A well crafted client onboarding process is critical for revenue growth. Not many realize what you lose out when you don’t have a well laid out onboarding process.
For us at Avoma, ever since Mark Stagi, our VP of Customer Success came on board, we saw our NPS swiftly move up with a few tweaks in the process. We went from having a reactive onboarding process to a more proactive one.
And since we believe in helping the community, we interviewed our customer success experts within Avoma and curated the best tips that you can apply to your agency’s onboarding strategy. These are onboarding tips that we follow ourselves and have helped us achieve an NPS of above 54.
For starters, why does client onboarding matter? The Customer Onboarding Benchmark Report by Precursive reports that poor onboarding is the third most important reason for customers to churn—right after bad product-market fit and lack of engagement.
That’s a stat we borrowed from the SaaS universe, but holds good in the agency world too. Consider the fact that 23% of agencies fail to meet client expectations, most of which can be attributed to poor (or total lack of) client onboarding processes.
So what’s the best way to onboard clients into your agency? What are a few ways for you to offer them a world-class onboarding experience? These are some of the questions that we are going to address in this post.
Why is client onboarding so important?
Most clients hire agencies for short-term projects like one-off implementation, business consulting, or marketing automation. They come with the mindset of kicking tires or learning the best practices so that they can run the projects in-house once the contract is over. A well-executed onboarding process can help you convert such trial clients into long-term customers.
For instance, a thought-out onboarding journey helps the customers shorten the time to value to achieve the goals they want, get maximum value from your services, and repeatedly do so for as long as they retain your services.
The onboarding plan helps you keep the clients engaged with your services, making them clearly understand the value they will get from your agency. It gives them a reason to come back to hire your agency’s expertise again and again or stick with you for the long haul.
At the same time, you also need to know what's most valuable for your clients.
A seamless customer onboarding process also helps you set the tone for the relationship between the clients and your agency. It doesn’t just earn you loyal clients but creates a word-of-mouth referral channel to acquire new clients.
Most importantly, good onboarding is an antidote to churn. While onboarding can’t guarantee a complete cure of churn, it can help you keep it under check.
All that to say—the onboarding process is a critical component in the agency-client relationship that helps your agency expand its revenue potential through value expansion.
Tips on how to build a seamless client onboarding process
At Avoma, we follow a twin-engine model of customer onboarding—an automated, low-touch onboarding experience for self-service customers and a high-touch, sales-assisted onboarding for customers who sign up for higher-tier plans.
An automated onboarding experience baked within the product is good: it’s self-service, efficient, and cost-efficient. But product-led onboarding is not always the best-case scenario—and it’s definitely not feasible for agencies that don’t have a “product” to start with
The real magic of customer onboarding happens when you involve a human touch during the “honeymoon” phase—the early days of the agency-client relationship after the latter signs up for your service.
As such, the #1 tip for building an effective client onboarding process is to keep it high-touch and personalized. Everything else flows from there. But having a high-tough onboarding strategy doesn’t mean it has to be manual or laborious. You can streamline the manual aspects of the onboarding process with the right mix of automation and personal touch.
1. Streamline the customer hand-off process
Often, the culprit of customer churn is the lack of a clearly defined account transition from sales to account management. The absence of a proper hand-off process can lead the clients to feel ignored and neglected. And when clients are not fully engaged with your agency from the get-go, they don’t stick around for too long—hurting your retention numbers.
Generally speaking, there are three reasons that contribute to a broken onboarding experience:
- The experience that the clients get during the sales process doesn’t match the actual experience during the onboarding phase.
- The customer-facing teams either lack a proper documentation process or use disparate systems to log the customer context.
- Agencies have different KPIs for sales and account management teams, which causes confusion on who owns onboarding and leads to misalignment between the two teams.
Therefore, a good account hand-off process demands all customer-facing teams to work in tandem to build an effective onboarding process. A well-defined onboarding workflow forces you to think clearly about who owns the onboarding, understand your clients better, share the client context across all teams, and improve customer experience.
