In this first of two articles on Client Onboarding we start by exploring an aspect of firm management that has evolved exponentially in recent years. Have you kept up with this aspect of firm management? Let’s explore and see how this can be improved.
While consulting with a 6-partner firm last week the subject of Client Onboarding (CO) was raised. We discussed at length what their current arrangements are and how these can be improved. I am pleased to share that I was able to offer some insights which they are now in the process of implementing. I thought I would highlight some of the points that you might wish to consider that will enhance your firm’s current arrangements.
Q: When does CO start? A: It starts at the point that the client has agreed that you are appointed as the accountant. Everything that precedes that is sales.
Back in the days when I was building my own accountancy business, I like to think that CO was an aspect of my firm’s business that I had tied down. If I was in practice today, I would retain most of the processes I developed but would have a greater reliance on technology. In fact, much greater.
Client onboarding is key to building long-lasting customer relationships. More than 80% of executives in a Harvard Business Review survey reported said good onboarding improves revenue, referrals, renewals, and loyalty.
High impact client onboarding requires more thought and structure than, say, sending a few automated onboarding emails to clients. A good onboarding process should set up clients for success and longevity of service.
How important is having a formal and firmwide agreed approach to onboarding? Very, let’s take a look at some of its core components.
CLIENT ONBOARDING IN WRITING
- Do you have your CO agreed and implemented firmwide and in writing?
- Are your policies carried out by all those who have CO responsibility?
- Is there accountability? Maybe there are some who do not follow the designated CO pathways
- Are you maximising technology while retaining the human touch and feel? You do not want your client to feel that having appointed you they have signed up to a barrage of technology driven processes.
- Are you satisfied that your CO is not overly excessive?
TAKING CLIENT INSTRUCTIONS
You will, most likely, have had a one-on-one meeting with the client either in person or online and you are instructed to act. What follows must reflect the agreements you have regarding the services your new client is excepting. You will have had the opportunity to understand what the client is engaging you for and along those interactions you may well have highlighted aspects of your service that go beyond what the client is initially seeking. That may be regarded by some as marketing, but I prefer to view this as seeking an understanding of the service scope that might, at some point, be of interest to the client.
FOLLOW UP COMMUNICATIONS
Engagement Letter – it depends on the recommendations you are following for this. Often the format for this is fairly standard and the template used may be one recommended by your professional body. It maybe that you use a template provided by one of your training companies. It may be one provided by your national or global firm or alliance network. Wherever this is sourced my recommend is that your engagement letter does not cover matters that I suggest are better covered in what I refer to as the Agreement Letter. But that, of course, is for you to decide. My only observation is that most Engagement Letters are somewhat turgid in style and not overly compelling reading. Many clients, I suspect, just sign as requested without looking to deeply other than maybe casting a glance over the paragraphs related to accountancy firm costs. That’s where the Agreement Letter comes into play.
Key Question: Many online engagement systems allow for you to include pricing options and your recommends – are you taking advantage of these?
Key Point: Do ALL you can to have as short an onboarding timetable as possible while making sure that nothing falls through the cracks.
Agreement Letter: If the first letter the client receives is the Engagement Letter how does that connect with the dynamics of the meeting with your client? Your meeting will, I trust, have been positive and friendly. You and your new client understand one another in terms of what each expects. Surely there is another approach to connect with the client in the same style that reflects the character of your engagement meeting?
Key Point: Many of the online systems combine the engagement letter with services and pricing – that works fine so long as there is clear and separate navigation to make this an easy read for your new client.
Many firms adopt what I call the Agreement Letter. This can be sent at the same time as the Engagement Letter, or even before the sending of that letter.
Agreement Letter Content. Here are just a few suggestions for you to blend in with your own ideas.
- Let the client know you are excited to be acting for them
- Maybe you could also let them know how impressed you are with their business and its plans for advancement
- Who they will be in contact with other than the engagement partner?
- THIS is where to highlight service pricing and what the client has to do for the price to be the price. This is where to start ensuring that you do not bear the cost of client caused extras.
Note: This has been the subject of a previous blog. If your country is enduring high or uncertain rates of inflation let them know that this will be adjusted to take account of the effect of inflation at the point of engagement completion
- Lack of cooperation or mistakes from the previous accountant. I was recently in conversation with a client who had suffered some heavy time costs as a result of problems when the information was received from the previous accountant. Maybe your letter might include a sentence referring to an assumption that the price is based on there being no problems discovered on your initial review of papers you receive
- While on the subject of the previous accountant please allow me to make a very important …
Key Point: If this is a business that is transferring from other accountants – do not base your price on charging the same or less than the previous accountant. You just do not know the other firm’s charge rate structures or perhaps more importantly you do not know how much time they wrote off.
Key Point: Are you clear as to what is in the Balance Sheet – Fixed Assets in particular?
- You might wish to include a sample check list of what you require for the purposes of carrying out your audit, financial statement preparation and taxation services.
- Point them to any helpful areas on your website where they may be able to view helpful information. For example, some firms have business advisory literature, tax rates, tax calendars Budget Reports and so on
- Include details of any meetings you have scheduled with the client. For example, a two-month review (maybe at the client’s premises?), pre year end meeting.