Studies have shown that the first 90 days of any new working relationship can be difficult. Trust is being built. Communication is being tailored. A general understanding of the partnership and project is being defined. It's during these three months we want to make sure we do everything we can to ensure a successful partnership from the beginning, to build on the future.
That is the beginning introduction to our New Client Onboarding experience; a three-month roadmap that guides our team in building a foundation of trust and meeting expectations to forge a partnership with new clients.
Why is this important?
It not only takes time to feel comfortable with another team, it also takes time for both teams to really ramp up. Getting into someone’s codebase and tackling bugs and issues can be harder than you think if you’re not familiar with the application. Our team has years of experience taking over Ruby on Rails applications, fixing bugs and issues, and building onto those applications for future support. But in the beginning, it just takes longer to get going.
What we found is when we thought we were being really helpful by diving in and trying to tackle the biggest issues, our new clients would be waiting patiently to see something, anything. Unfortunately, there’s not always a lot to show, except for a lot of hours being spent and saying “We’re working away!” doesn’t always cut it.
That’s the reality of development. Things are happening, but it often just feels slow.
Knowing those hurdles, we set out to identify how we can accommodate those realities and set realistic expectations. At the same time we want to keep our clients satisfied with those expectations, and frankly, impressed and confident they made the right decision in choosing us.
Below is a high-level overview of how our internal new client onboarding document is organized. I'll share how we got there.
Where we started
Prior to our roadmap, we had a fear that we were letting our new clients down in some way. We were working, but was it enough? We knew if we weren’t able to win them over in the first few months, the viability of that partnership was not good. That was a risk we felt we could mitigate.
Our first step was to understand where that fear was coming from. To do that, we had to understand what our client’s experienced in the first 90 days. Based on feedback from our clients, we learned that there were a few areas we could improve: better organizing initial information about the project, more clearly explaining the technical terms we use, and providing ongoing education for clients. With this information, we set out to create a customer experience map, similar to what we do in our client projects.
The experience map allows us to understand the process, various touchpoints and the lengths of time in between that a client goes through within all stages from contract signing to work in progress. It also allows us to identify and talk through some of the pain points and frustrations that can occur in between.
By getting an idea of where they might have a negative experience, we could discuss opportunities to make it better. By not addressing those negative experiences, we could damage our relationship in the long run.
Building the map
With opportunities in hand, we looked for ways to create the ideal onboarding experience that wouldn’t push the team to an unrealistic expectation but would give the client more ease and transparency.
To begin we’ve identified five pivotal points of time:
- The first 24 hours of signing a contract:
- The first week
- The first month
- 60 days in
- 90 days in
For each of these points in time, we discussed what a client might be thinking, feeling, and what we were currently doing. Then we discussed what we could be doing. We looked for ways to add reassurance and be two steps ahead of what they might need.
We then looked at ways where we could provide meaningful and helpful interaction. For example, we noticed in the first week there was a lot of emails and meetings between us and the clients. How can we minimize the amount of the noise, but still give them the information they might need?
Another example is setting a goal for our team to identify early, smaller milestones and targets that we can report on for the first few days and weeks, instead of trying to tackle bigger initiatives, and facing the black hole of time with nothing to show. Simply getting a few small items out the door can reassure a new client that we’re on the right track.
Our new clients receive a document outlining the first 90 days of our relationship and what to expect.
What we’ve learned
As with any new process, it takes training and repetition to get a good rhythm. Our first client after pitching this, we forgot a few of the to-dos and learned that adding a checklist when we start helps. We also try hard to pitch the small stuff first, but occasionally, clients really want us to focus on the bigger, tougher problems. In those situations, we are open in our communication to ensure that they understand we might not be able to give them something sooner like we had hoped.
Vital to any client, but especially early on, are the check-ins from an account level. To be able to have an open conversation with a team member that’s not involved in the day-to-day work, gives us both a chance to make recommendations or suggestions and comment on the successes. It’s also a chance for us to catch any red flags early, before they become detrimental. Ensuring we get those scheduled and make it happen ensures it doesn’t fall through the cracks.
As an additional benefit, we were able to use this as a template for creating our first ever New Employee Onboarding Experience. We realized that just as our client relationships are important, so is the trust we build with new employees. And so creating an onboarding roadmap ensures we have plan in place to ensure their success (and ours!)
What challenges have you faced when onboarding new clients? What lessons have you learned?