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Six Musts Around Onboarding Staff to Customer Database

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By Justin Burniske |March 13, 2019
Association Management Solutions (AMS)

Quality onboarding is essential to long-term successQuality onboarding is essential to long-term success.

Association executives are becoming more and more cognizant of how important customer data, and in turn their customer database, is to their organization’s success. Yet most associations struggle to establish a culture of data, where everyone understands the value of customer data. A first step in fixing that culture starts at the beginning with the onboarding of new staff. Here are six items all associations should have as part of their customer database training to help create that culture from day one!

Centralize the training

Many associations leave training to each department, which makes sense since those are the people who oversee the day-to-day activities of a new hire. Unfortunately, when training on a centralized system that everyone uses, training ends up as consistent as a game of telephone – where each department follows slightly different practices, and so the output of data is not at all consistent. Instead, there should be a designated business owner of the customer database who provides training to all staff. This helps ensure all staff get a clear and consistent message about the role of the data within the organization.

Explain the value

Because most staff are not involved in the big picture, associations never explain specifically the role of the customer database in serving the big picture. Sure, all association executives will say things like, “Our organization is our members, so member data is important.” But that’s not actionable in any meaningful way. Instead, explain how the data is being leveraged, how good data has an impact on customer experience, and how leadership leverages the data to make decisions. Then tie those hows back to why their role is so important.

Provide a map

No association uses one system for all their business processes, and the all-in-one association management system is becoming less and less common. New staff are likely bombarded with different tools, from the customer facing systems like the CMS, CRM, LMS, eMarketing to the internal tools for timesheets, documents, messaging, and meetings. Providing a visual diagram – or map – that shows all the different systems, what purpose each system serves, and how the systems are connected (do your customer systems have SSO? Is any data shared/imported? Etc.) can help clue new staff into a bigger picture. Particularly the connections between systems can help them understand how bad data in one place has a ripple effect across the organization.

Define their role

While the specific tasks may be delegated by the department, having a consistent definition of everyone’s role across the organization ensures people don’t think data quality is not their problem. In reality, it is everyone’s responsibility, and everyone will likely need some level of proficiency within the system. A minimum proficiency by role might be defined as the following:

  • Executive Team – Able to pull reports from the system
  • Directors – Able to pull reports and look up records
  • Senior Associates – Able to pull reports, look up and edit records
  • Associates – Able to pull reports, look up, add and edit records

While certain departments may require people to perform more then the minimum, having a minimum in place both helps new staff understand what they need to be able to do, and since the training is centralized the trainer knows at a minimum what they need to get training on to be successful in their role.

Give them documentation

While trainings are great, new hires are generally drinking from a fire hose of information. Having a clear set of organization specific documentation for them to reference after training is often very helpful – especially if they are the kind of people who learn best by reading. And, since the organization now has a delegated business owner for the system, there is a clear owner responsible for documentation. If they are feeling overwhelmed by the task of creating documentation, a great way to go about writing it up is each time staff ask a question, instead of just sending an email response, write up a document that can be sent over, and then save the document in a central repository for others to reference.

Schedule a follow-up

Because of the fire hose of information in the first training, having a follow-up a month or so after the initial training can often be more productive than the initial training. This gives the new staff member a chance to ask follow up with some actual context around what they are doing. Don’t wait to schedule the follow-up – put it on the calendar at the initial meeting, and let them know it will be a chance for them to ask follow-up. That way over the next month, as they come across oddities within the system or processes that don’t make sense, they will have an incentive to capture and report those since they know that follow-up is coming.


Most organizations spend too much time implementing customer databases, and not enough time helping their staff understand how to leverage the system. Having a clear onboarding process in place can help remedy that issue, while also allowing the organization to take a more unified approach to data. Hopefully having these guideposts will help in developing an onboarding approach for new employees.

Justin Burniske
Six Musts Around Onboarding Staff to Customer Database

Justin serves as the Director of Enterprise Solutions at fusionSpan, bringing his experience implementing and overseeing an association management system for an education nonprofit. Additionally, he brings his positive, can-do attitude to any project on which he is working. Justin graduated from University of Maryland’s MBA program, and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to joining fusionSpan, Justin taught middle school math and worked with education nonprofits. Also, he wants you to know he loves his family.

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