Client onboarding process: 7 tips to reduce churn

Author: Nga Nguyen

Author: Nga Nguyen

Founder of PortaIstack. I come from a background in business consulting and technology delivery. Over the years, I've accumulated a collection of learnings from unforced errors big corporates make - I now want to use these learnings to help small businesses launch and scale up.

What is client onboarding?

You’ve just picked up a new client after a long courtship. Your sales team, your firm’s rainmaker, or you personally made plenty of promises during the sales process. Now comes the part where you need to make good on your promises. In short, client onboarding is the beginning of the service delivery phase post-sale.

This is the phase where you transition new clients to your business, products and services. This is also the phase where it can get heavy on the client data and document collection. Depending on your industry, it may require lots of fact finding, collecting KYC (know your customer) information, migration or transition requirements, needs analysis etc.

Why is the client onboarding process so important?

Make no mistake, the client onboarding process is one of the most crucial points in the entire client engagement journey – this is especially true in the case of new relationships.

Client onboarding done right, you get to cement your relationship with your new client and turn them into raving advocates (and future referral source). But get it wrong, it can be a long and winding path to rebuilding that trust level (best case), or your client may end up walking (worst case).

A widely accepted rule of thumb is that the cost to retain clients is much lower than it is to acquire new ones (to the tune of 5x). Hubspot estimates that only a 5% increase in client retention can increase revenue by 25-95%.

The solution may seem obvious enough – just make the client onboarding experience simple and intuitive, I hear you say. The reality is, you’d be surprised how often businesses miss the opportunity to make a great first impression by failing on some of the most basic practices of the client onboarding process.

Here are our top 7 tips to optimise your client onboarding process, so you can reduce churn, improve your bottom line, and grow your business.

Tip #1: Avoid making assumptions

You may have heard the saying “assumptions are the mother of all…mistakes”. Making assumptions about what your clients already know, understand and expect can easily come back to bite.

Avoid the rookie mistake of assuming that your onboarding steps and instructions should be “obvious” to your clients.

Be specific. Using vague language will often result in inaccurate information collection. If using any technical jargons or acronyms, be sure to clearly define what they are.

Use the onboarding phase as an opportunity to agree and align on priorities, establish shared understandings, and define joint expectations.

Tip #2: Paper or PDF forms are not cool

For whatever reason, paper forms remain one of those vestiges from the pre-internet era we just can’t seem to shake – it still exists in pockets within certain industries!

To put it bluntly, sending your clients their onboarding checklist using paper or PDF forms is asking for it to be placed in the too hard basket. That’s because they’re tedious to complete – it’s that simple.

Tip #3: Use rich content to communicate

Information presented on paper or PDF forms are static. This naturally precludes you from using rich media formats such as videos, audio and images as a method to keeping your clients engaged throughout the tedious information and document collection process.

It also serves as a better way to communicate the information you’re requesting and why. Instead of loading up with dense text, you could replace or supplement that content with a short and snappy explainer video or image to explain what you need, why you need it, and provide examples as visual references for your clients.

Tip #4: Use smart digital forms

Ever come across an application form that’s 10 pages long? It can seem overwhelming, and again, this can lead to deferral. But often these epic forms have conditional questions, for instance, if you satisfy condition x, you may skip to question y.

The issue here is, it’s not easy to quickly get a sense of how many questions are actually relevant to you, so it becomes difficult to estimate the time you need to allocate towards completing it.

Ditch the clumsy paper and PDF forms, and replace them with modern-looking digital forms with conditional logic enabled – this way, you only display relevant questions based on your clients’ responses to prior questions.

Tip #5: Use esignature for faster client onboarding

Bold statement spoiler alert here: printers and scanners are going out of fashion just as fast as MC Hammer’s happy pants.

In the absence of an all-in-one printer and scanner combo at home, we’re reduced to making trips to our local OfficeWorks for printing, and then using a scanner app on our phone. I don’t know about you, but I always struggle to get the right amount of light to fall on the paper to take a clean scan.

This is all by way of saying – why create all these frictions for your clients by asking them to sign and return documents when it could all be done online with a digital signing solution, all within minutes?

Tip #6: Track your clients' onboarding progress

This may come across as creepy. But frame it another way: having a mechanism to track your clients’ onboarding progress means you can proactively reach out to them to offer support if they seem stuck at a particular progress point.

Tip #7: Use a client onboarding software

Even in the world of Slack and Microsoft Teams, email still dominates as the primary communication channel for most businesses today. But using email to request and collect client onboarding information is not the most efficient or effective method for both you and your clients.

When it comes to collecting client information and organising files and attachments, it’s best to use client onboarding software.

Firstly, email is inherently insecure, so should be avoided when dealing with sensitive client data. Secondly, it’s a far better experience for your clients to access a centralised place to manage their own data and files, rather than the back and forth with email threads.

Wrap up

It’s hard to recover from a negative first impression. That’s why nailing the client onboarding experience is so important. Using paper-based onboarding checklists simply does not cut the mustard in today’s digital era – scratch that, it’s downright rude.

By using modern digital tools like Portalstack for client onboarding, document collection and client management, you can finally say goodbye to the pile of paperwork and long persistent email chains, with multiple versions of files and attachments. For your clients, it means removing unnecessary friction by having everything organised in one place.

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