It’s hard to change the first impression – especially in business.
Client onboarding is business parlance for ‘the first impression’, and it’s often overlooked. Every business onboards customers in a different way; for some it is an intensive very high-touch process, and for others the whole process can be low-touch and entirely automated.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Low-touch onboarding is an approach that minimises human interaction, and automated processes are used. These can include automated marketing, training or set-up. This is a common approach for mass-market consumer products like Facebook or Spotify where the volume of users means only automated onboarding is viable; it’s also common for low-priced SaaS businesses.
High-touch onboarding demands a more personal experience, where a business focuses on fewer valuable clients rather than a large number of low-value ones. In this approach the client has unique needs that are usually complex and would be hard to address using automated processes, so a manual process would be employed. A law firm taking on an important client would focus on building the relationship, understanding the client’s needs, setting expectations and protocols, and this would be very likely to happen face-to-face.
Make Your Client Onboarding Exceptional
No client onboarding process is the same. However, there are seven steps most businesses will consider to some extent:
1. Assessing the client’s needs
2. Necessary financial/legal checks
3. Mapping the onboarding journey
4. Building an exceptional and scalable onboarding process
5. Getting your team onside
6. Checking in with clients
7. Monitoring success as an ongoing process
1. Assessment of the client’s needs
An important step of the onboarding process is to identify why the client has come to you in the first place and what their needs are.
Once you’ve built a view of the client’s needs it can act as a reference to guide the business. The business should think about what they can do to make the client delighted at every stage of the onboarding process.
Let’s take the example of a corporate client that has booked a hotel for a conference. The hotel needs to understand the client’s needs which may be a set of needs like this:
- They are keen to ensure that the event is a success; it will reflect badly on them if anything goes wrong, so they are generally anxious.
- They are nervous that they’ve overlooked key details.
- They are nervous about what the hotel would do in the event of an issue arising.
- They are probably time-pressured and likely to be planning this event alongside other responsibilities.
Once the corporate hospitality team has built out how the client is feeling, they can think about how to create a perfect experience. Let’s look at what they could do:
- The hotel writes out a clear itinerary for the client and sends it out a month in advance inviting issues and questions.
- The hotel offers ideas and suggestions that may make the event better; for example, the client may not have considered different bread in the morning sandwiches or offering a range of herbal teas. Or perhaps there are roadworks on that day, so the hotel sends an alternative travel route and suggested timings.
- The hotel sends out a pack that outlines their procedures in case of an issue. For example, if more people turn up than expected, the hotel outlines how they’ll resolve that on the day, or if a guest is vegetarian and hasn’t let the company know, there is a process to deal with this. The message to the client is clear: ‘don’t worry, we’ve got everything covered’.
- On the day of the event, the hotel assigns a liaison to the client who is there to greet them and make sure any last-minute worries or questions are addressed. They can also help with any problems that arise during the day, like a malfunctioning projector or the bar running out of coffee. Again the messaging is: ‘we’re here to help’.
The measures outlined above are pretty simple; they just require a bit of forethought and care. If the hotel does all of these things, the likelihood of problems on the day will be greatly minimised, and client satisfaction is increased.
2. Get the Due Diligence Right
It’s incredibly common for businesses to get due diligence wrong when taking on a new client. Three critical mistakes are:
1. Poor financial checks
2. Poor regulatory checks
3. Approaching the wrong clients
Getting a clear picture of a client’s financial health is vitally important. You only need to look at Carillion and the spate of high-street brands collapsing to understand why assessing the financial circumstances of clients is critical. Red Flag Alert does this better than anyone, with a market-leading financial health score for every business in the UK that’s updated daily.
Anti-money laundering and PEP screening are requirements that are becoming more stringent. Red Flag Alert has the most comprehensive AML service in the UK.
Selling to clients that won’t pass due diligence is a huge waste of time. Savvy marketing managers use Red Flag Alert to build profiles of potential clients that will pass due diligence and will, therefore, get ahead of the problem.
3. Mapping the Onboarding Journey
At each step of the onboarding process, the business should identify the goal they have in mind and what feeling they are trying to evoke in the client.
Think about every touchpoint the customer has with your business. Let’s look at some key customer touchpoints for an airline.
1. They search for a flight on the website
2. They book flights
3. They check in online and choose seats
4. They arrive at the airport bag check-in
5. They go to the private departure lounge
6. They board the plane
7. They have some food and use the in-flight entertainment
8. They disembark and collect baggage
These onboarding touchpoints are important. In the airline example, if we consider points one to three as onboarding we can see how critical they are. The client:
- Finds the airline
- Makes a buying decision
- Goes through the buying process
- Collects key information about their flight
By the end of these steps they are likely to have formed a strong opinion of the airline, so the airline should focus on making the onboarding process exceptional. This good first impression can make a client positive about the airline, opening the door to a good experience and, ultimately, repeat business.
What could the airline do? Let’s look at three simple and effective ideas to make the onboarding exceptional.