For instance, the hand-off workflow might specify that marketing is responsible for sending automated welcome emails to new clients on day one while the account management takes the reins of scheduling the onboarding meetings.
Here’s an example of a hand-off email that the CS team at Avoma sends to customers—after the sales formally makes an intro:
It’s also a pattern we see in many of the highly process-oriented agencies that we work with. They have a great blueprint that they use to develop the account hand-off process. This process usually includes a five-step workflow:
a) Sales loops in account managers during the deal closing stage so that the latter can proactively engage with a client account even before the onboarding.
b) The agency builds an internal handover process that requires sales to fill up a questionnaire that covers key client information such as client requirements, pain points, key admins, annual contract value, expansion opportunities, challenges/blockers, etc.
c) They also build a client-facing hand-off journey to ensure that the clients get a consistent experience across all transition points regardless of who they are interacting with.
d) The actual onboarding session when an account manager schedules a kick-off meeting, shares important resources, and offers clients contact information of relevant people within the agency.
e) The account managers schedule a check-in session with the clients after the first week (or two weeks) to gather client feedback, check the account’s health, and answer any questions they might have.
2. Set specific goals
While onboarding is one of the very first things that your agency does in the long list of client engagement, it can’t stay completely independent from other aspects of client relationships. You especially have to design the onboarding plan to map it back to the end goals—yours and that of your clients.
In that sense, structure the onboarding by setting the right goals for the process. Begin with the end in mind and set the right expectations with the clients. Setting goals at the onboarding phase also makes it easy for you to track and improve your onboarding strategy at a future date.
Different agencies set different goals for their onboarding team. In general, the following are some of the most common goals that high-performing agencies set for their onboarding teams:
- Time to value: Make sure that the clients realize the value of hiring your services as soon as possible.
- Customer segmentation: Group clients based on overlapping traits like company size, niche, revenue, etc.
- Customer journey maps: Build a visual map of how the clients will engage (and progressively deepen their relationships) with your agency across all touchpoints.
- Improve onboarding strategy: If onboarding is a new initiative in your agency, one of the many goals can be to build a scalable onboarding model.
- Service adoption: Make sure that the clients are aware and willing to utilize all the services that you offer in the contract.
- Account expansion: This can be a bit tricky for onboarding teams to achieve, but you can still give them the goal of communicating your agency’s value metrics to the clients so that they are primed to upselling, cross-selling, or expansion opportunities.
Extend this exercise with your clients to set goals for their business on what they want to achieve at the end of the project. If they are hiring your agency for a HubSpot implementation project, for instance, they might be looking to cut costs or achieve their revenue goals quickly. As an implementation best practice, document the goals that the clients want to achieve and give them a step-by-step breakdown of how you will help them to get there.
If you want to notch up the goal-setting aspect for inducting new clients, give the onboarding team specific KPIs to measure them on. You can borrow a lot of these metrics from how B2B SaaS companies assess their onboarding teams:
- Time to first value: The time it takes from closing a sale to when the client is onboard.
- Time to launch: The time it takes from onboarding a client to launching a project.
- CSAT, CES, or NPS: These are metrics to measure customer satisfaction that you can apply in the context of your clients’ onboarding experience.
- Adoption and usage: Measure the onboarding team on how well an account adopts the agency’s service offerings.
3. Get the right team on board
If you don’t have a dedicated onboarding team yet, you might want to consider forming one. Sure, the account managers can shoulder the onboarding responsibility without any problem since they already have the necessary skills to pull off the job.
But making account managers juggle between onboarding, account management, and expansions can be a bit too much. Eventually, spreading the account managers thin can take a toll on client experience across all touchpoints.
Instead of taking the risky proposition of offering an improvised version of the onboarding experience, carve out a team of onboarding specialists as you mature into a high-growth agency.
Forming a mission-driven onboarding team makes even more sense when you consider that the success metrics for onboarding are distinct from that of account management. The onboarding team can act as a liaison between sales, account management, and implementation functions and complement them in achieving their end goals. But onboarding is a function that deserves its own processes and goals.
