You might think agency client onboarding is just one simple part of your operation.
Actually, it matters a lot more than you think. In fact, this one process can mean the difference between plateauing at your current level, and unlocking a wave of growth that can sustain your agency for years.
This is why having a solid client onboarding experience is essential.
In this post, I’m going to share how to think and standardize this process so that you are consistently delivering a great onboarding experience for each client even as you scale.
- Why client onboarding matters (a lot)
- What really matters: Your client’s experience
- Commit to standardizing your client onboarding
- Standard timeline for new client onboarding
- “Day one” experience
- Gather assets in one place
- Communication during new client onboarding
- Showing progress during onboarding
- Optimize your client onboarding process & tasks
Why client onboarding matters (a lot)
New client onboarding can be the reason your agency struggles, or it can be its “secret sauce” that superpowers your growth.
Here are signs that either need to create a client onboarding process or refine your existing one:
- Clients “churn” out quickly
- You’re constantly on the hamster wheel to find new clients to replace them.
- You feel lucky when a new client relationship is smooth from day one. More often, it’s a struggle before things “click.”
- Your team constantly feels stressed and burned out with satisfying your latest new client’s demands.
- You feel anxiety wondering whether your newest clients are being taken care of, with nothing falling through the cracks.
- You feel stuck, unable to push on sales/marketing because you can’t possibly onboard any more clients than you already have.
And here is what it can look like after you improve your client onboarding process:
- Lifetime value (length of time they stay with you) drastically increases. In fact, at Audience Ops, our client lifetime value more than doubled after making the improvements that I’ll share with you.
- Clients are always crystal clear on “how to be a great client.”
- Clients are much more forgiving when unforeseen issues arise. They root for you rather than seek the next opportunity to cut ties.
- Clients are much more likely to rave about your service and refer to other clients.
- Your team is set up for success because everything is lined up perfectly from day one.
- You feel calm and excited about the opportunity to drive more new clients into your well-oiled client-success machine.
What really matters: Your client’s experience
When we talk about “client onboarding,” we’re not talking about just another SOP in your operation.
We’re talking about people.
Your client is a person (or multiple people). They have desires, fears, goals, anxieties, and aspirations, just like the rest of us.
Your client went through a long, arduous process to get to the point where they felt comfortable enough to pay for your service for the first time. The moment after they made that purchase, they’re suddenly in a very fragile state of mind, teetering on the edge of “buyer’s remorse.”
“Did I make the right decision?”
“Will I lose money and time on this?”
“Will I really get the outcome I hope for?”
Your client onboarding process is what puts these fears to rest.
And it’s your client onboarding process that turns these fears into delights:
“I knew it! this was the right decision” (I’m so smart 😉
“This was money well-spent.” (I feel secure)
“I’m getting the results I hoped for.” (I’m seeing an ROI)
You’re only a month in, and you’ve basically locked in a raving happy customer for life—all thanks to your impeccable onboarding process.
So let’s see how you can get there.
Commit to standardizing your client onboarding
Generally, to make your business more scalable, you need it to become more predictable. Even if everything in your business is highly variable, new client onboarding is one place where you can really control the flow of things. Use this to your advantage!
For example, here are some key aspects of client onboarding that can be standardized:
All clients should be onboarding in more/less the same amount of time. The typical onboarding time is around 4 weeks, but this can vary depending on the nature of your service.
- “Day one” experience
What’s the first thing your client sees? What’s the first thing you want them to do? This should be the same for all clients.
How do you gather the assets you need to get started?
When do you communicate? How do you communicate?
How do you show your client progress?
- Process & tasks
How do you and your team successfully onboard new clients and keep track of it all?
Let’s break down each of these, with specific ideas for ways you can improve them, streamline, and make things more predictable.
Standard timeline for new client onboarding
Delays and rush jobs can both wreak havoc on any agency’s operation.
That’s why you should take control of the timeline from the moment your client begins their engagement with you.
I highly recommend committing to two key policies when it comes to starting work with new clients:
- Don’t accept “rush jobs.”
- Give your process the time that it needs in order to run successfully—every time.
