Traditionally, accounting and advisory firms have approached onboarding new clients by getting the least amount of information needed to get them into the billing system. However, client experience (CX) professionals agree this is a significant missed opportunity. Not improving the client onboarding experience can cost thousands, even millions, of dollars over the life of the client relationship.
Improving the Client Onboarding Experience
How are accounting and advisory firms retooling their client onboarding experience? The beginning of the relationship is when the client potentially is the happiest with their choice of a firm. However, it is also when the firm can make mistakes that can undo the relationship building that took place during the sales process.
- Make a good first impression: A well-planned and executed onboarding process signals to new clients they made the right choice and establishes a high level of trust. It also communicates the firm’s intent to form a lasting relationship. Poor communication and frustrating or redundant interactions can put that new relationship at risk.
- Invest in the right technology and data management: Good CRM and practice management systems support a collaborative approach and are key to a successful onboarding experience. Mitch Reno, principal and director of CX at Rehmann in Michigan, said marketing and sales’ involvement cannot stop at the engagement letter. Lax practices and workflow around data integrity can cause problems.
- Communicate well and set expectations: In a recent CPA Trendlines article, Jody Grunden, CEO and co-founder of Summit CPA Group, said good communication is imperative during onboarding. Summit Group uses an eight-week onboarding checklist. It outlines exactly what new clients can expect as the stewardship of their relationship transitions from the sales team to the service delivery team.
- Create a client onboarding toolkit: Maria Haggerty, owner and CEO of Dotcom Distribution in New York, said creating an onboarding toolkit is a great way to get everyone organized: “It should be easy to follow and include components such as your service agreement and scope of work, client intake forms, checklists (with timelines), terms and definitions, training guidelines, material requests, next steps and plans for scheduling a follow-up call to make sure everything is clear.”
According to “Closing the CX Gap: Customer Experience Trends Report” conducted across industries by digital CX platform Acquia, 80 percent of leaders say they are delivering superior CX. Yet only 8 percent of consumers agree. This disconnect may be because consumers no longer compare brand experiences between two companies in the same industry. Rather, customers compare their brand experiences across industries.
Reno understands some marketers will have a hard time convincing leadership to study and upgrade the client onboarding experience. Marketing’s role, he said, is to initiate the conversations. They can then advocate the business case for the accretive growth potential of better onboarding processes.
“Advocate for going directly to clients who have joined the firm in the past six months or year to interview them about what’s worked and what has been challenging,” Reno said. “Marketing’s role is to bring the clients’ voice into the process. It is far more powerful to tell firm leaders what clients say they want, rather than what you think they want. Then you can help departments identify what their workflow looks like today and how it can improve based on their clients’ needs.”
To learn about creating a better onboarding process, see “Onboarding and Beyond: Use the First Official Client Experience to Increase Profitability” on pg. 6 of Growth Strategies.
Growth Strategies: The Journal of Accounting Marketing and Sales, covers topics that apply to marketers, business developers and firm leaders responsible for growing the firm – including managing partners, niche leaders, management/executive committee members, office administrators and others. Together, you can use the wisdom shared in Growth Strategies to drive revenue and profitability in your firm.
About Brittany Olsen
Brittany Olsen is a marketing coordinator at Kingsbery CPAs.
About Heather Kunz
Heather Kunz is the manager of marketing and business development, Williams, Benator & Libby.