Onboarding – the process of familiarizing a new client with your firm’s products or services – is a critical part of your client experience. Ensuring that a new client’s first few interactions with your accounting or bookkeeping firm are awesome (i.e., productive, engaging, and positive) will help your relationship start off on the right foot.
The purpose of onboarding isn’t just for the sake of telling the client what they need to know or helping them to set up their accounts. Rather, it should be viewed as a fundamental phase in which your firm sets expectations for how you and your client will work together to achieve their business goals.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the benefits of onboarding, as well as how your firm can start to standardize your onboarding process for new clients.
Why standardize your onboarding process?
In general, onboarding enables both your client and your firm to experience a number of benefits.
The benefits of onboarding for clients include:
- Better alignment on business goals. According to Lincoln Murphy (author of Customer Success: How Innovative Companies are Reducing Churn and Growing Recurring Revenue): “Proper onboarding isn't done to prevent churn; it's done to ensure the customer achieves their desired outcome. Retention comes from that.” The onboarding process is key for understanding and achieving alignment on your clients’ business goals.
- Reduced scope creep. Similar to business goal alignment, onboarding is critical for discussing and establishing key milestones. Having these discussions during onboarding will help to reduce scope creep as you continue to work with the client.
- Increased client engagement (and happiness!). As mentioned, a streamlined onboarding process will help to engage your client and start your relationship off on the right foot, which means that your client will enjoy working with you. Client engagement is critical for improving your client experience.
Onboarding benefits for your firm include:
- Increased client retention and profitability. Onboarding your clients properly will improve client retention, which leads to increased profitability. In financial services, research shows that a 5% increase in customer retention produces more than a 25% increase in profit. Moreover, happier clients are far more likely to provide referrals, which can also lead to increased profitability.
- Growth and increased scalability. A standardized onboarding process (discussed further below) will help your firm take on more clients and get them up to speed faster.
- Better client relationships. As mentioned above, if your clients are happier, it makes it far easier to have a productive working relationship with them. It all starts with great onboarding!
Standardizing your onboarding process – i.e., systematizing the process so it is scalable and repeatable – further increases these benefits. It will create the benchmark from which your firm can measure progress and performance, as well as help to streamline the experience (for both you and your client). Overall, standardization will help to set the expectation for the rest of your client’s experiences working with your firm.
An important part of standardizing any process is understanding who is involved in the process, and the time frame in which the process should take place. Let’s take a closer look at best practices as they pertain to the “who” and the “when” of new client onboarding.
Who should be involved in the onboarding process?
For smaller firms, the client’s dedicated bookkeeper might be in charge of the entire process of bringing on a new client, from sales, to onboarding, to ongoing bookkeeping.
Given the importance of onboarding, some best-in-class firms have introduced an onboarding function at their firm. The role of the onboarding team or individual (usually holding a title such as Onboarding Manager or Onboarding Specialist) is to be the main point of communication during the client’s transition from sales to the accounting/bookkeeping team.
At a high-level, the onboarding function’s key responsibilities usually include:
- Setting timelines and expectations for the onboarding process
- Gathering the necessary client information (e.g., bank details)
- Assisting the client with app account setup and training
- Transitioning the client over to their dedicated accounting/bookkeeping team
If your firm doesn’t have any plans on the horizon to establish an onboarding function, it’s critical to at least dedicate someone as the main point of contact for the client during the onboarding process. This will help to ensure onboarding moves forward according to plan and, more importantly, is an enjoyable experience.
Should onboarding take place within a specific time frame?
The question of when onboarding should start for new clients is straightforward – onboarding usually begins as soon as your firm receives a signed proposal or engagement letter. (However, it’s worth noting that onboarding, in general, doesn’t apply exclusively to new clients – every time your firm introduces a new product, service, or tool, your clients should be onboarded to ensure a smooth transition).
The question of when new client onboarding should wrap up is a little trickier. It is often cited that clients are most likely to churn within the first 90 days of starting a new product or service. As such, it makes sense to design your onboarding process for your client to be fully onboarded before they hit the 90-day mark in order to prevent churn.
Many best-in-class firms focus on making their onboarding process task-based (as opposed to timeline-based) simply because of the “back and forth” nature of the onboarding process. Rushing through this type of communication will almost certainly lead to missed information or overlooked details, decaying the quality of your client experience.
Of course, dragging on the onboarding process will also have a negative impact on your client experience. It might sound like a non-answer, but it really is up to your firm and your client to determine a timeline that will help to ensure onboarding success.
How do I standardize my new client onboarding process?
Even if you serve a diverse array of clients, the tasks that must be completed during onboarding essentially remain the same for every new client. Standardization involves mapping out these steps and building a repeatable process around them. Embracing automation tools (such as Practice Ignition, Aero Workflow, and Zapier) can also help with standardization, especially when executing redundant tasks.
Our free Bookkeeping Client Onboarding Checklist outlines a framework you can use to standardize your firm’s onboarding process. The checklist includes:
- An overview of what your firm must establish before standardizing your onboarding process
- How to leverage automation to streamline onboarding tasks
- A detailed list of steps to follow to ensure your client has an excellent onboarding experience, every time
Download our free Bookkeeping Client Onboarding Checklist and start standardizing your firm's onboarding process!
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