The beginning of any relationship is always a delicate thing.
You’re setting the tone for how things are going to go. Your actions and behaviors are telling the story of how you’ll be showing up for the other party. And understandably, the other party makes a lot of decisions about what type of future they see (or don’t see) with you.
When you’re just beginning your work with a new client, you have an opportunity to show them how well you’re going to take care of them. A good onboarding process sets up your client for success by giving them the right amount of information at the right time. You make it as easy as possible for your client to get great results. Conversely, a good onboarding minimizes the opportunities for missed expectations.
Whether you’re creating an onboarding from scratch or sharpening an existing system, here’s a four-step process for a successful beginning to your relationship.
1) Identify the most important things your clients need to know and the most common areas of confusion.
Before you create an onboarding system, make a list of the most common places people get confused while working with you. Importantly, these confusions can come from two buckets:
- The logistics of your business
- The behaviors required for optimal results
For instance, at Mark Fisher Fitness, we need to explain our late cancel policy very carefully or it can lead to missed expectations. Additionally, we have to make sure Ninjas understand that sessions don’t roll over on our monthly membership agreements. And it may sound obvious, but it’s important that Ninjas understand by signing up for a 12 month agreement, their committing to working with us for 12 months.
Beyond the logistics of MFF, we know there are certain things that Ninjas need to know about recovery and nutrition to get the best results. For instance, most goals require more than simply showing up for workouts. If someone is looking to lose weight, that’s not going to happen just by training. If we don’t indoctrinate them with an understanding that “you can’t out-train your diet,” we risk losing people after a few weeks. These very same Ninjas may tell their friends that MFF “didn’t work,” not realizing exercise can’t undo their less-than-ideal diet.
And to be clear… that’s on us. Our job is more than simply delivering workouts; our job is to teach them what they need to succeed.
2) Create a schedule of touchpoints for their first four to eight weeks after committing to working with you.
Once you know the areas you’ll need to address to set up your clients for success, create a structure for when you’ll give them what pieces of information.
This is the true art of successful onboarding; telling your clients the right things, at the right time, with the right amount of emphasis and the right amount of repetition.
Real life alert: if there’s any complexity to your business, this is going to be hard. You’ll need to do lots of iterating over time based on feedback. But like everything else in business, if you don’t have some kind of consistent system, you’ll see wildly inconsistent results.
If you’re just putting this together for the first time, you can use a simple Google Doc or spreadsheet. The key is to create something. Don’t worry about being too fancy if you’re creating an onboarding system from scratch. Your goal is to make sure you have the bones in place, so you can improve the system over time.
While it’s hard to give suggestions without the context of your particular business, 1-2 points of contact every 1-2 weeks is a good starting place. From there, you can consider increasing as needed, based on the complexity of your business/ services, and the level of intimacy you want with your clients.
Now fill in the “bones” of your schedule with the “meat” of your communication. Identify the key messages for each point of contact, starting with the initial messaging after they commit to working with you. Appreciate that crucial and/or counter-intuitive pieces of information will benefit from repetition.
And remember, it’s possible to have too much contact. This can make things overwhelming and be off-putting. You’re not looking for as much contact as possible; you’re looking for the right amount to set your clients up for success.
3) Decide on the best medium for each point of contact.
Now that you have the schedule in place, you’ll want to decide how you contact your client. The best form of communication will depend on how you deliver your services, the demographics you work with, the frequency of communication, and the nature of your business.
Examples of communication mediums include:
- In person conversation
- Printed materials
- Phone calls
- Text messages
- FB messages
- FB group posts
- Handwritten cards
Different moments and different messages will lend themselves to different mediums. For instance, if you have an in-person sales conversation, you have an opportunity to emphasize the most important items after they sign up to work with you. You could also easily give them some printed materials.
After this chat, you may want to follow up by email to get the most important messages reviewed again, as well as remind them of the benefits of working with you. This could be done with text in the email, a pre-recorded video, or both.
Handwritten cards are a great way to express gratitude for someone choosing to give you their business. After a few weeks, email or phone calls can be utilized to get feedback from the client to make sure they're happy with your services and seeing results. Text messages can be used for increased contact and to deliver simple messages like reminders and motivation.
BONUS POINTS: While we want a consistent and repeatable system, all your clients will have different “love languages.” If your business doesn’t require massive scale, consider building in a touchpoint or two that allows you to personalize the experience in some way.
4) Execute your system, gather feedback, and improve it over time.
Now that you have a system, congrats! You’re already ahead of many service businesses. However, the real work is just beginning…
If you have a team, your next step is to decide who owns what piece. While some elements can be automated, based on your business and its offerings, it’s likely you’ll be using in-person conversations, phone calls, and/or individualized emails for part of the onboarding process. If that’s the case, you’ll need to train your team on whatever script you want them to follow in delivering the onboarding experience. You’ll also want to make sure it’s clear who “owns” what responsibilities, and hold people accountable so you can be sure the system is being delivered as designed.
From there… FEEDBACK, BABY.
By continuing to keep an eye out for consistent points of frustration, confusion, or missed expectations, you can tweak the system over time. You can:
- Add more touchpoints
- Re-word existing touchpoints to make things clearer
- Change the medium of delivery for specific touchpoints
- Remove touchpoints
This last point warrants repeating. Sometimes you’ll make your communication clearer by removing touchpoints.
Remember, people will always miss stuff. Avoid the desire to keep adding steps to your onboarding in hopes of eliminating any chance for missed expectations. Since you’ll likely be working with a wide variety of people with different learning styles and preferred mediums of communication, no onboarding system will ever be perfect. And it’s entirely possible to make your well-intentioned attempts at clarity completely overwhelming and off-putting.
Any time a new client begins to work with you, they’re taking a leap. They’re trusting you with their time, energy, and money in the hopes you can help them achieve some outcome. It’s not uncommon for clients to feel nervous.
Will you be the right fit? Are you actual able to deliver on your promises? Will they feel stupid? Can they trust you?
The beginning of your relationship with your clients is a crucial opportunity to set the tone. A clear onboarding system will minimize missed expectations and confusion. It will help your clients achieve results faster and enjoy their experience working with you. And ultimately, it will create committed and happy fans that will grow your business for you.