You have a great firm, it’s growing as you’ve mastered your sales process and you get good referrals. However, could you improve your new client onboarding process? Does the way you welcome new clients mean they immediately think about passing you more leads or is it a chore that takes hours of your team’s time? Are you finding that as your firm grows rapidly, your new client onboarding is getting slower and slower and stuff is slipping through the cracks? This article examines the key stages in your firm's new client onboarding process.
At this time your new client's trust in you is based on promises that you, and possibly some of your other clients have made. Trust is built up by (over) delivering on promises you make. Some of those promises can be made, and delivered on or before the first 'work' is done. It's all in the series of things you do with them over the first weeks. This means you NEED to get your new client onboarding process right. Fail to get it right at this stage with a new client and it may sour the tone for your relationship in the future. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a new impression.
What’s a new client onboarding process?
Onboarding is how you welcome new clients into your firm. It’s the time when they are most unsure about you and can influence the way you’ll work with them for years. Get it wrong, and you're likely to reduce the profit you make from them before you've even done any chargeable work!
You’ll be addressing their questions and concerns and ensuring they understand the services available to them. You'll be giving them a clear understanding of your responsibilities and their responsibilities and getting them set up on all your systems (as well as all the regulatory stuff).
Most small firms know the regulatory stuff. Some manage it well and in others, it's a bit hit and miss. If it takes longer than it should, this doesn’t make clients feel really special and rarely gets them trained up to help you. Click here to download our best practice onboarding process to almost virtually eliminate manual data entry by you or the client.
Key parts in the onboarding process
- What are your client’s needs? These should mainly come from your sales meetings and are probably in the offer letter. If you use a service like Practice Ignition, the services your client is taking should be clearly spelled out. What are their preferences for small (and irrelevant things), perhaps including biscuits? The first part of onboarding is about capturing exactly what services your client is taking and making sure they are in your practice management or CRM system so the whole team is aware. (See here for a discussion about whether you need a practice management or a CRM system)
- Team briefing: Is all the information going to your team, including the aspirational stuff that's still in your head? Things like they have 3 other companies and we want to get them too, or they are worried about timeliness as they had to pay fines to HMRC last year. Ideally, this team briefing should happen weekly at your team's weekly meeting.
- What’s in the information flow? Who chases up on your checklist to ensure the main legal documents are returned? Do you have a process to flag up anything outstanding? How much can you automate - automating emails and task reminders save a lot of time). Some firms not only email but also have relevant staff call them to introduce themselves. Brief them on how you manage their year-end work, how you’ll chase them up and make sure you have a superfast turnaround time on their work.
Set expectations and make them feel special
- Expectation setting: I'm sure you've got everything in their engagement letters. But let's be honest, how much of the engagement letter do you think your new client actually reads? This part of the new client onboarding process is where each of the client's named contacts rings them up to talk them through their responsibilities and the firm's responsibilities. This part of a new client onboarding process is often lacking from many small firm processes. Without this step, you run the risk of a mismatch of expectations between you and your new client which will lead to scope creep and conflict.
- Making them feel really special? In your sales meetings you probably explained the new client onboarding process. What expectations did you leave them with, and are you exceeding them? If you are only just about meeting their expectations at this stage, you’re setting up a problem client. What simple things could help you exceed expectations now? From a ‘welcome pack’ (done differently, rather than a simple list of all the staff names), up to a small gift, or handwritten welcome card (personalised with a team/ office/ motivational photo on the front).
- When does your new client onboarding process end? One firm deals with everything promptly, but still considers them new until they've had their first annual returns. In that way, they get special hand-holding until their confidence in you is based on results.
Managing the new client onboarding process.
Having somebody, not you, who knows where every client is in the process; coordinates the response from your firm, chases the client and flags up problems sounds obvious – but many firms just tell a member of staff to do that. There’s no delegation, follow up, or discussion in weekly meetings. If your coordinator went off sick, where’s the data kept, is it electronic, (or at least available) and managed seamlessly?
(Click here to download our best practice onboarding process to almost virtually eliminate manual data entry by you or the client.)