Gini Dietrich

The Whys and the Hows of Extraordinary Onboarding

By: Gini Dietrich | July 23, 2019 | 
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Creating Extraordinary OnboardingMost of us buy a lot of things on the internet these days—books, shoes, home goods, medicine, groceries, tech—you name it, and they’re delivered right to you (I do!).

It’s not just products we buy online, either.

Most of our services purchases happen digitally, as well.

We research providers online, use online scheduling to arrange sales calls, and sign contracts through the web.

It’s not new anymore. It’s just the way we do things.

So you’d think everyone would understand how disorienting and disappointing it can be to buy something and then… not have anything happen next. 

Nothing to do immediately, nothing more than a payment confirmation to keep your interest.

Lots may be going on behind the scenes, but when the ball isn’t in the buyer’s court what are they supposed to be doing?

The Importance of Extraordinary Onboarding

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about dialing your client service up to 11.

Today I want to drill into something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Onboarding.

The most important time in a client relationship is as the relationship begins.

Earlier this year, we talked about how the types of content you create can help with onboarding.

This time we’re going a little deeper and looking at the specific actions, processes, and mindsets you need to have for world-class client onboarding. 

While you may never know that you screwed up your onboarding, your clients will notice…and nothing will make them lose faith in you faster.

They may never say anything, but it’ll be the start of the demise of your working relationship. 

Start As You Mean to Go On

After the deal is signed, you need to set expectations.

You need to let them know the rules of engagement, what to expect for timelines and deliverables, how you’ll communicate, and the metrics you’ll use to report on successes (or failures).

It also is the time to set boundaries. 

Everyone should be on the same page for the following:

  • The Timeline. How long is the term of your work together? When you do expect to be finished, and what are the major milestones between now and then? Even more importantly, who needs to complete which tasks (from both teams!) to meet those milestones?
  • Potential Obstacles and Backup Plans. While we clearly have never missed a milestone or ever been late in delivering what’s been promised, it’s certainly something everyone else needs to consider. HAHAHAHAH! Not. No one is perfect, not even me! But one of the best ways to prevent the demise of a working relationship is to have an idea of how problems, difficulties, and delays are going to be dealt with before they happen. Let your new client know where obstacles are likely to be, and how you and your team deal with them if they happen. This helps you build immediate trust and they feel like, even when things go wrong, you’re in control.
  • Communication. You want to tell clients the best way to get in touch with you, how quickly you’ll respond, and during which hours. It’s good practice to have guidelines for when and how you communicate with your clients, so they know what they need to do if they need your input or attention. We’ve  talked about boundaries and communication and it all starts with how you make that clear during onboarding.

Now let’s talk about keeping the “new project” feeling going after the paperwork is signed. 

Keep Them Moving

The next step is to keep them moving.

This means moving them toward a solution to the problem they’ve hired you to solve.

And it means helping them build relationships with the people inside your organization with whom they’ll be working.

Let’s talk about each of them. 

As Laura Petrolino mentioned in her excellent article on onboarding a couple of years ago, the very beginning of a new project could have a very different timeline than the ongoing work will. 

To start solving the problem and delivering the service, there’s very likely a lot of work you need to do that won’t be visible to the client at all.

And, while that’s important and generally accepted as “the way things are”, your client should never wonder what’s going on and if you’ve forgotten about them.

Even if you and your team are busy behind the scenes—and you likely are crazy busy—you have to let your client feel like they’re moving, too.

Share the timeline for the project, lists of any assets or information you’ll need them to provide (such as audience information, promotional partners, or old content), and start scheduling upcoming meetings so there’s a solid reminder that work is happening.

You also want to start transitioning them from communicating mainly with the salesperson (or you!) and into communicating with the people on your team who is going to be working with them on an ongoing basis.

Sometimes it’s the client themselves, and sometimes it’s members of their team.

Start making those introductions and schedule the appropriate meetings and check-ins.

Finally, if there is work they need to do, assets or resources they need to provide, or other prep work, give them clear instructions about what to provide, how to provide it, and when you need it. 

Bringing Your Team Up-to-Speed

Now that you’ve brought together the different teams and have made sure your new client has met the right people, it’s time to make sure your internal team has been brought up-to-speed.

They need to know the scope, the company background, and any special circumstances, conditions, and expectations.

There is nothing worse than when your colleagues ask a client something they should already know the answer to, or make an incorrect assumption about the client’s business—all because you don’t have the proper procedure in place to make certain everyone has the same knowledge about the client.

Been there.

Done that. 

It’s also an awful position to put your colleagues in.

Being wrong-footed and under-informed is awkward at best, and can damage a relationship at worst.

Give them the information they need to do their job, and represent your organization well.

Internal onboarding for new clients is as important as the external. 

Sprinkle In a Little Delight

There’s one final element to include in your onboarding—a little bit of delight.

This is in the form of demonstrating you’re invested in them and have been paying attention.

  • If you come across an article or podcast relevant to their interests, shoot it over in an email.
  • Do they have corporate social media accounts? Follow them and engage with their content as a part of your own social media strategy.
  • Do they have a physical location? Send them a letter in the—gasp!—mail, welcoming them to your organization, and thanking them for your business. Remember that Garrett’s popcorn we discussed last week? Send them a little gift like that—something your city or region is known for.

Adding delight to your onboarding doesn’t have to be a huge investment of your time and energy, and you shouldn’t cross any of your own boundaries or set an expectation for service that you can’t live up to consistently.

But small extras that show you’re paying attention are the difference between, “This is competent service that I do not regret purchasing” and “These folks are amazing.”

Your Own Onboarding Experiences

Now it’s your turn.

What amazing onboarding experiences have you had—and what do you do internally.

The comments here or the Spin Sucks community are yours for the taking.

Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky on Unsplash

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She also has run, built, and grown an agency for the past 14 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.