Note: Regarding “rush jobs” — Just because an eCommerce retailer might earn more revenue for expedited shipping doesn’t mean you should take their queue and charge a bit more for speedier agency services.
In my experience, rush jobs just aren’t worth it. Your client’s problem isn’t that they want it done yesterday. It’s that they want it done right. If they want it done yesterday, they’re better off doing it themselves, or using a ready-made solution, etc. They hired you to achieve a business outcome. If that’s what they want, then that requires a reasonable timeframe.
So what should your timeframe be?
Early on in my service business, I made the mistake of optimizing for speed. I thought clients wanted to get onboard faster. I was wrong.
Once I realized we should optimize for quality, everything clicked, and the business entered a long phase of growth.
Build your onboarding process around what it will take to be successful—both in the short term and in the long-term.
If you’re a marketing service, 4 weeks is a typical timeframe to take a brand new client from day one to “up and running.” But the exact timeframe will vary depending on the nature of your service.
It’s OK to make adjustments, but it’s best to make those adjustments standardized for all new clients going forward. Always. Be. Improving.
“Day one” experience
Your “Day One” experience should make the client feel like they made a great decision. Buyer’s remorse and anxiety can settle in quickly, and you want to address this head-on.
What feeds your client’s “buyer’s remorse” anxiety?
Here are some of the most common reasons why buyer’s remorse can creep up:
- They’re left wondering if their order was even received!
- They have to chase you down to give you things they think you might need.
- They’re confused and don’t know what to do next.
Here is how to instantly put them at ease (the basics):
- Create a welcome page
Bonus: include a welcome video). On this page, or in this video, explain to your client:
- Reiterate the value of their purchase: Top-line key benefits and results they should expect.
- How to be successful with us — Give examples of other successful clients.
- How to help us help you
- How we will communicate
- Send a personal welcome email
You could automate this, but I recommend keeping this a manual—but prompt outreach from your team to your client—the sooner after their purchase, the better.
- Schedule their kickoff call if that’s part of your onboarding process.
- Give them their first action item, such as beginning asset collection or securing login details.
If things are going off-track, here are some things you can do to course-correct.
- Set expectations about the upcoming timeline
- What happens next?
- When will they hear from you next?
- When will they be “up and running”?
Gather assets in one place
The most common “blocker” for new client onboarding is gathering all the assets and information you need from your client in order for your team to proceed with their work.
An all-too-common occurrence: Each client sends you their information and assets in piecemeal across 50 different emails, dropboxes, Slacks, and you’re struggling to keep track of it all. Then your ideal timeline goes off the rails, your team gets frustrated, your client feels overwhelmed, and nobody’s feeling very successful here.
Your new client onboarding process needs to short-circuit this.
I recommend building out one client intake form where you can gather everything you need from your client in one place.
Here are some tips for optimizing your new client intake form:
- Don’t require a login
Just send them a link (or direct them here immediately after purchase), and they’re on their way.
- Provide clear instructions and best practices
With every field or section, add plenty of information and/or short videos.
- Break it into multiple “steps”
It’s less overwhelming and easier to organize this way.
- Allow them to save and complete later
It’s understandable that they won’t have everything ready for you immediately. Let them give you what they have so far. Then they can return and complete their progress.
- Nudge them along when they get stuck
Your system should recognize when key items are missing or past their deadline. Set up automated reminders to your client or to your team internally so you can manually check-in.
Pro tip: ProcessKit’s intake forms features check every one of those boxes for you.
Communication during new client onboarding
Clear, consistent communication with clients is essential for any well-run agency. However, it is the most important at the beginning of your client engagements.
I can’t hammer this point home enough:
Your client must never be wondering, “When will I hear from them again?” Nothing feeds a client’s anxiety and frustration more than feeling like they’ve been left in the dark.
Use one of my favorite communication “hacks” to prevent this from happening: Set up a weekly update email.
My service company sends these on the 4 Fridays during every new client’s onboarding month. Other agencies send weekly update emails every week throughout the lifetime of a client’s engagement.
