Systems and Tools

The Importance of a Client Onboarding Process

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According to a piece published by Alan E. Webber for Forrester Research, the cost to acquire new clients can be five times greater than keeping existing clients and making them happy. Did you hear that? Read it again…FIVE TIMES MORE EXPENSIVE to get new than to please and keep your current customers. That one insight alone should be enough to convince you to prioritize your focus on customer retention. Repeat customers are the lifeblood of any successful business, but did you know that there is more to bringing them back time and time again than offering Item X for Price Y?

Now, we all instinctively understand the transactional process, right? Customer pays a provider for a product or service, rinse and repeat. But get this…a successful transaction might be one of the smallest components of creating a happy customer! 

When you think about your own past purchases, the ones that stand out like wow in your memory are those where you felt like you got exceptional value for the price you paid, and you were satisfied…or even delighted. Often, your perception of value received is due to more than just getting a “good deal” and encompasses the experience as a whole. They made you feel like “You is smart! You is special! You is important!”

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard that phrase, but it is absolutely true. First impressions are not simply quick introductions…they are memories! They are experiences that will color the rest of the relationship going forward. Whether that is a good or not so good thing is mostly up to you.

First impressions may be the most vital key to creating a happy customer and keeping their business. And believe it or not, professional interactions and business relationships have more in common with romantic engagements than you realize. 

But am I suggesting that you should send all your new customers roses and a box of chocolates? NO, lol! (Though, how fun would it be to get chocolate every time you bought something, hahaha!) My point is that it’s crucial for you, as an entrepreneur, to develop your own strategy for…

Client Onboarding: What is it, anyway?

I thought you’d never ask! Client onboarding is a process you follow to: 

  • welcome a new client to your business
  • set the tone for future interactions
  • define expectations (this goes both ways!)
  • answer concerns
  • totally lay the foundation for a good working relationship

When you nail the onboarding process, which I know you can, your client will be more comfortable in their business decision to choose you. Plus, it boosts their confidence that they will get the result they desire. On the other hand, a weak onboarding process, or none at all, could start clients wondering if they are making the right choice, which makes them much more skeptical and critical going forward.

But wait! There’s more! You are going to discover plenty of other benefits to good onboarding practices, too. Defining expectations from the start can head off the issue of scope creep, which is when a client takes advantage of the flexibility of a provider by trying to expand the scope of the work mid-project. 

Addressing concerns early on can plant seeds of satisfaction and happiness in your client before the work has even begun. Well begun is half done, right? Extra bonus: You will likely devote less communication to reassuring an anxious client as the project progresses, which makes you more efficient in your time management.

Here’s a fun fact for you: according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, which is a data firm that samples online surveys, says that 84% of all B2B decision makers start their purchasing process by asking around for referrals. You read that right, 84%. And you know what that means for you , right? Alright, I’ll say it. If your clients are happy with your services, the first person that comes to mind when asking for referrals will be you. I mean, it does not get better than this! Don’t you want to delight your clients?

The Basics

Let’s get a couple things straight before they get twisted. Onboarding is not about generating new leads. It has to do with clients who have already made the decision to do business with you. Your process starts after you have a willing customer, but before any confirmed sales agreement. By now, you are probably thinking “Awesome sauce, but how do I actually DO it?”, and the answer is…it depends. 

You’ll want to do some research to determine which Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform feels like the right fit for you and your business, but the purpose of all of them is to systemize (and in many ways, automate) the process of onboarding and beyond. Unique businesses need unique approaches, and not all onboarding tactics are appropriate in every situation. The good news is that there are still some basic principles that universally apply. Hallelujah!

The essence of effective onboarding is dialogue with your client, but more importantly by focusing on listening. Maybe you schedule a discovery call through voice or video chat yet listening to clients will still be critical to pleasing them later. Maybe you send the client a questionnaire or formal lead capture form through your preferred CRM platform, but still your priority should be listening. Listen to how they describe their ideas and needs. 

Hello…they are literally telling you what will make them happy! Keep your eyes and ears peeled for other opportunities for you to assist them with problems they didn’t even realize you could solve. This gives you the treasure map to addressing their concerns, leading to a more specific and personalized project proposal, and X marks the spot for the booty of realistic and achievable expectations for both parties involved. Once you are laser focused on listening, you’re ready to sail on to…

Ahoy! Thar blows communication! (Last pirate reference, I promise.) It’s the glue that holds any relationship together. It’s vital to the onboarding process. You’ll want to discuss the specifics of deliverables, about setting the timeline for performance milestones or project completion, about whether you will stay in contact with emails or another messaging system, about payment methods, about permissions or passwords that will be shared, etc. Then, wrap all this information up into a comprehensive business proposal, and further refine that into a formal legal contract. 

The goal is to make everything as clear and defined as possible for both parties, of course, but to delight the client is to make everything for them seem reliable and easy. Whew! I know it sounds like a lot to do before you’ve even started working the project, but you’ll thank me later.

Finally, the big red bow tied on top of the onboarding process is follow-up. You’re going to want a task management system if you don’t already use one, and guess what? Your client likely uses one, too! For your onboarding process, the principle behind combining this tech tool with your CRM is so you follow up on a timely basis while you are following through on what you’ve been contracted to provide.

Set things up ahead of time so you send an automatic message thanking them for trusting you and your business to satisfy their needs right after the contract is signed. Look Ma, no hands! In that same message, remind them that the door for communication remains wide open. If you take the initiative to follow up with the client on your own, it makes them feel secure, prioritized, and keeps them from feeling like they will need to chase after you for answers or updates. You’re basically telling them “Don’t worry…I got this!”

To quote the great Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” You might have already been doing a few of these things one way or another, but unless you have intentionally created a beautifully organized onboarding process, it has probably been a hot mess at times. But now you know better, so stop stumbling through your first impressions. Systemize and polish your client onboarding process, and you will grow yourself a stable of happy, repeat customers like the superstar you are!

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Hi, I'm Aurelia.
Your Online Business Manager and Biz Bestie.

So many people say they’re not a ‘numbers person’, but for me? Those zeros and ones hold a special place in my heart and my business. I’ve always had a love of complex data and using it to solve #IRL problems. So much so, I’ve got a Master’s degree and five years of corporate experience to prove it. 

But fancy paper and LinkedIn profile aside, I realized after half a decade my true passion for numbers lay in using them to help small businesses reach their full potential. It’s what led me here, to you, with a mission to get your business run on autopilot while keeping you in the driver’s seat. 

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“Everything should boil down to your why. That should be the fire that runs in you.”

- Amelia Lyon

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