How to Streamline Client Onboarding and Make a Strong First Impression
Congratulations, you’ve just landed a new client!
Your digital marketing paid off. You’re undoubtedly excited to dive in and start serving them.
When you bring a new client in, there’s always the hope that this will become a profitable long-term relationship. You may have them for an initial service, but there are other things you can do as well.
Even better, when you really wow a client with your incredible work, they can become a brand advocate and tell others about you — which is the best kind of advertising! There’s nothing like word of mouth to encourage new people to hire you.
But before you can get into all of that, there’s an important process to go through. You have to onboard your client. Client onboarding sets the stage for all of the success to follow.
When onboarding goes well, you’ve got a great foundation to work from. When it goes poorly, the client can be confused, unhappy, and may even tell others negative things about you.
It pays to get it right! Here’s what you need to know about client onboarding.
What Is Client Onboarding?
What does it actually mean to onboard a client?
The client onboarding process varies from company to company, but there are always two goals. First, you want to gather all of the information necessary to get their project started smoothly.
Secondly, you want to help them get familiar with your process and what to expect. Setting expectations correctly from the very beginning can mean the difference between success and failure.
Onboarding new clients needs to be a defined process that is executed the same way every time. Each customer should have the same excellent experience with your company.
When client onboarding is smooth and streamlined, everyone will know what is done and what needs to happen next. It’s much easier to take on new clients, and clients love the experience they have with you!
How to Set Up an Onboarding Process
If you don’t currently have a defined process to help new clients get comfortable, you need to create one right away.
The first step is to map out who exactly needs to be involved in setting up a new client.
Are there IT folks who set up client-facing logins? Are there managers who assign the client to a project manager? Do project managers already have a team, or do they need to pick one?
Secondly, you need to meet with everyone involved to find out what information they need to do their job effectively and efficiently. If you’re in a small company, you may be able just to have one meeting.
However, in a larger company, you’ll need more. You may need to meet with IT, then meet with managers, and then with project managers. Find out what everyone needs and write it down.
The third step is to look at things from a client perspective. Who do they communicate with? Should it be one person?
What makes the client feel most comfortable and makes you look the most professional? It’s probably best if the client isn’t in touch with 25 people. Having one main contact and one backup is a great option.
Map Out the Process
Once you know who’s involved and what information they need, map out the process on a whiteboard or piece of paper.
Figure out who has the information that is needed at each stage, and the best way to get that information to the group who needs it. Does there need to be an onboarding meeting?
Who sends the new client information to IT? Who notifies management of the new project? How are project managers assigned?
Having an internal project management tool can be crucial for this to run smoothly. A tool like Trello can be used quickly and intuitively, and it’s also inexpensive. You can tag team members for specific tasks and follow a process through to completion.
Get the Process Approved
Once you have a process planned, you need to get it officially approved. The worst thing that can happen is that some people follow the new onboarding system and some don’t. Both you and the client will end up confused!
Perhaps you’re in charge and can simply communicate the change to your team. Or perhaps a manager or upper-level leader needs to send the message. Either way, make sure to include why this process is so important to improve buy-in.
Follow Up to Make Sure the Onboarding Process Is Going Smoothly
Like all changes, you can’t expect immediate 100% compliance. Instead, be sure to follow up regularly to ensure the new onboarding is working.
You might want to create a client onboarding process template so that it’s easy for everyone to follow through.
You’ll also want to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t so that adjustments can be made. By updating your onboarding process regularly to fit your company, you’ll ensure that you have a great system for years to come.
The Customer-Facing Side of Onboarding
Getting your systems set up so that everything goes smoothly is vital, of course. Internally, you need information to flow smoothly.
But externally, you need to share information as well. You’ll need to train customers on how to use the client-facing systems you have. You’ll also need to set expectations and answer questions.
Remember, this isn’t a frustrating “necessary evil.” The entire client experience matters, and it can set you apart from your competitors — for better or worse.
Focus on how you can truly delight your client at every step in the process. What are some ways you can go above and beyond as you bring them into the fold?
Here are some elements that are important to consider:
- What you can do to build the client’s trust in your team and your process
- Taking time to reaffirm that they made a great decision with their purchase and why
- Truly listening to the client when they express needs and concerns
- Having a way for the client to ask questions and get answers quickly
- Making sure the client is always aware of where the project stands
- Defining a clear process for any changes the client might request
If you have a welcome packet or other material along that line, you can cover a lot of these aspects of onboarding in there. Don’t be afraid to update the material when new questions arise.
Set Goals and Expectations
As you get ready to launch into the client’s project, be sure that both you and the client have the same understanding of the projects goals, timelines, and deliverables. You should definitely write them out, but it’s important to talk as well to avoid any misunderstandings.
Make sure both sides understand their responsibilities to keep the project moving forward.
Does the client have homework or data they need to provide? If so, do they understand that missing the due date will delay the project — and by how much?
Also, set expectations beforehand as to how often the client will get updates on the project and who they can contact if they need additional information right away.
Gather Other Client Pain Points
An often overlooked part of the client onboarding process is gaining a broad understanding of the client’s business and long-term goals.
The idea is that you want to set them up to be a client for more than just one project. You want to continue to help them meet their business goals for as long as possible. That won’t happen unless you listen carefully!
Find out where the client wants to be in one, three, and five years. Ask them what obstacles they foresee or what parts of that vision seem unattainable — and why.
This information will be extremely valuable after you successfully conclude the current project. The final wrap-up meeting can include a list of suggestions for next steps — with your company, of course!
Carry Out Client Onboarding Consistently Every Time
Other than updates that address problems in the process, you should be very consistent with client onboarding. Not only does this help ensure that you don’t miss anything, but it helps keep clients happy.
You never want to be in a situation where someone is referred to you by a very happy client, but then fails to have the same high-quality experience. That makes the new client unhappy, and they’re sure to tell their friend!
Once their friend hears about it, they will be more hesitant to refer you in the future. You could lose a lot of business — and even lose the repeat business of the previously-happy customer.
Every time the process doesn’t work correctly, it has a ripple effect far beyond one client. That’s why it’s so vital to have the process written down — and regularly check to make sure it’s being followed.
Make Client Onboarding Work for You
The thrill of gaining new customers never gets old. However, you want to make sure every client has an amazing experience every time. Having a straightforward client onboarding process will make that happen.
Are you interested in other ways to grow your business this year? We’d love to help. Contact us today for more information about how to improve your marketing in 2019!
Strategic Optimisation + Growth consultant for lean start-ups and change-making entrepreneurs enabling them to grow their business in a sustainable and profitable way. My super-powers are business optimisation, CX, SEO, and leveraging data insights for business growth. #fuelledbycoffee
Originally published at optimiseandgrowonline.com.au on December 9, 2018.