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

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There are practical steps you can take to either formulate a new onboarding process or fine-tune your existing process.

In the first part of this series on client onboarding, Zurich Australia examined the reasons to develop and maintain a sound client onboarding process and looked at the first three steps to develop or redefine a client onboarding process. In this second part, we explore further practical steps you can take to either formulate a new onboarding process or fine-tune your existing process.

To recap, client onboarding is the process of welcoming new clients to your practice. It’s your opportunity to ensure your new client understands your service offering, and a chance to answer their 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.

At the end of part one we looked at the first three steps you need to take to either develop or redesign your client onboarding process. This involved a team approach to answering some questions about your business, your ideal clients, your brand and, if applicable, your current onboarding process. Once armed with this information, you are ready to use the following steps to build a successful onboarding process, one that will lead to higher value client relationships.

Step 4 – Onboarding starts from the very first contact

The onboarding process actually starts before that first meeting takes place, so it’s important to make a positive first impression. That first contact may be with your website, on social media, or when the clients first calls for an appointment.

Considering first contact as the commencement of onboarding allows you to apply the principles of consistency that should be reflected throughout the onboarding process and beyond; consistency of experience, language, approach and materials.

Step 5 – Put yourself in the client’s shoes

Your client isn’t a financial expert; that’s why they need an adviser. The complexity of financial products can be overwhelming, as can be the various documents, statements and requests for information.

It’s important for you and your staff to put yourselves in the client’s shoes, and work on the basis that they have no knowledge of the content, chronology, or significance of each step of the process. Work through it in the same way a client would – how can you streamline and simplify the process?

Think about the language you use when you welcome a new client to your practice – it’s advisable to avoid telling them that you’re “onboarding them” or “signing them” – a more client friendly approach can be to “welcome” them or “introduce them to the practice”.

Think about ways you and your team can help guide new clients through the process, either in person or through helpful resources. You can utilise a range of mediums – printed material, video or other online information – to outline the process. While the material can be generic, it’s important to make it as personal as possible; after all, you want it to be about your practice, and not to be equally applicable to ABC Financial Planning down the road.

Remember! Policy documents, questionnaires, PIN numbers and even welcome packs full of forms can be overwhelming; do what you can to help your clients understand each item. Avoid using industry jargon and acronyms where possible; if the jargon is necessary, be sure to provide a clear explanation of the terms used.

Step 6 – Match communications to client preferences

As you have no doubt discovered, communication is not a one-size-fits all proposition. No matter how closely your new client fits into your image of the ideal client for your business, their communication preferences may differ. Some clients may like to hear from you regularly, others as little as possible. For some, informational emails are preferred, while others prefer a quick (or long) phone call or meeting to review details and ask questions.

It’s important to establish and record each client’s preferences as part of the onboarding process. How does each new client like to receive communications and how often? Importantly, ask don’t assume – there are plenty of retirees who prefer digital communication and Gen Ys who favour face to face meetings!

Step 7 – Articulate your value proposition

This may sound obvious, but it’s a crucial step often forgotten. Remember – your proposition doesn’t start and stop with the financial advice provided in the prepared Statement of Advice.

Be sure to articulate the value of the services you offer (your unique business offering) and include clear articulation of your key points of difference as part of your onboarding process – after all, you’ve made a considerable investment in developing a proposition that adds value to the adviser-client relationship.

Step 8 – Packaging matters

There is a good reason brands invest so much in packaging – after all, we do tend to judge a book by its cover.

As well as having appropriate content, is your website visually pleasing? Is it easy to navigate and intuitive? Is your office warm and inviting? Small touches such as plants, furnishings and refreshments can make a positive impression.

Consider an investment in quality stationery, such as folders or document wallets, and potential value adds for clients. An example could be an expanding file with tabbed sections for topics such as life insurance, estate plans, investments and so on. Empty tabs can be a great point to start a review conversation down the track. Some advisers have been known to give their clients safes and fireproof boxes to help protect valuable documents.

For those advisers offering insurance, a ‘Claims Guarantee’ letter, which reinforces the value of the service you will provide in the event of a claim, can be invaluable. This can be accompanied by a wallet card with your contact details, so the client knows they can contact you 24/7 – they’re unlikely to call you at midnight, but it is reassuring for them to know they could!

Step 9 – Be transparent

Honesty is a fantastic way to build a new relationship quickly. It goes without saying that transparency about fees and commissions is a fundamental demonstration of that trust, as well as being a legal necessity.

Ensure that all client facing staff have the same honest and open attitude and explain the need for information or the completion of certain processes as they engage with the client. This will quickly demonstrate a consistent level of open and honest service each new client can expect throughout their relationship with your practice.

