CPD: Welcome aboard – the importance of nurturing new client relationships (Part one)

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Client onboarding is the first step in what should be a long and fruitful relationship between the client and your business.

Client onboarding is all about making each new client front and centre in welcoming them to your practice. In this article, the first of a two-part series, Zurich Australia will explore the many good reasons to develop a sound client onboarding process. Part two will explore practical strategies to either formulate or redefine your onboarding process.

Starting something new can be daunting. Whether a new job, a new doctor, lawyer or accountant, or engaging a real estate agent to buy or sell a property, there are many new relationships to forge and business practices to understand.

After visiting a service provider for the first time, you often leave clutching a handful of brochures and with a head full of information. Quite often that’s it…it’s up to you to visit the business’s website or call back with questions. What if there was a better way to kick off that relationship?

What is client onboarding?

In short, client onboarding is the process of welcoming new clients to your practice. It’s your opportunity to showcase your service offering, and a chance to answer your new client’s questions and allay any concerns. It is, of course, a two-way street – it’s also an invaluable opportunity for you to learn as much about your new client as possible, to ensure you can offer the appropriate services.

Ask yourself this important question: Do you consider onboarding to be about administration and paperwork, or about marketing and branding?

How you answer generally provides a good indication of the scope for improving the client onboarding process and business outcomes for your practice.

If onboarding is seen simply as the process of welcoming clients who have just ‘signed on the dotted line’, with the centrepiece being a ‘welcome pack’ and a welcome meeting or phone call, then there’s a risk your onboarding process is actually counter-productive. It risks ‘unselling’ the client you have worked so hard to land.

On the other hand, if the process is seen as one that commences with your very first contact with a potential client, as one where your brand is on show with every interaction, and as one which can lock in loyalty and advocacy for years to come, then you’re on the right track.

A quick Google search will unearth a myriad of information about client onboarding, along with many ‘how to’ guides and checklists. While every business is different, successful client onboarding can generally be measured by two things:

  1. Have you introduced your new client/s to your practice? Have they met your client-facing staff, do they understand your approach to client interaction and have you answered their questions?
  2. Before getting to the full client questionnaire stage, have you asked the right questions of your new client/s and gathered sufficient insights into their needs and aspirations?

Ideally, successful onboarding should ensure there is a match between your business and the client; do you offer the right services to help that client meet their financial objectives and achieve their aspirations?

Why is client onboarding important?

While this might sound obvious to some, and a waste of time to others, client onboarding is important. Why? Anything that directly affects a client’s experience with your company has the ability to affect your profitability.

A noteworthy benefit of a successful client onboarding process is continuity of business with that client. When you lose a client, the time spent on developing the relationship, completing client questionnaires, creating SOAs and meeting compliance obligations has gone to waste.

There are many statistics bandied about that highlight how much more it costs to attain a new client versus retain an existing client. Some measures suggest it costs five times more to attain than retain, others suggest seven times more. Whichever measure you use to calculate your client acquisition cost, the fact that it’s costlier to find to new clients than to keep existing clients is an accepted business principle.

The risks of not developing and executing a proper onboarding strategy are both high and potentially costly, driven by the fact that a client – having decided to switch from their current provider(s) – already has a degree of change momentum. In other words, the start of a new relationship is actually the time clients are least ‘anchored’ and are more likely to switch again.

A positive onboarding process is a significant part of the customer experience that will, over time, pay for itself through increased customer loyalty and a greater number of client referrals. This can provide your practice with a significant competitive advantage over other advisory practices located nearby. Think about the businesses that have your loyalty – the customer experience will almost always be a significant contributor to that loyalty.

On the flipside, there are a number of risks associated with a poor client onboarding process. These may include:

  • Unhappy clients, who are already in switch mode and simply decide to switch again
  • A reluctance to provide referrals
  • Poor understanding of your value proposition and breadth of offering (so reduced share of wallet potential)
  • Time wasted talking to (or signing up) prospects who are not suited to your practice
  • Misalignment between service expectation on the client’s part and delivery on your part (resulting in over or under servicing)
  • Lower staff engagement.

Australian advisers and onboarding – the research

A survey by a leading independent research and advisory firm found that only 30% percent of wealth management businesses regard the client onboarding process as an opportunity to create competitive differentiation[1].

In October 2017, Zurich engaged Lewers Pulse to undertake similar research in the Australian advisory market. The findings are detailed in figures one to five.

 

 

The majority of advisers recognise they must make a lasting impression from the very first appointment. If you see onboarding as being an integral part of your clients’ brand experience, then the true start of the process is when they first touch your brand – this may be when they visit your website, speak to your client facing staff, make an email enquiry or step over your threshold.

The nearly 50 percent of advisers who don’t commence onboarding until other processes are complete risk endangering client loyalty and, ultimately, risk losing the client.

