the new hire just works down the list.

The board separates out individual items and team-oriented items. This keeps the new person accountable for their tasks, and it keeps the team involved so that they don’t accidentally abandon them.

support team onboarding new hire trello board

1. Read Up on the Essentials

The first item on the board is titled “What to read on your first day”. This card links to a wiki page that talks about the things the new person needs to know before they can do any real work.

Next, is the “Support Glossary”. This is essential as they’re going to hear words, phrases, and acronyms galore. So scanning through this card helps them start to get a feel for the “lingo”.

With this done, it’s time to join the company chat and get a few nice “hellos” and introductions from other folks in the company. Primarily, this stage helps them to start assimilating the knowledge they’ll need to be successful in the role.

The assimilation process starts with briefly describing the Support team’s role and responsibilities within the organization. This covers our two main workflows: interrupts and queue-based. Then we move on to our guiding customer service principles.

After reading several more cards, which each link off to wiki pages, the new person moves them over to the ever-so-rewarding “Done” column. Starting to feel accomplished, they can start to get their hands dirty.

You may be wondering “couldn’t they just have one card and link to a wiki page with a list of articles?” Sure. But, that process tends to be more of a rabbit hole, and we want our Support team hires to have just the right amount of information in phases, and not dumped on them all at once.

2. Dogfood Until it Hurts

supportTeam2 (1)
After reading for what probably feels like weeks (not really, a day maybe), the new person starts using our products. Since we dogfood our own products, this is a great way to discover and learn about them. They can later use this experience to relate to, and help new customers. They create production accounts, staging accounts, and start a series of configurations. This helps them get into the Support workflow.

3. Go Under the Hood

Configuring web application sites isn’t all that hard, so we up the challenge. The new hire starts creating any necessary virtual machines (VM). Each one is identified on separate cards on the board, naturally. These VMs aid the new Support member in troubleshooting customer environments by replicating them as best as they can.

Since Kiln and FogBugz sit on top of databases, the new person also starts to configure those systems and get familiar with the database schemas. This helps build an understanding of our products’ foundations.

Once they have what we call the “basics”, they can start tricking out their dev machine. This card links to another board with all the juicy details maintained by all devs in the company.

4. Get Immersed in the Workflow

supportTeam (1)
There are a several more cards which discuss process and procedures. These include when to use external resources, where they are located, and how to use them.

A key part of Support is a robust workflow. The team helps the new person get immersed into the workflow by adding them to scripts, giving the repository permissions in Kiln, adding them to recurring team calendar events, and so on. Most importantly, they start to see how the Support team shares knowledge and work on some real customer cases where they will be helping our customers be amazingly happy!

We’ve found that using a lightweight, but clearly defined process, to onboard a new hire to our Support team is key to their efficiency and long-term success. It helps the new hire become self-sufficient, as well as know where they can go for help as they gain experience.