Mastering client onboarding in 6 easy steps

minute read

Last Updated September 14, 2023


Ninety days. That’s all it takes to make or break a client relationship. The client onboarding experience in those first 90 days will determine whether a client stays or leaves, which is why it’s important that firms have a standardized, seamless client onboarding process in place.

Onboarding isn’t a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have. It lays the foundation for the entire client relationship, so don’t let it be optional—make it a requirement. While creating an onboarding process may seem daunting, it’s not. Follow along as we talk through the basics, the pitfalls and the six easy steps to master client onboarding.

The 411 of client onboarding

The client onboarding process is the client’s first major interaction with your firm and sets the tone for the entire client relationship. From the moment the proposal is signed until onboarding concludes, clients should experience a seamless transition.

When a client first comes on board, the handoff between sales and your onboarding team must be frictionless. It should be so friction-free, in fact, that the client doesn’t feel that they’re changing hands from one group to another.

In order to provide a stellar client onboarding experience, you must first have a designated process and then a dedicated team to see the process through. Onboarding processes that have not been standardized or documented will lead to disjointed onboarding experiences and confused clients and team members.

Remember that client onboarding familiarizes new clients with your firm’s products and services and ensures compliance with your firm’s policies and procedures. And better yet, doing it correctly leads to retention and additional revenue and profitability. Keep reading to learn about mistakes firms commonly make during the onboarding process.

Common onboarding mistakes to avoid

For accounting firms, there are several common mistakes when it comes to onboarding new clients. While this list isn’t exhaustive, it’s a good place to start when thinking about your onboarding process and what improvements to make:

  • Not starting fast enough. Once the client signs the proposal (or contract), immediately assign them to the onboarding team and schedule a kickoff meeting. Don’t let them drag their feet on a start date. If you wait around for the client to schedule onboarding, it may fall off their radar. Take the lead and get the kickoff meeting scheduled right away.
  • Misaligned expectations. Jumping into onboarding without aligning expectations between your firm and your new client will only lead to frustration—and quite possibly a client who ends up churning within 90 days. It’s imperative to make sure you set clear expectations with the client from the beginning and take into account the expectations they’ve expressed during the sales process. Better yet, have it outlined in your onboarding documentation so everyone’s on the same page.
  • Friction-full process. Not utilizing a modern tech stack is a mistake; it creates friction for the client and your firm. Use applications that allow new clients to e-sign proposals and engagement letters, access to your onboarding checklist (more on that later), a communication portal (i.e., a modern website), a place to upload documents (e.g., Google Drive) and a video conferencing app (e.g., Zoom) for onboarding.
  • Lack of standardization. When clients onboard differently, it causes a disconnect between staff and clients. When processes are not well thought out and standardized, clients are onboarded inconsistently and essential steps get missed. An onboarding process must be in place to successfully onboard clients without missteps. And this process must be documented for both staff and clients.
  • Scope creep. We’ve all seen it happen: Expectations aren’t set at the beginning of the onboarding process, and clients ask for something not included in their agreement. Make sure the scope is clearly documented and agreed to by all parties before onboarding begins. Anything extra should require additional costs and added post-onboarding.

Steps to standardize and streamline your client onboarding process

Before diving into onboarding, it’s important to start with a plan. Determine who will be involved, document a repeatable process, and keep the lines of communication open between the client, sales and the onboarding team. Business needs and goals discussed during the sales process should be documented and passed along to the onboarding team, so the client isn’t answering the same questions more than once.

client onboarding

Remember that you have 90 days to make or break the firm-client relationship, and we’re here to make sure you “make it.” Here are six steps to get you started with your client onboarding process.

  1. Create a client onboarding checklist. This is the first step in creating a standardized process and ensuring that all clients onboard the same way. Document this process for internal and external use so you and your new client are on the same page. Download our onboarding workflow example here.
  2. Automate processes. Have the right technology in place to simplify and streamline onboarding. This includes e-signatures on proposals and engagement letters, a central cloud-based application to upload important documents, and a screenshare service during onboarding calls giving clients a clear look at the applications they’ll be using.
  3. Assign an onboarding champion. Each client needs an onboarding champion to facilitate the process, be the point of contact for any questions, and serve as a cheerleader along the way. Assign a member (or an onboarding team) to help guide the client through their onboarding journey.
  4. Have a client kickoff meeting. Schedule a client kickoff meeting as soon as the agreement is assigned to a champion or team. During this meeting, you’ll make introductions across teams, set expectations for onboarding, align short- and long-term goals, and define key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure customer success during onboarding. Ensure everyone has a copy of the onboarding checklist.
  5. Schedule an official handoff meeting. As onboarding concludes, it’s important for clients to know who they’ll be working with post-onboarding. Have the onboarding champion schedule a meeting between the client and ongoing client services team for an introduction and seamless handoff. Doing this will ensure expectations and keep communication channels open.
  6. Collect feedback. The key to customer success is checking in with clients once onboarding has ended. Set up a meeting 30 days after onboarding has concluded to see how your new client feels and if they have questions or concerns. Gather feedback regarding the onboarding process. Were there things that could have gone better? What went well? Obtain feedback to help tweak the onboarding process for future clients.

Get cracking on adopting client onboarding best practices

Armed with the knowledge of common mistakes and the six steps to creating an unbeatable onboarding experience, it’s time to put a plan into action. Create a repeatable process, get started right away and keep lines of communication open. Ensure that the first 90 days prove you’re the right firm for the job.

And remember to tweak and adjust your onboarding plan based on client feedback. There’s always room for improvement.

For more information on how to master the client onboarding process in your accounting firm, talk to a Rootworks expert. Schedule a demo at today!

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