Learning how to effectively automate onboarding new clients might be one of the most important process in your business. Period. What does “onboarding clients” mean? It is basically the process that happens after your sales team has closed a deal and before you move the client to the state where they are just enjoying your service and everything is flowing correctly. It’s a point in the process where you actually add the client to your client list, where you see that the sale actually worked and they really are moving forward. In this post I would like to center on what you need in order to automate the onboarding process for your service oriented business.
Normally the “onboarding” process includes some sort of real commitment on their side like a payment, signing an agreement or anything that makes the relationship official. In theory it should be an easy process. After all they are after the sale and it is just “paperwork”. Like many things there is a vast void between theory and practice. Most business lose 20-25% of the clients at the “onboarding” stage. Note: these are clients that said yes to your salesperson and decided to move forward with your service. If you lost them at this stage, something went VERY wrong.
“Onboarding clients” happens in every single business. Some are very simple and easy and some are complex. In retail it is as simple as can be. A client decides they want to buy something, you “onboard” them by taking their payment and giving them the merchandise. From there you just need to market to them and see if you can bring them back again. Attendees coming to an event are more complex. You need to onboard them by taking their basic information, allow them to register to speaker sessions (if you have any) or other events. Then you take payment from them in advance (and hopefully autobill them the rest). Finally, you accept them into the event. A school, as strange as it sounds, has a very complex onboarding process for students as do camps, volunteer organizations or any other service oriented organization.
Before going into what you need in order to automate your onboarding let’s look at the market for a moment. There seems to be a void between the sales process and the client success or client maintenance process. The sales process obviously includes your marketing process and many other factors, but once you get a lead in (hot or cold) there are a lot of tools out there that will make sure you implement the best structured and proven sales process for your business. The most obvious tool out there is Salesforce, but there are a lot of systems besides Saleforce that can help you out.
On the other hand, once you have the client in and the onboarding process is complete, many companies move clients to “client success mode” or “client maintenance” mode. In this mode, you need to make sure to update the client about their account, make sure they are happy and are not thinking of leaving you, etc. This is normally the point you supply the service to the client. Again, this can be the actual event they participate in, the camp the child is going to, the lessons a student attends or the services a membership organization gives them. Like in the sales process section, there are a lot of options to select from. They are called CRM systems and stand for Client Relation Management. It’s called this because at this stage you are managing the existing relationship with the client. See something missing here? Good tools to automate your onboarding process simply do not exist!
You are most likely asking yourself why good tools to automate the onboarding process of a service oriented organization are missing. The answer is not that no one has thought about it! Actually a lot have tried and a lot have failed. Seems crazy, right? It is 2016 and technology is allowing us to do the unthinkable. But we have a problem with this??? Why hasn’t anyone nailed it yet? The answer lies in the fact that every onboarding process is different for every single organization and sometimes for every single department or service within the organization! There are no set “best practices”, “best flows” or methods that are right for the majority of organizations. Unlike sales or client management that have more or less reached a point that “best practices” are know, in onboarding this will never exists since the onboarding process is at the heart of the service of an organization and it is the foundation to the legal connection between the organization and the client. Add to this that this is a one time process each client does and not a recurring one. The sad result of this is that there isn’t some out of the box software that addresses this void, there are a lot of specialized solutions for each industry but they all lack something or force you to do it “their” way and claim this is the “industry standard method”. I have yet to meet that “standard” business that does things like everyone else. Hence the problem!
Let’s take events as an example to show the problem of onboarding. The process that you need to do for every event is just a little different. The questions you need to ask are different. Some need the ability to allow attendees to register to sessions, other don’t. Others demand a deposit and the rest of the payment later. Some don’t and just take the full amount right away. Some need to allow group registration and others need to allow ONLY individual registration. And others need people to sign a service agreement and some don’t. You see where I’m going with this.
Computers have a hard time dealing with so many differences in one application since there are so many factors to take into account. The solution for this is that you find “event management systems”, “course registration systems”, “school application systems” etc. Basically the solution up until now was to create a sector specific solution that would solve 80-90% of the problem for the majority of situations. None managed to allow you to do your onboarding process. And not just that, but to automate this process as well.
The Sad History of Client Onboarding Tools
The fact that every onboarding process is a little different resulted in the use of many applications that normally do not talk to each other. It also resulted in custom built applications (which I wrote here about why you should stay away from these). Or simply a manual process that might include emails, paper, excel spreadsheets and anything else that will get the job done. This however, costs organizations an arm and a leg).
