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Client Onboarding: The Ultimate Guide (Steps, Examples, Free Template)

When it comes to client onboarding, you’re responsible for making the best first impression possible. Without proper standardization, it can be too easy for things to slip through the cracks.

Luckily, standardization can stop you from fumbling the bag. You do want to ace your client onboarding, right? 

Here at Process Street, we love to turn everything we do into a process. Client onboarding is one of those recurring things we needed to standardize into a repeatable workflow. It’s through this standardization that we’re able to provide consistent onboarding experiences to our clients. 

And these clients love the process too, so much so that we’ve got an endless list of quotes like this:

“Before Process Street, we would probably hold our new employees’ hands for a good month. But now we’ll show them something for two weeks and then we’re able to throw them into things.”

Ellie Rego, Product Manager at Wodify 

Through the thousands of clients we’ve onboarded throughout the years, we’ve been able to understand that great client onboarding is all about having a super strong system in place.

A system that allows us to: 

  • Move quickly
  • Understand exactly what it is each partner needs
  • Maintain close communication
  • Provide an action-oriented framework that drives stellar client experience

Here’s a guide to get you doing the same. 

What is client onboarding? 

Client onboarding is the process of welcoming new clients into your services. The goal is to make sure you start off on the right foot, and start providing value for them ASAP.

It’s also a time during which important information will be exchanged to facilitate work and prevent bottlenecks.

SLAs (Service Level Agreements) are often used to clarify deliverables and establish a timeline.

Length of client onboarding will depend on the complexity of the product or service being offered. Your client onboarding may take the form of a simple welcome email and a meeting with project stakeholders, or it may involve a complex, month-long setup cycle.

Often, client onboarding will incorporate key milestones, to help track progress and understand “when onboarding ends”. What that looks like will depend on how you work with your client, and what kind of service or product you’re offering. More complex services, and more complex problems may require longer, more complex onboarding.

Either way, the goal will remain the same: Client satisfaction.

Your ultimate goal while onboarding is to make your new clients feel as though they’ve made the right choice by choosing your company.

Examples of client onboarding

There are many examples where client onboarding can add value and help to improve the quality of the product or service you’re offering, thereby improving long-term business.

For example, you could be an IT managed services provider dealing with complex technical problems per client. Having a client onboarding process in place helps you establish a roadmap, lay down reasonable expectations for deliverables, and exchange important information to reassure your client and address any immediate questions or concerns they might have.

Or, you could be a software design agency starting a new project. You need to be on the same page with your client about timeline, deliverables, communication channels, stakeholders, and work owners. 

You’ll also likely need to have a kickoff call, and there will probably be some kind of spec sheet for requirements that needs to be established ASAP. A clear process for client onboarding helps to streamline this process and allows you to focus on supporting your client more directly.

Here’s a few examples to support client onboarding: 

  • Knowledge base content 
  • ‘Get started’ videos
  • Surveys used to understand what your client’s wish to receive from using your services
  • Interactive walkthroughs and tutorials 
  • Automated welcome emails and in-app messages 
  • Automated check-ins and support 

The importance of good client onboarding

why is client onboarding important?

Gartner Group has stated that 80% of a business’s future revenue will likely come from 20% of its existing client base, so it’s easy to understand why you should allocate company resources to ensure you keep your existing clients happy. 

If you’re onboarding new clients effectively (e.g. they become long-term customers), you’re saving money, because it’s cheaper to keep an existing client than it is to attract a new one. 

There are multiple factors at play here.

Making a good first impression with client onboarding

One reason to focus on providing a good onboarding experience for new clients is because you want them to remain loyal to your company.

Losing a client due to a poor first impression means that the time and resources you’ve spent on marketing, relationship building, and proposal drafting have all been in vain. All of your hard work is wasted if you aren’t doing a good job onboarding your new client. 

Good client onboarding fuels word-of-mouth marketing

For one, because happy clients are excellent referrals, and we all know word-of-mouth still remains the most powerful form of marketing. That said, it’s no surprise that 20 to 50% of purchases come from recommendations made by previous clients. 

Word-of-mouth marketing can be an extremely effective compound lever that allows you to not only retain existing customers, but get new customers (and free marketing) for free!

Build strong lasting relationships with clients

So how do you build lasting relationships with clients, make them excited about your business, and convert them into evangelists?

Well, you need a good product. You need to deliver real value. Because when you’re product-first and delight clients with your offering, you’ve already won half the battle.

But that’s not all; first impressions are important, too, as well as the operational efficiency of your business. And both of these things are core pillars of client onboarding.

That’s why focusing on how you onboard your new clients is so important.