A client onboarding team usually has a good mix of experts who bring a diverse set of skills to the table. For instance, the best onboarding professionals display most—if not all—of the following traits to succeed in their roles:
- Active listening
- Interviewing skills
- Negotiation skills
Many times, the goals that you set for the onboarding team can differ on a case-to-case basis. If it’s an implementation-related project, for instance, you might have the following goals for them:
- Standardize the implementation process
- Shorten time-to-value
- Improve customer experience
- Monetize implementation
If clients are hiring you for professional services like marketing or consulting—map the onboarding goals to mirror the client expectations. As your onboarding process matures, form sub-groups within the larger onboarding team to fit the different onboarding goals.
4. Determine the onboarding process
Everything that we have discussed so far maps to the actual onboarding process—the point where the rubber meets the road. An elaborate preparation before the formal onboarding takes place is like sharpening the ax before cutting a tree so that there’s minimal friction.
When you are ready to formally onboard clients to your agency, make sure that there aren’t any delays or hiccups in the way of a great customer experience. On average, the agencies that we closely work with report of the same usual culprits that cause bottlenecks in their onboarding process:
- Tracking the progress of specific processes across different teams
- Following up with internal and external team members
- Chasing clients to get their approvals
- Creating reports and presentations
You can streamline these points of friction by having the right mix of automation and personal touch to give your clients the confidence that there are experts readily available to answer their questions or guide them through the project.
For instance, you can use Avoma to automate the following processes in order to improve the onboarding experience for clients:
- Create smart agenda templates for new client onboarding
- Record, transcribe, and analyze onboarding meetings
- Send follow-ups and meeting reminders
- Sync meeting notes to your CRM to capture customer context
But of course, Avoma is one of the many tools that you can use to onboard clients and improve their onboarding experience. We have a list of must-have tool recommendations for onboarding in the next section.
5. Use the right tools
Tools are integral to any efficient process. In the case of client onboarding for agencies, the right set of tools can help you with three things: automation to save time and cost, capturing client data under the same roof, and helping your teams collaborate asynchronously.
To that end, here are a few must-have tools that you should use to improve the efficiency of your onboarding process.
Or any office productivity suite for that matter. You can go with Zoho Office Suite or Microsoft Office 365, but we picked Google Workspace because it's better than other office suites in terms of ease of use and feature offerings.
Google Workspace solves your everyday productivity problems ranging from simple email configurations to complex workflow needs.
For instance, you can use Gmail’s mail merge feature to personalize email addresses with the help of merge tags like @firstname and @lastname. Gmail replaces the tags with the recipients’ names once you trigger the email sequence. That way, you can scale your onboarding email communication while adding a personal touch to them.
With Google Drive, you can store, organize, and share files on the cloud. You can drag and drop files from your computer or download the files in your Drive to your computer in a seamless manner.
For everyday productivity and cross-functional team collaboration, there are Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, and Google Keep. For real-time communication and collaboration, you have Google Chat, Google Meet, Hangouts, and Jamboard.
Google Workspace also integrates with a wide variety of CRM software so that you can easily add leads, monitor email interactions, and manage different tasks—all from within Google’s app ecosystem without switching to another tab.
Google Workspace perfectly fits the workflow requirements of most agencies. But most importantly, Google’s apps are extremely easy to use, reasonably priced (paid plans start at $6/user/month), and provide a high degree of collaboration.
From an ROI perspective, Google Workplace helps you replace a multitude of other standalone software that will cost you a lot more when you buy them separately.
ClickUp is an all-in-one productivity suite that's mostly known for its project management product. It offers a suite of apps that allows your agency to manage various projects under one roof—including your onboarding workflows.
With ClickUp, you can streamline multiple projects such as task management, document collaboration, spreadsheets, goals tracking, wikis, chat, process automation, and team-specific templates for all kinds of projects.