Should a problem arise, be proactive about addressing it with the client as soon as reasonably possible, apologising for any inconvenience caused. Even the most brilliant and well thought out process can fall short, resulting in the occasional error or oversight. If you proactively address issues with a client, chances are they will understand and appreciate the honesty.

Step 10 – Establish accountability and responsibility

Allocate ownership of (and accountability for) the various steps in the process to the most appropriate individuals within your business. Certainly, having the lead adviser steer the client through the entire process is not a practical use of their time, despite this being widespread practice. In fact, the research presented in part one of this article [Carmen: please link to part one] found more than 50% of practices rely on the client’s adviser to complete the onboarding process.

Appropriateness can be based on many criteria, such as special expertise, client value, existing relationships and even common interests.

The onboarding process is the ideal time to showcase the breadth of both your offering and your people, and to build confidence in the abilities of your wider team. By actively creating a positive relationship and level of trust between your clients and broader practice supports business continuity – and it makes it easier for you to take holidays!

Creating or refining your onboarding process may necessitate hiring new staff to manage client-facing tasks; the research found that nearly 10 percent of practices surveyed had a dedicated client concierge to help clients through this process. Depending on the current and projected size of your business, this may be a useful approach.

Step 11 – Don’t forget the training

Having taken the time to develop or reinvent your onboarding process, ensure that each staff member is informed about the new protocols and processes, and has the necessary skills to perform their role. This may include training to:

  • develop interpersonal skills, especially for staff who are new to client facing roles
  • use new technology and software packages.

Step 12 – Use technology to automate where appropriate

While technology is not a replacement for a considered and client friendly end-to-end onboarding process, it can play a significant role. The transition from prospect to client can be a cumbersome process as you and the client work through various regulatory requirements.

The right onboarding software can save you time and money by digitising and automating the process-based steps, such as account setup, regulatory and ‘know your customer’ compliance tasks. It has the added benefit of minimising data collection errors, reducing duplication and most importantly, freeing up time for you to build that personal relationship with your new client.

The Top 10 Trends in Wealth Management 2018 report[1] found the introduction of modern technology, such as robotic process automation (RPA), into basic logic-based tasks of the client onboarding process can reduce costs and accelerate a practice’s digital transformation strategy.

When considering processes for automation, look for:

  • manual paperwork, document generation or compliance tasks that could easily be digitised and reduce the need to process or store paper-based information; for example, ‘Know Your Client’ and other due diligence processes
  • common points of duplication – have you asked the client for the same piece of information or document multiple times?

Chatbots can provide an efficient and user-friendly way to engage with the client to manage simple interactions, such as updating client information or simple Q&A in real time, without the need for staff intervention.

Integrated business applications that can share information (for example, between your CRM, onboarding and accounting software) or to automatically deduce the completion of key process steps, thereby minimising manual input, are able to help automate business processes. This, in turn, minimises the regulatory and contractual processes of onboarding, and builds and accurately measure KPIs related to these processes.

Step 13 – Seek client feedback

The research in part one [link to part one] found 37% of advisers surveyed don’t ask clients to provide feedback, while 31 percent seek it once in the year following a new client joining their practice. Formally seeking client feedback is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to ensure your new clients are satisfied with the service you provide.

In the first instance, you should seek specific feedback on aspects of your onboarding process – how else will you know how well the experience worked for the client?

Well thought out and well worded client surveys are one of the best ways to engender client engagement and trust, and to measure the impact of your onboarding process and ongoing service delivery.

Free online services, such as Survey Monkey or Survey Planet enable you to easily ask questions and simply collate the results.

Don’t just put the results in the drawer. If a customer has indicated a specific action or process that didn’t meet their needs or expectations, review ways to improve that process.

Step 14 – Track and measure the process

Just as with your business, your onboarding process should constantly evolve to ensure it remains a point of competitive differentiation. Your process will never evolve at the rate required if it is not actively tracked, measured and adjusted accordingly.

Process measurement is an important part of keeping your onboarding process a relevant and distinctive point of differentiation. In addition to surveying the new clients you bring on board for their personal views, as you build your new onboarding processes put in place monitoring systems and measurable KPIs that help to identify parts of the process that may not be functioning to the greatest effect.

One of the most important metrics to capture and assess is client satisfaction; ideally this is measured several times during the first 12 months of a new relationship, and at least annually thereafter. Plan to use the data captured in your measurement process in a twice annual review of your overall onboarding processes, introducing changes as necessary.

One final note…

Finally, make the process one your entire business is committed to delivering on consistently. Again, and again, and again. A successful onboarding process augers well for the longevity of your client relationships and, ultimately, the success of your practice.

 

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

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[1] https://www.capgemini.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/wealth-managment-trends-2018.pdf

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