 

 

Ideally feedback will be sought at least twice in the first 12 months (the first time within three months). Almost three quarters of advisers surveyed didn’t meet this threshold, with nearly 40 percent saying they don’t seek formal feedback at all. While the importance of client feedback will be discussed in more detail in the part two of this article, it’s important not only to the onboarding process, but also for measuring ongoing client experience and satisfaction, important measures for client retention.

 

 

Almost one third of advisers surveyed said they had a formally documented checklist. Just over a quarter said they had neither a formal process nor a formal checklist. The absence of such guidelines makes it harder to replicate the process consistently, which in turn can make it more difficult to train members of your team. This can undermine the overall client experience.

 

 

Seven out of ten advisers surveyed said that more than one member of their team was involved in onboarding any given client. While it is important to showcase your value proposition more broadly and promote the depth of talent in your practice, there’s a fine line between involving too few or too many. For example, having four staff or more involved may begin to make the client feel as though they are being bounced around and unimportant.

 

 

As to be expected, in the majority of practices, it is the adviser who delivers the SOA who does most of the work in the onboarding process – is that a good use of your time? Interestingly, nearly 10% of practices have a dedicated onboarding manager, a figure which is likely to increase as more advisers look to maximise the value of their time to their business.

How to develop a sound client onboarding process

There are several steps you need to take to develop and maintain a client onboarding process that works for your business. It needs to be achievable, scalable and repeatable. If it’s too time consuming and onerous, will you cope with a sudden influx of new clients? If it’s too meagre, will your client/s feel confident their financial goals and aspirations will be achieved?

Step 1 – Teamwork required

Your first step should be to start at the beginning and involve your whole team; after all, the process should be jointly defined by a cross-functional team of representatives from each of the client facing functions. The more your client has a relationship across your practice rather than just with you, the less ‘single point dependency’ you have and the easier it becomes to offer clients a first call resolution.

Before you can define how your onboarding processes should be developed or updated, the team must answer some basic questions about your business:

  • What does our brand/business stand for?
  • Who do we serve / who is our ideal client?
  • How would I like our brand to be perceived by clients and other advisers?
  • Why do prospective customers come to our business?
  • Are they coming because of referrals, or do we actively have to generate leads?
  • What did they perceive of our brand prior to contacting us?
  • What is the state of our current onboarding process? What does it say about the brand? What do clients have to say about the process?
  • If our business was designing the ideal client/brand experience from scratch, what would it look like from the inside and the outside?

Put more simply, think about why people chose you to be their adviser – what aspects of your brand and your practice’s brand drove that choice? Does the process reflect their choice? Does it reflect how you want your brand to be regarded?

Step 2 – Make your process differentiating, engaging and memorable

If onboarding was renamed ‘brand launch’, you may look at it differently. After all, you are in a relationship building process and relationships are not mass produced.

As you design and implement your onboarding process, remember the human touch is needed from the start; it’s not just about legal documents and technology, it’s all about connecting with people.

Address the ways your business communicates with prospects and enquiries and plan a process that actively engages with clients for at least the first six months.

Map – visually or with a flow-chart – the ideal process from the client’s perspective, and then match that with the various actions you and your team can take and the services you can deliver.

Develop a checklist that guides the process step by step, employee-to-employee. This ensures critical steps are completed in the right order and at the right time. Remember, it’s important not to overwhelm a new client!

Step 3 – Does this client fit my business?

You should be selective about your clients and apply a range of criteria to determine if the relationship is likely to be sustainable. You can use the first appointment as an opportunity to screen potential clients for suitability and fit with the practice, potentially saving wasted time and energy in the future.

Implicit in this, is the importance of doing a true fact find; not a ‘pre-SOA’ questionnaire but a thorough interview to determine whether the prospective client is a good fit for your business – after all, the best advisers do not take on everyone who walks through their door. Good fit is not just about their financial situation or assets; it’s about their personality, their goals and aspirations.

You might have elected to focus on a niche market, which you can read more about here.

Be honest with each potential client about all aspects of your service, and make sure they are honest too. Don’t be desperate and don’t set false expectations. Trying to make an unsuitable relationship work is not good in life or in business – so where there isn’t a fit between the prospect and your business, it is okay to refer that prospect elsewhere (ideally to a referral partner you already know will be more suitable).

Client onboarding is the first step in what should be a long and fruitful relationship between the client and your business. To help advisers develop or redefine their approach with new clients, Zurich has created a series of guiding principles for building a successful onboarding process that leads to higher value client relationships. Details of the remainder of these principles will be provided in part two of this article.

 

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Read CPD: Welcome aboard – the importance of nurturing new client relationships (Part two)

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[1] https://hubdesignsmagazine.com/2014/05/19/client-onboarding-for-competitive-advantage/

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