How I Reduced Onboarding Time by 50% Through Automation

Sarah Zarling
Senior Manager, Business Operations

Interview Highlights:

  • Automation removes human error, results in standardized outputs, and reduces the time and resources required to complete a task.
  • Agile, growing companies need to balance automation and iteration. 
  • Don’t go rogue when automating—make sure you have stakeholder buy-in.

I’m Sarah Zarling. I am the Senior Manager of CX Business Operations at, a fast-growing startup in the restaurant tech industry. My role is focused on post-sale teams and anything that relates to the customer's experiences with our product, brand, and team members. My priorities are identifying areas of opportunity that unlock new growth for the business, defining and improving processes, ensuring strategic alignment across teams, and driving initiatives that help us help our customers succeed.

How important is automation in process improvement?

Automation is a key pillar for process improvement at many companies. Leveraged properly, automation can be used to increase output, reduce the resources needed to complete a task, and/or enhance the customer experience. 

Automation can also reduce the risk of human error and help to standardize outputs like emails and documents. Automation might seem intimidating, but there are countless low-code and no-code tools these days that make automation a breeze.  

Can you name a specific time when automation brought value to the business?

I used to work for a business in the telehealth industry that had an arduous employee onboarding process, involving multiple points of contact, several processing steps, and a considerable amount of regulatory paperwork. 

This process required time-consuming data entry, had a high risk of human error, and a lot of time was being lost due to communication breakdowns. 

Sounds…not very fun. How did you begin fixing it?

We started by automating onboarding communication. The employees were submitting documents via WebMerge, which has since been acquired by Formstack, and the emails were being sent out primarily through a Zapier integration. The workflow would automatically progress as new hires completed requirements, as well as contact them when they didn’t complete onboarding tasks on time. 

This journey eliminated the need for someone to be actively managing and moving employees through these steps. Our HR team no longer needed to spend hours verifying employee submissions, or checking whether they were on track with their training courses. They knew they would receive an automated notification if someone veered off the prescribed onboarding course. 

We also automated document generation for the required (but tedious) regulatory paperwork. This previously took hours for an admin to complete manually, and a single typo could delay the process by weeks. We saved our insurance administrator about 20 hours a week. 

Altogether, these changes reduced our standard onboarding time from six weeks to three weeks. We also reduced employee turnover during the onboarding period by almost 50%, and we increased employee satisfaction with the onboarding process overall.

These efficencies can easily translate to Customer Success, as many of the elements are similar: legal paperwork, customer onboarding, and time-to-value.

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What’s the most efficient way for companies to begin automating time-consuming processes?

Growing companies need to automate and iterate in tandem

Automating based on a fixed plan is dangerous. You have to be flexible and adapt your automation plans as things develop so that you end up with something useful. 

There are three things you should always keep in mind when automating a process:

First, choose low-code tools that are flexible enough to let you easily iterate without relying on a technical resource who could potentially be a roadblock. Also, consider choosing tools that integrate data rather than siloing information. Your ecosystem will scale more efficiently if the different components can talk to each other. 

Second, prioritize the right processes and identify the gaps. Chances are that you already have a resource that outlines these processes: playbooks and templates. Stitch these processes together end to end. Then assess the entire process to see where automation would benefit the team the most. 

Third, bring in the right stakeholders. You still need your executive champions, but the end-user should also be in the room during planning. Make sure that you're also getting a bird's eye view of upcoming strategic initiatives that might interact with the process you're automating so that you can iterate intentionally and align your efforts.

Who should own this shift to automation?

Anyone at any level can identify areas of opportunity, but it would be helpful if you capture these as a running issues list. 

Scoping the solution and providing the business case will typically be a team effort on the part of the operations department and the effective managers or directors.

It should be noted that process improvements never happen in a bubble. There are always competing priorities and problems to solve beyond what’s on the issues list. So if your organization has aligned on a clear strategy, the operations team will be able to use it to prioritize and manage process improvements and automation initiatives. 

If there is no operations team that can take charge, process improvement typically happens organically at the department or team level. The downside to that is that you may miss out on a lot of cross-functional alignment and value. 

How early should a business think about automation and standardization?

As early as possible! 

Everyone knows the phrase, “Work smarter, not harder.” Smarter work happens when you boil business processes down into repeatable, scalable, and standardized chunks.

You don’t need to be a developer to start automating. That's why no-code and low-code tools like Zapier and Formstack are starting to gain so much attention. You can start small by introducing automation on an individual level. 

For example, setting up a system that automatically sorts team emails. There are a number of free or low-cost tools that can make a huge impact on your daily routine. Formstack’s “Practically Genius” page shares amazing and innovative examples of how people have leveraged automation. 

Do you have any advice for BizOps people looking to make internal changes?

Don't go rogue. 

Going rogue is when you start to automate things without buy-in from your stakeholders. This doesn’t always result in the best outcomes. 

Always have buy-in and alignment from all of the affected stakeholders - especially if it’s your first time automating a large or complex process. 

You also need executive champions who have bought into what you're trying to do and have a clear vision of what the end product will look like.


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