Every weekly update email should follow this template framework (fill in your own language, as needed):
- We’re on track to hit your first key milestone by (date)
- What we did for you this past week
- What we’re working on for you next week
- Items we need from you
Here’s a real example of what one of these weekly update emails might look like:
Hi [Client’s first name],
Hope you’re doing well! Here is your weekly update:
Everything is on track to deliver your first blog article by November 1st 🙂
Here’s what we did this week:
- We finalized your content calendar
- We created the initial article outline
Here’s what we’ll be working on next week:
- We will write your full article draft
- We will set up your website for blog publishing
A few items we need from you:
- We’re awaiting a few answers to questions in your “Getting Started” form. Here’s that link for you again: (link)
- Please send us the invite to access your website CMS.
As always, any questions or concerns, please feel free to let us know by replying to this email.
Brian and the team at AwesomeCo
Showing progress during onboarding
Those weekly update emails can go a long way to keeping your client informed of “where things are at” on a week-to-week basis. In many cases, that’s all you need.
But sometimes, it helps to give your client a little more visibility into the status of things. This is where a dedicated client portal can serve your business—and your clients—well.
The key here is to help—don’t harm—the process.
How to make a client portal actually help your process:
- Make it secure but easy for your client to access directly with a click.
- Clearly separate what the client sees from what you and your team can see internally. Take care in deciding what your client sees and when.
- Integrate and automate the pushing of updates out to your client portal so that it remains active and up to date as your team hits key milestones.
Pro Tip: Use ProcessKit’s customizable client portals to automate and share key status updates with your clients and key stakeholders.
However, don’t let your client portal do more harm than good. How might that happen?
Here are some ways a client portal can do more harm than good:
- It requires an invite and login process for your client to have to remember and become accustomed to.
- It gives your client too much access to your team’s internal workflows, leaving too many opportunities to see “unfinished” work or comments that should have remained internal.
- It’s too disconnected from your workflows—so much so that your team fails to manually update it with its latest progress, leaving the impression that nothing’s actually getting done.
Optimize your client onboarding process & tasks
All of these improvements could do wonders for your client onboarding—and in turn, your business. But only if you can actually execute them. Efficiently. Every. Single. Time.
That’s where your process comes in.
And that’s where your task management comes in.
It’s vitally important that your new client onboarding process is well documented, with all the key steps, instructions, time frames, and who’s responsible for which pieces.
But it’s not enough to just document your process. You have actually executed it. Repeatedly.
Your new client onboarding process needs to be converted into active tasks that your team can execute predictably. And since you’re turning your process into tasks, it should be “smart”.
Here are a few ways to make your client onboarding process “smart.”
Use dynamic due dates
Stick to your ideal timeline by setting up dynamic, relative start, and due dates on key steps in your client onboarding process. For example, if the drafting process hinges on when you complete the kickoff call, set it up to be due “5 days after the kickoff call occurs”.
Automate team assignments
You probably have multiple people involved in different aspects of your onboarding process. For example, a project manager coordinates the kickoff call. A writer prepares a content outline. A technical assistant sets up the website. And so on.
Build these assignments into your process. Have a large team with multiple people filling each role? Implement a dynamic role assignment system.
Use conditional logic
The goal, of course, is to make your process as predictable as possible. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be variation!
Build in conditional logic— ”if this, then that”—rules into your process to account for the most common scenarios and adjust automatically.
For example, if your new client uses WordPress, execute the steps involved in setting up their site with your favorite WordPress plugin. Or if they’re on Squarespace, follow a different set of steps.
Keep clear visibility at all times
As you scale up your client onboarding process, you’ll want to maintain clear visibility into where everything is at—leaving nothing to fall through the cracks.
Your system needs to answer these questions for you, at a glance:
- What does our client onboarding pipeline look like? Full? Active? Slower than usual?
- Where is our newest client—Dunder Mifflin—currently at in their onboarding?
- What’s on our technical writer, Juliet’s, plate of work this week?
- Where are the bottlenecks in our onboarding process? Where can we improve?
In sum, one of the keys to unlocking predictable growth in your agency is standarizing your agency client onboarding process.
If you’d like to learn more about how ProcessKit can help you transform your agency client onboarding by freeing up time, space, and mental energy, click here.