1. Ensure the process of booking the flights is transparent and simple for the user – the website interface should be simple, laying out the options and highlighting the best one from a cost perspective.
2. When the customer books in their luggage, instead of just labelling weights the airline could have a simple graphic that shows the typical size of bag that constitutes a certain weight. Again, making the process simple.
3. When the customer chooses their seat, different ones could be highlighted for people with certain needs, e.g. children, the elderly or disabled clients. These seats are clearly labelled, with a brief explanation of why they suit different groups.
4. Build an Exceptional and Scalable Onboarding Process
Once the business has spent time looking at who they’re targeting and the key onboarding journey, it will need to build a process that wows the client.
The process needs to be commercially viable. There is no point in pouring time, money and resources into a process that is unprofitable – there must be a balance between value to the user and cost. The best processes are high value and low cost.
British Airways could build a cinema, swimming pool and massages into their departure lounges and offer them for free, but the cost is likely to be prohibitive, so how can similar value be delivered without the cost? An example would be an excellent website experience which only needs to be developed once but can pay off time and time again for years.
A good exercise is to brainstorm an incredible onboarding process and then start to work out scalable ways to make the exceptional possible. For example, if an incredible way to help users choose seats would be to have a VR tour of the plane, this may be impractical now but is there a way to get close to this? Perhaps some images and a video tour of the cockpit could be a viable alternative that achieves at least some of the benefit.
5. Set the Standard Early
A large part of successful onboarding is ensuring there is clarity in the parameters of the relationship and ensuring that key relationships are built early on.
Clear parameters are important: clarity over what you will and won’t do helps the client picture the service and will be vital for preventing problems in the future. Construction is an industry with constant disagreements about whether completed work meets the specification. The best construction companies mitigate these problems by using some important onboarding steps.
1. Develop a clear, tight specification that leaves no room for subjectivity – detailing from how many people should be on site right down to the type of nail.
2. Share this with the client at the beginning of the process, so potential areas of disagreement are addressed.
3. If there are any parts of the project reliant on third parties, outline these as a potential risk –e.g. ordering bespoke doors from a specialist supplier in Denmark.
4. Give the client contact details for a project manager who is working on their job – they will make sure that the client is happy and any concerns are addressed.
5. Only begin the project when the client understands and is happy with the scope of works.
6. Get Your Team Onside
The client onboarding process will be a multidisciplinary process. Salespeople, account managers and technical teams are often involved. The business needs to set the expectation with employees that the onboarding process is vital. There are a few ways to do this:
1. Use numbers to highlight the value of effective customer onboarding: “Of customers who leave us in the first year, 87% do so in the first 30 days” or “78% of dissatisfaction arises at the onboarding process stage.”
2. Ensure that the team understands the onboarding process.
3. Equip them to deliver their part, whether this is sales, customer services or technology, ensure they have resources to deliver the onboarding vision.
4. Listen to ideas: front-line staff often have good ideas about improving the customer experience. Listen to employees who spend time around customers.
5. If appropriate, build in compensation for maintaining high onboarding standards.
7. Check In with Clients
It is always a good idea to check in with clients as an opportunity to gain feedback and see what is and isn’t working.
Dependent on the business, a check-in can be an online questionnaire or a face-to-face meeting. The objective is partly to improve future performance, partly to fix problems and partly to make the client feel valued and cement the relationship.
This doesn’t need to be a one-off exercise after x number of days; it should be a culture of listening to the customer and improving. The CEO chatting to customers and project managers continually checking clients are happy are both examples of staying ahead of problems and learning what customers want.
8. Monitor Success as an Ongoing Process
Collecting feedback on the onboarding process is a good way to collate all the information and identify common complaints and successes.
For example, if a hotel receives complaints that check-in can only be done after 2pm and people want it to be earlier, they can try to rectify this. There could be some rooms that have an early check-in and that can, therefore, be an option that clients can choose upon booking.
Similarly, it can be used to identify points of strength. If feedback on a certain aspect is positive, the business can work to improve it further or ensure it’s the same for everyone.
Client onboarding is unique for every business, but a common thread is that customers who have a good early experience are more likely to forgive future sins. Zeroing in on this early interaction is an important step to winning and keeping customers.
How Red Flag Alert can Help
We’re a perfect partner for businesses looking to streamline their onboarding process. Our software allows you to access up-to-date intelligence on any business in the UK.
- 6.5m+ UK businesses
- 100+ indicators of financial health tracked
- 50,000+ new businesses every month
- 100,000+ data changes every month
- 2.6m+ telephone records
This helps you:
- Ensure you have detailed information on each client, details on contacts and key decision-makers who will help communications with the business.
- Ensure your due diligence meets the right standard: detailed information on businesses and individuals important for ID verification, KYC, PEP and AML Checks.
- A detailed financial health rating for every business in the UK means you can quickly conduct financial and business credit checks without disrupting the onboarding process.
- The Red Flag API allows you to plug this information into your CRM in real time.