Benefits of effective client onboarding 

Viewing client onboarding as a core business strategy, rather than a nice-to-have tacked on as an afterthought, you start to see its true benefit. 

When done efficiently, it helps to:

Reduced client churn 

Your highest risk of client churn happens during the first 90 days. By demonstrating value and building relationships early on, you help to reduce this risk of client churn. 

A good client onboarding strategy will work to foster this relationship and walk them through the value of your product or service. Your clients are satisfied with your business and want to stick around. 

Improved efficiency 

An effective client onboarding process doesn’t just help your clients. It also helps your employees. With this onboarding strategy, your employees have all the information they need right at their fingertips. 

Your well-documented onboarding process puts your employees in the best possible position for success. This helps increase your team’s overall efficiency while preventing bottlenecks later down the line.  

Increased client base 

As I mentioned before, your clients work as powerful referrals. Edelman Trust Barometer reported that 84% of B2B decision-markers start their buying journey with a referral. 

Delighting your new clients with a effective onboarding strategy will help to foster strong relationships and upsell your existing clients moving forward. But it will also help you gain referrals. 

What are the challenges of onboarding clients? 

You might be bouncing between the idea of using a client onboarding process. Here are some strong indicators that can help you understand if a client onboarding strategy is the right choice for you: 

  • You have a high client churn
  • You see a low feature adoption rate 
  • There’s a significant load of support requests 

Steps to successful client onboarding

A lot of time, energy, and money is needed to attract potential clients to a product or service. So it doesn’t make sense to lose these clients once they finally sign up with your company. 

With an efficient client onboarding process, you have a plan in place and a clear direction. This ensures both your client’s and business’s needs are met. 

Here are the steps you should follow to help get the most out of your onboarding process:  

Step one: Assess the current needs of your client 

client onboarding how to identify client needs

Your clients may all have different reasons for picking your company just as they’ll likely have different uses for your product or service. Understanding their weaknesses and strengths will help you develop a comprehensive plan that lets them get the most out of your service. 

You want to make a list of your client’s current strengths and highlights areas that can be improved. From here, lay out a path that involves your service being the thing they can use to make these improvements. This plan helps establish your company as an expert source your client can use to combat their weaknesses. 

Step two: Take note of your client’s desired objectives 

An excellent marketing campaign is what got your client aware of your company. You already have an idea of what your client is hoping to achieve and you’ve advertised how you can help them. Now’s the time to develop measurable goals that your team can act on. 

The more articulated these goals are, the better your team understands what’s expected of them. You then need to have a system in place that holds responsible team members accountable for achieving these goals. 

For example, at Process Street, our company mission is to make recurring work fast, fun, and faultless. This is the measurable goal we advertise to our clients, and it’s what each of our employees work towards achieving. 

Step three: Make sure your team is briefed 

Now that you have a clear understanding of your client’s needs, strengths and weaknesses, and their desired goals, it’s time to brief your team. You want your team fully-aware of your client, the work involved, and their industry. This can be by having your employees: 

  • Assigned to reading materials 
  • Working through the initial assessment (or demo call) and contract
  • Documenting next-steps based on available information 

Once your team has a clear understanding of your client, they’re better prepared to start their kickoff call. 

Step four: Schedule a kickoff call 

Once your team knows your client and what needs to be done for a successful onboarding experience, it’s time to schedule a kickoff call. 

Making sure your team is prepared helps offer a good impression to your client. Without this good impression, your client is likely to lose faith in your company’s ability to help them achieve their desired goals. 

It’s vital that your team demonstrates their understanding of the client. Once this kickoff call is complete, both you and your client should have a clear vision to work towards. 

This plan can then be sent over to your client with measurable goals and milestones created by your team to nurture engagement. 

Step five: Have regular check-ins

It’s important to check in with your client periodically to ensure everything is going smoothly. These regular check-ins also work as an excellent tool to build your relationship with the client. 

Have a list of questions to help you gain insight into your client’s experience so far. For example: 

  • How are you feeling about our product/service? 
  • Is there anything you aren’t 100% clear about?
  • What can we do to help you gain the most out of your experience? 
  • Is there any reason you might consider not using our company any more? 

With these questions, you can better understand if your client is still on the right path to achieving their desired goals. It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of client experience and satisfaction, because if you lose track of this vital metric, you run the risk of churn.

That’s exactly what these kinds of questions are for. Regular check-ins can help you highlight what the problem is and how you can redirect them before they feel dissatisfied and leave your company.  

