Recently, we’ve noticed a major trend in accounting firm process improvement: solving client onboarding pain points.
It’s easy to see why. The first few months of working with a new client set the tone for ongoing collaboration and can really make or break the relationship. This is when you establish ground rules for how your team communicates with clients, gather necessary information, train the client on your processes, and identify additional services your firm can provide.
Unfortunately, too many team members are so excited to land a new client they skip over crucial steps in this process – if the firm has a formal process at all. In the best-case scenario, this creates more work down the line. In the worst-case scenario, you create a poor first impression, and the client eventually takes their business elsewhere.
Does your firm have a well-defined process for onboarding new clients? Or is it somewhat of a free-for-all? Consider the following tips for solving client onboarding pain points many firms face.
Pain Point #1: Lack of Onboarding Processes
An effective client onboarding process starts with having some sort of process in the first place. In firms where there is no process, team members mistakenly assume their current client service structure will take care of client onboarding. In many cases, this results in crucial steps being missed and frustrated clients.
Don’t assume your clients know how you want to work and communicate with them. These kinds of assumptions damage the client relationship and lead to lost business.
The exact steps you take in your client onboarding process will vary from firm to firm, but it should cover:
- Introducing the client to their service team and how you will communicate and collaborate
- Gathering all of the necessary information from your client to properly serve them and identify any additional services they may need
Pain Point #2: Contract Approval and Review
Whether you use engagement letters, master service agreements (MSAs), or a combination of the two, approving and reviewing contracts can be hard to control. We’ve seen everything from firms that have no control over contracts and just allow partners to draft their own agreements, to allowing clients to redline contracts, to firms that use a boilerplate form letter.
Again, each firm needs to decide what works best for them, but you need to know what’s happening in your firm. Engagement letters and MSAs are a contract between you and your client. Ideally, it outlines each party’s fees, responsibilities, and obligations, helps establish expectations and reduces scope creep.
At a minimum, your client onboarding process should ensure that you’re getting a signed contract and identifying any deviations from your firm’s standard contract. For example, if you have 5,000 client contracts, how many of them have altered payment terms or indemnification clauses? Do you have processes in place to ensure you’re not sending the letter of representation for audit engagements without an engagement letter?
Well-intentioned changes to your firm’s standard engagement letter (or no contract at all) can be devastating in the event of a professional liability claim. Include contract review and approval in your client onboarding process to mitigate risk.
Pain Point #3: Data Entry
Many firms are using customer relationship management (CRM) software to manage prospects. The problem is, few CRM systems are built with a CPA firm in mind. As a result, the firm gathers a lot of data in the CRM, however that data isn’t integrated with their practice management, document management, or other systems in the firm. This results in wasting time on redundant data entry across disparate systems.
If your firm uses a CRM solution, ensure your onboarding process takes the CRM into account. Where does the onboarding process start? Where do you pull information from or push information to? Look for solutions that can work together to avoid wasting time on siloed information.
Your client onboarding processes aren’t static. As technology changes, identify new opportunities to evolve and improve. If you haven’t yet formalized your processes, start small. First, identify a service line or department. Next, document your client onboarding processes. Keep an eye out for improvements that can be made or steps that can be automated. Any small improvements in your own efficiency or the client experience can add up to a stronger client relationship.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Amelio can help in solving client onboarding pain points, please schedule a demo with our Director of Business Development.