How to Create a Smooth Onboarding Process for New Clients

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Want to get an edge over your competition? Invest in creating a better customer experience. Not only people (67%) and other businesses (74%) are ready to pay more for prime treatment, companies offering top CX retain customers that are 7X times for likely to make a repeat purchase and 8X times more likely to try other products/services.

The data clearly emphasizes the importance of building a great experience, but where do small service businesses need to start? We suggest working from the top to the bottom – and focus on creating a delightful onboarding process as the first step of mastering the CX game.

Wait, What is Onboarding?

Client onboarding is a simple meet & greet of your new client. Consider it a quick primer on what it would be like to deal with your organization. The typical client onboarding process includes the following:

  • Explanation of your work process
  • Addressing any questions/concerns the customer may have
  • Establishing communication routines and reporting schedule.
  • Ensuring the client that you are capable to complete their project and help them reach their goal.

Onboarding helps you straighten out the client’s expectations, iron out the cooperation details and make sure that all parties are on the same page in terms of deliverables/outcomes. Jennifer Bourn of Bourn Creative perfectly sums it up in this slide:

Essential Tips to Create a Smooth and Streamlined Onboarding Process

The main goal of your onboarding process is to familiarize the new client with your company’s offerings. As well, it should be aimed at reducing the “back and forth” between you two during the cooperation setup.

By taking the time to create a reusable client onboarding checklist, you are scoring the next benefits:

  • More repeat business. People will buy from you once again when they are satisfied with their experience. And according to research, a 5% increase in client retention can improve your profits by 25%-95%.
  • Higher efficiency. Less time spent on negotiations and explanations equals more productive time to allocate towards your business growth. When you have a repeatable client onboarding process in place, you fuss less over the chores and focus on high impact tasks.
  • Minimizes scope creep. When new clients have clear expectations, you reduce the number of cases when scope creep can emerge. As well, you mitigate possible conflicts due to misunderstandings about the deliverables.
  • Happier clients who received the kind of services they expected and are more eager to refer you to others. Bliss!

Want to gain those benefits for your business? Great, the next section will show you the exact steps for building great customer relationships from day one.

1. Tackle the “Boring” Stuff First: Proposal, Contract, Payment

Once your client agreed to your project price quote, finalize the deal by preparing a more detailed project proposal (in case when it’s necessary) or a business contract covering the scope of provided services, deliverables, timeline, payment terms and other legal aspects of your collaboration.

Once the client signs your contract, follow-up with an invoice or a deposit request. If your contract assumes a prepayment, you are not obliged to start work before it arrives in your bank account. To avoid any misunderstandings communicate that to the client and be sure to ask them about their payment cycles.

Once you are done with all of this, move on to the next onboarding step.

2. Create and Dispatch a Client Intake Survey

Now you will want to collect all the data you need to successfully tackle the client’s project. Specifically, you’ll want to gather some insights in regards to the following:

  • The client’s depth of knowledge about your industry. “Beginners” may need additional guidance and explanations, while “Experts” will be more eager to get straight to business.
  • Their business information. You can frame this as “Tell me about your business” with additional prompts about the information you will need for the project e.g. their ideal buyer persona, main competitors, unique sales proposition etc.
  • Their goals for this project. This tidbit will help you refine their expectations and adjust your deliverables if needed.

A good client intake survey usually includes 5 (or fewer) strategic questions, designed to elicit more information about their needs and expectations. Of course, your questionnaire should be designed specifically for your niche/your type of services.

3. Schedule a Discovery Session

Greet the new client “personally” and schedule a short discovery call or in-person session. Discovery sessions may be optional for a small, one-off project, but are an absolute must for larger, potentially ongoing work.

Set and inform the client about the time limit (e.g. 30 minutes – 1 hour) in advance. This way everyone will come more prepared and keep the session productive. It’s best to split the meeting into two parts. First, prepare and ask the client for additional information that you could not capture from the survey. Next, hold a quick Q&A session addressing the client’s questions at this point.

Here’s a quick meeting checklist to help you cover all of the bases:

  • Start with introductions between the client and you (your team).
  • Summarize the client’s business goals and ask them to clarify if you understood them well.
  • Line up all the project deliverables, key milestones and timeframe.
  • Address how you will deal with the possible scope creep.
  • Outline the next steps.
  • Wrap it up with a Q&A.

4. Create a Dedicated Client Folder

Now it’s time to organize all the assembled customer data in one neat master folder. Create two versions of it:

  • Internal one: where you will store the project brief, notes, intake survey data and additional materials provided by the client.
  • External folder that you will share with the client. That’s where you’ll upload all the deliverables and additional materials. Google Drive or Dropbox are the two good options for this purpose.

Finally, if you are using a CRM/client management software, be sure to add all the important information there and share it with your team. Or you can use project management or workflow software for the same purpose. Basecamp and Asana are popular choices among SMEs. A PMS is better if your line of work assumes a deeper level of collaboration between you and your client.

NB: And this point you should also verify that you have access to all the necessary software/tools/systems from the client.

5. Prepare and Dispatch a Welcome Package

As a follow-up after the meeting, send a digital welcome package to the client. This way you’ll recap the meeting details, provide additional educational materials and reinforce the client’s purchase decision. A welcome package is a little effort that makes your client feel truly special.

Here are some essentials worth including:

  • A welcome video. Use it as another opportunity for expressing your appreciation for their business and an extra chance to flash your face to make your relationships more personal.
  • “Business cheat sheet” – a quick document summarizing the key project milestones, due dates, deliverables and your contact information. This can also include a FAQ addressing the common questions about response times, communication etc.
  • In case you need some more insights from the client, add a quick template/survey for them to fill in. If not, include additional educational materials that will tell the client more about your process and the kind of services you are providing.

6. Fine Tune the Communication Flow

Effective communication is the pillar of a great onboarding process. Your client should feel that they are receiving all your attention in a timely manner and are not neglected. Remember, their trust in you is still dwindling…so at early stages, you may want to over-communicate, rather than under-communicate.

The key components of a great communication flow at the onboarding stage are as follows.

Central point of contact. In a separate email recap all the methods of contact the client can rely on – contact phone, email, Skype, Slack, PM software etc. Make sure that you agree upon one communication channel that is the most convenient for everyone. For instance:

  • If you have a quick question, shoot it to our corporate Slack
  • More detailed queries should be sent via email and we’ll get back to you in 24h max.
  • You will receive all the report and key updates via email.

Also, make sure the client knows who is their main point of contact in your organization e.g. you or a dedicated account manager. This way, their questions will always land in front of the right person and nothing will fall through the cracks.

Establish a communication schedule. As part of your onboarding process, you should also communicate the following:

  • Your business hours aka when they can expect to reach you.
  • What are the preferable communication hours for the client?
  • Time zone differences (if any).
  • Milestone reporting schedule. How often will check-ins happen – every week, bi-weekly or on specified dates?

Feedback loop. Offer a walkthrough of your reporting procedures and indicate when and what types of updates the client will receive at different stages of the project. Explain at what stages their feedback will be critical for success and how it should be delivered e.g. by email, in the PM software etc.

Keep Refining Your Onboarding Process

Every client will come to you with unique expectations, background and perhaps business needs. While this post offered a general checklist for creating a smooth onboarding process, there are always more facets worth optimizing. Be sure to regularly collect feedback from your clients on their CX and try new techniques for improving it!

Photo by Christina Morillo

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