July 24

Successful Client On-boarding in 3 Critical Steps

Written by: Patrick Dodge |

client on-boarding roadmap

Every business needs to a top notch client on-boarding process, but few of them give it the attention it deserves.

Regardless of how long it takes for your solution to deliver results, customers will start forming opinions about your company the instant you start working together, and you have about 90 days to prove their decision to work with you was a wise one.

The minute the contract is signed, the clock is running. Tick, tock...tick, tock...

Every business has a process for bringing new clients into the family, whether formal or informal. Your job is to simplify and document those steps, manage the kick-off process, and provide an ongoing communication strategy that’s effective and memorable. 

1. Simplify and Document Your Process

First things first. You cannot deliver an excellent on-boarding experience without showing clients a clear, definitive roadmap that explains how things will go.

Despite the best of intentions, the game plan is usually poorly communicated. Before you start laying out the process with clients, you need to get the implementation team together and flesh out a formal on-boarding plan. Start by putting every step you can think of on a white board and categorize them under three to five headlines. When it feels like every step is in place, it’s time to do some editing. Look for opportunities to combine redundant steps and eliminate others that don’t add much to the final result.

Simplicity matters when it comes to on-boarding. It’s easy to forget clients are insanely busy. They also don’t know your team yet, nor what to expect from them. For these reasons, breaking down your process into easily digestible steps is vital. Even the most complex solutions can be reduced to first principles, so get in there and do some trimming!

When the document is complete, you might consider repurposing it into a few formats for different learning styles. Why not make that PowerPoint deck into a two-minute video or an infographic? Regardless of which formats you choose, remember to keep it simple.

2. Schedule the Kick-Off Meeting One Week After the Sale

team-meeting

When the deal is signed and the sales team is breaking their wrists giving each other high-fives -- it's time to get the on-boarding kick-off meeting on the calendar. Confirm a time no more than one week after the sale is finalized. The longer you wait to start the process, the harder it will be to keep everything you discussed in the sales process fresh in the client's mind. 

This meeting is mandatory for everyone involved. Depending on the solution you’re implementing, key players from the Sales, Marketing, IT, and Operations teams may need to be there. 

The agenda for the meeting should look like this:

  1. Introduce team members on both sides and ensure everyone knows their role in the process.
  2. Review the objective, strategy, and challenges confirmed in the sales process. The goal should be specific and measurable with a clear end-point where everyone knows when the client has gotten what they paid for.
  3. Get answers to critical questions that will facilitate better communication and enable your implementation team to work efficiently.
  4. Clarify responsibilities on both sides of the table. Make sure there is no confusion over who is responsible for delivery of each component, and who provides access, assets, and approval on the client’s side.
  5. Set next steps and confirm the next meeting date before adjourning.


3. Get Creative with Communication.

Think about the effort your team went through in step number one, distilling the on-boarding process into a single document. If it took your own employees some effort to organize their actions into repeatable steps, imagine what the experience is like for your clients!

No matter how invested they are after signing up for your solution, they’ve probably got a long way to go before fully acclimating to your process. As the solution provider, you must make it as easy as possible for new partners to understand what will happen and when.

This will require some creativity on your part.

Relying on email is not a good way to usher people through the process! Most clients can barely keep up with their inboxes on a good day. You might think you are keeping them informed by sending frequent updates about what your team has accomplished, but emails are too easily missed, buried, and forgotten. Even if your emails do get read, the process will feel fragmented and uncertain to your customer.

Instead, try presenting your timeline in a format that’s creative, memorable, and easy to reference. In his book, “Never Lose a Customer Again," Joey Coleman highlights a software company called PolicyMedical that had a complex implementation process. After simplifying it down to a manageable number of steps, they brainstormed a better way of communicating their progress to clients.

The day before the kick-off meeting, clients receive a package in the mail. During the meeting, the PolicyMedical team asks the client to open a package where they find a puzzle consisting of a frame and several pieces that outline the process. Each piece of the puzzle has a number on it representing a step in the on-boarding, along with a unique image, header, and description on the back.

As PolicyMedical works through an implementation, they send email updates with graphics that match the puzzle piece they are currently on. When each step is completed, the team encourages the client’s project manager to place it in the frame so they can stay current on how things are progressing.

By making a timeline that’s visual, interactive, and fun, PolicyMedical now delivers a great experience to new customers. The puzzle removes any doubt or anxiety about the work being done and gives people a clear understanding of what happens next. This is just one example of how a creative approach can transform an otherwise complex process for new clients.

Let’s be honest. Most businesses provide solutions that are similar – if not exactly the same – as their competitors. This applies to your company, as well as ours. The real differentiator today is the experience customers have with our brand, and it begins with on-boarding. By removing opportunities for doubt and uncertainty, you can manage client expectations and emotions in a way that strengthens your relationship in the earliest stages of the partnership. 

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