Client onboarding best practices 

You only have one chance to onboard your new clients – and you want to get it right from the get-go. Here are some best practices to help ensure your delivery is spot on each time: 

Standardize your client onboarding

The secret to client onboarding success is consistency. That’s why it’s important to standardize your onboarding process with comprehensive templates your team can use to reference any time they need to onboard a new client. 

Prioritize a people-focused approach

Oftentimes client onboarding processes focus on ticking off tasks from a template. Although the best onboarding processes need to run through all the steps, the tasks shouldn’t be what your team is most focused on. 

Instead, your approach to onboarding should be to build relationships with your new clients. Practicing a people-focused approach means putting the people first. That entails being attentive to your new client’s specific goals and needs. 

You want to acknowledge your clients questions, fears, and concerns as soon as possible. This is vital to building trust during the early stages of onboarding. 

Revisit the concerns your new clients expressed during the sales process and highlight ways you can help them. A great way to do this is with a quarterly plan, setting expectations, or a list of quick wins. 

Prove your value immediately 

This is especially important if your new clients are trying out your product or service. At the start of onboarding or during their trial period, you want to demonstrate the value your company can provide to them. 

By doing this, you’re more likely to convert them into paid clients or have them more loyal to your company. 

Your client’s goals might be mostly longer term. But that doesn’t mean you can’t demonstrate results from the get-go. 

Set smaller milestones that can be achieved in the short term and then work towards these successes. These can then be the metrics you present your new client during your next check-in to help prove this value. 

Have organized communication channels 

Consistent communication will keep your client engaged. Not nurturing engagement can led your client away from your company, which is exactly what you don’t want happening.

Here are some important things to ask your client when setting up a communication system: 

  • Are they in the same time zone? 
  • Would your client want a weekly, biweekly, or monthly check-in meeting? 
  • Would your client like to be included in your company updates and newsletter lists? 

But the most important thing to know is how long your new client wants to hear from you. 

In most service-based instances, it’s necessary to offer larger loads of communication early on to ensure your clients aren’t missing out on anything. You can then slow down on this communication further along in the onboarding process.  

Encourage client feedback

Once your new client has completed most of the onboarding process and you’ve had regular check-ins with them, it’s time to ask for feedback about their experience. Here are some questions you might want to ask: 

  • Is this communication schedule working for you? 
  • Is this goal schedule aligning with your expectations? 
  • Do your milestones align with the objectives you wish to receive? 
  • Is something missing?
  • How could your experience be improved? 

Not only does this feedback empower you to ensure your client’s experience is good, it also helps you improve your onboarding process for clients in the future. 

People love feeling comfortable about expressing their opinions. Offering this comfortable environment is only going to grow your client’s engagement and keep them loyal to your business.  

Client onboarding software

Onboarding is an extensive process. You need to dedicate a ton of time and resources to get it done right. One of the biggest challenges is creating the process you ultimately follow each time you onboard a new client. 

Client onboarding software can be incredibly beneficial when it comes time to sit down and construct an onboarding process. 

With an efficient onboarding software, you can access a library of pre-made templates that can be used to onboard your new client. A good client onboarding tool lets you edit these templates to your exact preferences and run it whenever you welcome a new client to your company. 

How client onboarding software achieves onboarding optimization 

Investing in a client onboarding software tool means your templates are easily accessible in a centralized onboarding hub. This helps promote visibility, because a good onboarding tool will offer analytics and reports to illuminate what state a client is at within the onboarding process.

Simply put, these reporting systems can send notifications whenever tasks are completed, overdue, on-track, or need approvals. This leads to a more streamlined process. 

How client onboarding software helps streamline onboarding automation 

Process mapping is a vital step to creating an onboarding process. It involves highlighting all the tasks you need to complete until your client is fully onboarded. 

With a client onboarding software, you get a birds eye view of all the tasks needed within a single onboarding process. From here, you can identify which tasks are recurring and then automate them. 

Good onboarding tools feature popular integrations to help automate tedious tasks and streamline the whole experience. Therefore, by investing in client onboarding tools, you increase your efficiency, promote consistency, and reduce costs. 

A complete client onboarding template 

Want to offer an exceptional onboarding experience to your new clients today? Use this template to get started! 

The future of client onboarding 

Us at Process Street love our product so much that we use it ourselves. That means the very software we’re providing to you (the client), we’re using ourselves to onboard you (the client). 

We onboard you with Process Street’s onboarding software, you onboard your clients with the same software and the cycle continues.Continuing this cycle of consistent onboarding experiences helps keep your clients engaged and employees on the ball. 

Without effective client onboarding, you’ll likely see a larger churn, which is exactly what you don’t want. That’s why software is the future of client onboarding. 

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