The term “onboarding” feels like it’s become a buzzword, with different meanings for different people in different industries. But whether you work at a service provider, a public relations agency, or integrated marketing firm, there really isn’t much difference when it comes to client onboarding. Heck, even accounting consultancies, financial advisors, and law firms do new client onboarding!
Sure, the actual steps will vary, but the overarching idea is the same. You may not even call it onboarding–it may be your ‘welcome process’ or something else. Whatever you call it, it is absolutely essential to set your client relationship on the right track.
Develop an Onboarding Process
Think about it. Your business development or salesperson has worked their tail off to land this new account, but if the client onboarding isn’t handled properly, that business may be fleeting—and, that costs money. (Keeping existing customers is much less expensive than acquiring new ones.)
It’s called customer turnover or churn.
Hubspot defines customer churn as “…the percentage of customers that stopped using your company’s product or service during a certain time frame.”
In its simplest form, to create growth in any business, there must be more business coming in than going out.
Successful client onboarding increases customer retention and reduces “voluntary churn”, when clients up and leave you for someone else. And let’s face it, no one wants that (not in our professional nor personal life)!
People genuinely want to feel good about their decision to work with you and your firm.
The onboarding process offers an opportunity for you to demonstrate you understand (empathy goes a long way here!), and most importantly, prove your value from the get-go.
Where to Start
New client onboarding typically begins with a welcome and thank-you to the client for trusting you with their business.
Proactively reaching out to the new client and scheduling a time to have a thorough and open discussion is next.
You ask questions, and you LISTEN. Your questions may vary depending on your situation and the nature of the work, but one of the things I find beneficial is to ask why they chose you or how they see you helping them. This helps you quickly grasp what problem they needed to solve.
I’ll repeat it—listen and listen very carefully to the responses.
Often a client will tell you the steps they want to take, or what they do not want. It’s up to you to peel back the layers and understand their end goal.
Only then, are you able to demonstrate the path—or “means goal”— to get them there.
Marching to the Beat of the Same Drum
If you’re a small firm or solo consultant, you may already be privy to your client’s end goal. After all, you were probably involved in pitching and/or winning the business.
However, in a larger agency or service provider, that’s often not the case.
Regardless of whether you think you know or not, you should ask, verify, then reiterate it back to them. Be absolutely certain everyone is marching to the same drum.
Don’t Let Issues Linger
Should anything come up that’s unexpected, or requires corrective action, you should handle this immediately, and communicate back to the client when it’s completed.
Essentially, this first new client-partner or agency-client exchange ought to be a positive one.
This is what many call making the client relationship “sticky”.
To some companies, onboarding a new client is a continuation of the sales process—finding your client’s pain points, and demonstrating how you will relieve that pain, and make their lives easier. In other organizations, it’s the beginning of the client success journey.
In my case working for BurrellesLuce, a media monitoring service provider, onboarding is a bridge from sales to client services.
After all the sale details have been re-confirmed, I ensure they received their login credentials, and schedule a training/education session with them, so they’re confident in using the web portal and tools available to pull the data and analytics they need.
Also, I make sure they know who and how to get additional help or extra training, if needed. Sometimes that even means counseling clients on best practices in media relations—they aren’t all PR pros.
Once I’m confident they have no other initial issues or concerns, then I do the hand-off to their dedicated client services manager.
The Bottom Line
Client onboarding is about setting a standard level of expectations and understanding.
Your client should feel confident they’ve made the best choice for them, and that you’re in their corner. I believe this is the most critical aspect of onboarding a new client. No “buyer’s remorse” here!
From a personal standpoint, you should know that I am a highly sensitive person (HSP). Yes, that’s a real thing. In short, it means not only do I physically feel empathy but also process things deeply and am able to pick up on subtleties that others often miss.
Trust me. This can be both a blessing and a curse in a client-facing role.
It’s a curse, in that I can truly feel their pain and frustration, especially when they’re talking about past experiences (with other services, of course). 😉
I have to be very careful that I don’t absorb that as baggage and carry it with me—which is easier said than done. Sometimes I’m unsuccessful, I’ll admit.
It’s a blessing because I can rapidly pick up on their voice inflection, temperament, and communication style–even over the phone and often even in email.
This trait helps me hone in on what others are really saying and what they need to hear. Plus, it allows me to reassure them that I understand. It makes it second-nature for me to mirror behaviors and adjust my responses in real time.
And, this is exactly what makes me pretty darn good at my job! 😊
Happy Clients Equal Referrals
Regardless of your specific scenario, once onboarding has been completed, the real work begins to continue to earn that business—and retain it.
Happy clients are more apt to stay with you and to recommend you to their network.
A frequently quoted statistic to note from a 2012 Gartner Group survey states that as much as 80 percent of your company’s future revenue will come from just 20 percent of your existing customers.
Word-of-mouth referrals and client testimonials are powerful—especially in the PR and marketing world.
Does your organization have a dedicated onboarding specialist? Do you follow a different process? I want to hear from you!
*A version of this post by Tressa Robbins originally appeared on April 11, 2019 on the Spin Sucks blog at https://spinsucks.com/marketing/client-onboarding-essential and is cross-posted here with permission.