ClickUp brings all team’s projects in one place while letting the individual teams control access and visibility into their projects—if they want. Having all projects in one place makes it easier for your agency teams to improve productivity, collaborate with each other, and save costs.
For agencies, ClickUp offers specific features such as Workspace and Spaces. You can create a Workspace to include everyone that works in your agency and structure workflows across the different functions. Spaces are sub-units within Workspaces that allow you to add select members in a space and define workflows between different teams, departments, or groups at a high level.
ClickUp is easy to customize, which makes it a perfect fit for agencies of all sizes and shapes. The same thing applies to its pricing, too. ClickUp has a free-forever plan with loads of good functionalities in it while its paid plans start at a surprisingly low cost of $5/member/month.
From sending a contract to sharing invoices, Slack makes communicating and collaborating easy—and much better than emails. That’s because Slack makes it easier for globally-scattered agency teams and clients to communicate with each other synchronously and asynchronously.
One of Slack’s nice features is ‘Slack Connect’—the ability for remote businesses to create shared channels for agencies, clients, or third-party vendors. These channels look and feel exactly like one of your internal Slack channels.
Slack Connect allows your teams and clients to:
- Collaborate and discuss changing priorities in real-time
- Exchange project-specific feedback asynchronously and in one place
- Search through channels to reference past conversations and data points
- Fill the geographic and time zone gaps between them, if any
- Automate workflows and approvals to meet time-sensitive project deadlines
Mariah Miller, Co-Founder & CEO of Scale Your Brand agency, has a detailed video about how she uses Slack (along with a few other tools) to onboard new clients to her agency.
Rocketlane is perhaps the only tool in this list that is built specifically for customer onboarding. And for a good reason—it ranks alongside some of the top onboarding software like ChurnZero and ClientSuccess.
Rocketlane is a collaborative onboarding platform that helps you streamline implementation projects, improve the onboarding experience, and accelerate the client’s time-to-value.
Rocketlane offers a range of features that can help your agency teams with project management, real-time collaboration, and communication capabilities. The tool lets you create detailed onboarding playbooks, offers granular visibility into onboarding projects, and increases the productivity of your implementation teams.
It’s probably why CS professionals love Rocketlane for their onboarding use cases:
We needed the ability to track all of our onboarding for both internal purposes and to make onboarding even more transparent to our clients. Rocketlane is easy to set up…and we are very impressed with the feature set available. This product is an incredible value for the price too.
- Brittany Yandura, Senior Manager, Customer Success, Fieldguide
6. Measure the success
No business initiative is complete without some level of measurement and reporting. Onboarding is a critical component of customer success that contributes directly to customer experience and revenue. Therefore, the onboarding teams need to build a feedback mechanism in order to report on their efforts and outcomes.
The good news is—measuring the efficacy of your onboarding process is easy if you have set clear goals for the onboarding team. Like we discussed earlier in the post, setting specific goals for the onboarding team—as well as for the client project—makes it useful for you to track and monitor the onboarding success.
Besides measuring the goal-specific metrics, you can also measure the success of your onboarding program based on qualitative data, such as capturing client feedback or tracking project costs.
These aren’t necessarily the data that you will get by measuring the success of an onboarding program based on the goals you had set—but they are equally important nonetheless. For instance, some onboarding sessions demand way more resources than others and might have significant delays and additional workflows.
Assessing the investment of resources spent on each onboarding and tracking delays and work items will help you see the big picture and improve your agency’s onboarding process further.
Give your customer an experience of a lifetime!
Design your onboarding process in a way that maps the ideal journey of a client from the moment they come in contact with you to the time they become your brand evangelists. It’s easier said than done—we know—which is why you should keep reiterating your process until you have clients raving about the onboarding experience.
Make no mistake, there will be a lot of challenges initially when you formulate a new onboarding program—ranging from managing client expectations to making them equally accountable for the project and from establishing transparency to understanding client sentiments during the onboarding.
If you follow the processes outlined in this post and do it enough times over and over, you can create an onboarding experience that will be the beginning of many great projects and deep client relationships.
Onwards and upwards!