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Welcome Aboard – What is client onboarding and why is it so important?
Justine Lovett - Business Development Manager 18th December 2019 Read time 6 minutes
Introducing a new client to the business is an exciting time, but it's really important to get things off to a great start.
Naturally, you'll want to extend your client the warmest of welcomes - but onboarding is much more than inviting them in for coffee, cake and a chat. It's primarily about reassuring them that they have made the right decision about wanting to work with you and giving them confidence that you can achieve great results for their business.
Client onboarding processes
An effective way to start is by demonstrating that you have a structured onboarding process in place - a path to follow that allows you both share important information, address any concerns and manage expectations early on in the relationship.
It doesn't have to be overly complicated but it should include some important elements such as -
- A contract, agreement or letter of engagement - this is important as it establishes commitment by both parties to proceed and outlines business terms. It can include hourly rates, fixed fee pricing, payment schedules and payment terms.
- Obtaining business information - address, phone numbers, email etc - all the basics you need to set up a client in your accounts and internal systems.
- Identifying the key contacts, their responsibilities and levels of authority - you'll need to know that you are talking to the right decision makers during the project to make sure things flow smoothly and efficiently.
Once you have the basic information, you'll needed to assign your own team and go through the project in detail, sharing research and background information. You can establish who will lead the project and become the main point of contact for the client. Ideally, the appointed lead will have some shared interests or things in common with the client, as this can help to build a strong relationship.
You will also need to create a project timeline, outlining different stages of work and highlight exactly what you will need from the client and when you need it in order to be able to deliver a successful project. This will help everyone understand what they need to do from the outset.
Have a kick-off meeting with your client
Face-to-face meetings are best as it's easier to build relationships in person. Ideally, you should host the first meeting in your offices as it is a great way to welcome them to your agency and culture. You can give them a tour of the building and introduce them to the wider team, while showcasing previous campaigns and let them experience the creative process first-hand.
Your first meeting needs to be friendly and welcoming - but make sure there is a clear agenda and structure to keep things on track. Some of things you need to cover include:
- Introductions - make sure your project management team and the client are properly introduced and understand the roles they will play.
- Objectives - ensure you clearly understand overall business goals and both parties agree the project objectives and how it will be measured.
- Logistics - outline the project parameters and clearly explain what constitutes as an 'amendment' and what is classed as 'additional' chargeable work.
- Manage expectations - discuss the project timeline, stages of work and payment schedules.
- Ways of working - outline how, when and what the client needs to contribute to ensure the project runs smoothly and on time. Be prepared to amend the original timeline to accommodate your client's internal processes and procedures.
- Responsibilities - talk through responsibilities and approval processes for each part of the project and who the overall decision maker is.
- Actions - agree the next steps and have a Q&A session to cover off any other areas of uncertainty.
At the end of the meeting you should have developed a strong rapport and have a clear action plan to take the project forward. Follow up the meeting with a 'thank you' email and a written summary of the key meeting points so that you have a reference of what was discussed. This is also a good opportunity to circulate contact information to all those involved in the project and reiterate the next steps.
Maintain regular contact with your own team and the client to make sure things are running smoothly and that everyone is still on the same page. Identifying any potential issues early and addressing them quickly will avoid any frustration and misunderstanding as the project progresses. Telephone calls are best in the early stages of relationship building as emails are very often misconstrued or misunderstood. By all means, follow up your call with more information on email but don't rely on email as the primary communication method in the early stages of onboarding (unless your client has specifically requested it).
Keep in mind that this is a new relationship and your client is likely to require some additional 'hand-holding' so be prepared to invest more time and make sure you are available in the on-boarding phase. Let your client know that they can ask questions and discuss any concerns as this will allow you to talk things through, address any issues and reassure them that they made the right decision in choosing to work with you.
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