Relationships Trump Tasks
When a new client joins your firm, this is the time to reinforce the fact that they made the right decision. The client should feel joy at the thought of working with you and begin to see firsthand all that exceptional service you touted during the sales process.
Unfortunately, that is not how many firms approach onboarding. Instead of putting the relationship front and center, they focus on a checklist of things they need to collect from the client. It is about getting the client to do what you need them to do so you can get to the next thing on the list. Not really a great first impression.
Before you simply put together a welcome package to send a new client and think that is onboarding, consider the following components of the client experience that can improve your onboarding process.
The Hand-Off From Sales
Business development executives (BDEs) are typically very hands-on in the sales process. They ask solid questions to get to know the potential client well, developing a level of trust with them along the way. Partners that do the selling also accomplish this to varying degrees based on their unique strengths. The difference is that the partner is probably on the client service team while the BDE is not. Extra care needs to be used when a BDE is involved. Transferring this knowledge from the sales team to the service team is instrumental. It is in the BDEs best interest to lend a hand, too, since his or her commission usually depends on that client remaining a client for an extended period of time.
Rather than sending a client an email asking about something sales learned weeks or months ago, what if you knew that information and could simply run with it? The information gathered in the sales person’s head (and hopefully in your CRM) throughout the sales process is substantial. Make sure your onboarding process includes knowledge transfer at the start.
Orchestrate Your Communications Strategy
There are many examples out there of clients who have been bombarded by their accountants upon signing an engagement letter. For example, in one case, different people in the firm sent 15 emails to the client in a matter of weeks with different requests. It became difficult for the client to make sense and prioritize them. And with each new message, it became white noise that was ignored.
There are a number of people in your firm that may need something different from the client – from setting up a bill payment account to sending prior year tax returns to signing documents. These people must work together in sending communications. Better yet, all these communications can go through one person to reduce the number of emails and provide some sort of priority to the client. Think through this from their perspective, not yours.
Personalize Your Messages
Do you send a welcome package to new clients? Is it the same package that goes to everyone? If so, you are missing a huge aspect of client experience: personalization. What if you, instead, got all the members of the client service team on a video call to record a super short introduction of themselves while reiterating how excited they are to work with the client? Can you imagine how the client would respond?
Think about how to personalize in other ways, too. If you send a gift or a handwritten card to a new client, how can you make more personal? Can you mention something you learned in the sales process? Talk about how you will work with them specifically. Work the names of people on their team into your messaging.
Personalization does not need to be in a specific format, but it is needed. Even better, deliver that personalization in the way the client wants to receive it. So many firms out there turn to peer firms asking for what they do in the onboarding process. Just because a process works for one firm, does not mean it will work for yours. Why? Because you have different clients and your process has to be based on what they want.
Do Not Forget the Voice of the Client
Voice of the Customer (VOC), or client, has been around for decades, but popularity for the concept has increased in recent years as it relates to client experience. Definitions vary slightly, but in simplistic terms, it comes down to an understanding of client needs being the starting point for future improvements. This understanding is gathered through market research like focus groups or surveys or through any other data you may have collected, including compliments and complaints. Needs are then prioritized based on how important it is to the client and whether there is a suitable alternative.
When it comes to what a client wants from your firm during the onboarding process, ask them! You cannot call the shots yourself because you are not the buyer of your services – your clients are. It is their opinions that matter, not yours.
Would a meet-the-team kickoff call be valuable? Do they want a single checklist of what we need from them by when? How frequently do they want you to reach out to follow-up on requests? The questions you can ask are limitless. The answers will help you develop a process for all new clients, improving on what you are doing currently, all while delighting the client. How you deliver on these needs becomes a competitive differentiator.
It is the Beginning of a Valued Relationship
First impressions matter. While not impossible, it is often difficult to come back from a misstep. Focus on the relationship with the client first. Give them what they want. Guide them through what you need and when. Show them how to do things that are second nature to you. Yes, you have a to-do list, but that is secondary to building a trusting relationship.
Onboarding is one part of a larger client experience, and it is this experience that you can sell to the next prospect. It is this process that will get your clients to refer their friends. It is this process that will make your firm one that others want to work with. In the competitive accounting industry, the relationship becomes the trump card that will help you win every time.
About Katie Tolin
Katie Tolin is the president and chief growth guide at CPA Growth Guides. She’s a former in-house marketer having spent time at regional, super-regional and national accounting firms. Today she helps CPA firms drive top-line revenue and profitability through data-driven marketing strategies. She’s a past president of AAM, a former marketer of the year and was inducted into the Accounting Marketing Hall of Fame.
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