The fact that the onboarding process was seen as a one time action allowed organizations to tolerate this void up until now. But you know better, right? You know that if you have a process nailed down, you need to automate it. Otherwise, you are introducing the human error factor that will ensure you are not as efficient as you could be and setting yourself up for errors that can cost you time and money. Today, with so much competition just a Google search away, you cannot afford that. There is nothing worst than working hard to make the sale and for it to not go through because someone fell between the cracks in your manual onboarding process.
Basics of Client Onboarding
In spite of the fact that every client onboarding process is a little different, there are basics that need to happen. The differences are in how these are done and handled. What does a client onboarding process look like for many small and medium sized businesses? Here is a basic list:
- Forms: To gather information and setup a client profile.
- Contracts / Legal documents: Including e-signatures that you need to move forward.
- Payments: Including setting up automatically billing, choosing products, setting up payment plans, entering and saving payment information, etc.
- Scheduling Abilities: The ability to schedule sessions, trainings and anything else the client needs to get up to speed on your service.
- Automated communication: Keeps clients in the loop as the process is completed – welcome emails, payment confirmations, and more.
The gist of this is automating much of this process as you can, without compromising on personal and meaningful interactions with your clients. In fact, automating many of your business processes allows you to not only provide a better product to clients, but to increase the amount of time you can invest with them!
What tools do you need to begin automating your processes and onboarding clients effectively?
Any software you look at to help you automate and perfect your onboarding process needs to have the following capabilities.
Forms to gather information and setup the client profile.
I have talked a lot about how you should setup your forms. You can find in depth information in the following posts:
- Forms Video
- Guide to Building an Intelligent Online Registration Software
- 4 Things to Know When Building Your Online Registration Software
Basically you want to figure out what information you NEED from clients, and begin to build a logical process. Conditional logic is a powerful and helpful tool to make your process intuitive and as quick as possible. Read more in this post all about what conditional logic is and how it works, here.
Contracts / Legal documents, including e-signatures you need to move forward.
This is a big step for most businesses, and a really easy one to automate! With the evolution of e-signatures and signing online, getting all the legal and other important documents that require signatures is a simple process. It’s also more efficient to handle this all online instead of waiting for forms to be signed and faxed, or mailed back.
Registration software, and your onboarding process in general has the overarching goal of making the process EASY for your clients, and to get everything completed on time! Conditional logic is really important here too, as it will ensure that clients are receiving the forms and being asked to sign only those relevant to them. This way, they aren’t confused and bogged down with unnecessary forms to sign. And you get all the signatures you need to move forward!
Payments and Autobilling
Automated billing is essential to the success of your business. If you automate nothing else, your billing is what you need to automate. I say that based on research we conducted, the results you can see here.
Autobilling is what ensures you get paid on time and provides a stellar experience for your clients. Autobilling includes the ability to set up a variety of payment plans, and automatically charge clients so that neither you or your client need remember to make payments. Automatic payment invoice emails that go out when a payment is processed is a key feature as well. You can read more about why integrated and automatic payments are so useful in this post.
The ability to schedule and manage clients for events or other programs that clients can sign up and pay for all in one space is helpful. Auto emailing takes care of keeping everyone informed of their schedule, as well as making it easy to plan for your events. You can filter through your data and see who is scheduled and when, and then update those clients with changes or new information, etc.
Making sure clients are in the loop, aware of their schedule and have all the information they need is a huge time suck if you are doing this manually. Automating this is essential!
Triggered emails basically means personalized (but automated) messages that go when your client completes a certain action. This could be an initial
welcome letter inviting them to begin the process of completing your forms and setting up payment, scheduling messages with notifications and reminders of events they will attend or products they’ve ordered, and payment confirmation and invoice emails.
Basically, you want a software that allows you the ability to automate much of your communication, and do this intelligently. This means, the ability to set up triggers so a personalized message goes out in response to your clients actions. Making a payment, an upcoming form due date, missing registration details, etc.
The client onboarding process traditionally is this in between stage between client acquisition and client management. And it is usually managed manually. This is because there is no one streamlined software out there that addresses the needs of everyone, so it has remained a manual process. This is crazy! So much of the onboarding process can and should be automated, and it’s easy to do with the right tools!
Any registration software that has these abilities can transform your onboarding process from a manual, time waster into a professional and streamlined experience.
In the software you select make sure you have: email triggering, autobilling, automated communication tools, e-signature functionality, and automated scheduling!
Many software on the market today have all of these tools already. Using them to create a customized onboarding process that works for your business is essential to a positive customer experience. It will net you more satisfied clients, and more cash flow.