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Establishing and Managing Expectations During the Client Onboarding Process

Jan 20, 2021
After attracting new clients to your business, taking the time to onboard these clients is a process unto itself. At Summit CPA, our onboarding process is a stage that we have all of our new clients go through in an effort to learn more about their business and provide them with services that will ultimately benefit their business. Fortunately, after onboarding hundreds of clients, our firm has a system in place that continues to work well. However, to ensure that our process is as effective and streamlined as possible, we re-evaluate it every six months.

The goal of any onboarding process for service-based entities should be to learn more about your client and their needs. The process should also help you establish your scope of work so that you can begin working on deliverables. With that said, establishing expectations around your services and deliverables during the onboarding stage is essential.

It's very easy to dive into delivering services and solutions to clients while overlooking the fact that your vision and work process may not align with your client's needs and expectations. Therefore, establishing expectations before delving into deliverables and projects is a great way to ensure your firm begins a new business relationship on the right foot. Discussed below are a few ways in which you can share your expectations with new clients during the onboarding process to help make your budding working relationship a positive experience for everyone involved.

Host a Kickoff Call

Hosting an initial call to kick off your working relationship with a new client is a great way to introduce your expectations. Our firm typically hosts a kickoff call with new clients, where we briefly walk through what they can expect from us and what we expect from them. We find that this call is as much for the client's team as it is for ours because it clarifies our firm's responsibilities in regard to how we plan to approach the delivery of requested services.

This call can also help you position your business as an expert within the industry by highlighting how previous positive experiences with clients have led to the development of a work process that is guided by your expectations. Over the years, our firm has found that clients are more likely to accept our expectations and follow our lead in regard to work processes when reminded of our expertise in the field.

However, we also recommend remaining open to changing your expectations or processes within reason to accommodate clients. In the past, our firm has approached our working relationships with clients in a slightly different way to keep client satisfaction high. These changes were minor and included adjustments, such as using a different communication platform than we normally use to connect with a particular client. With that said, while small adjustments are acceptable, we suggest refraining from making bigger changes that could disrupt your carefully cultivated work process.

Client Meeting

Review the Scope of Work with Your Clients

After going through the sales process, it's imperative that you communicate your plans with the client so that everyone's on the same page about the services you will be providing. While a kickoff call is a great time to host an initial discussion on services, reviewing the scope of work (SOW) with greater scrutiny can provide further clarity on work expectations. At Summit CPA, we review the SOW line by line with each client, explaining everything in the document, including:

  • The deliverables for each item. Identifying the deliverables for each item listed in the SOW helps clients understand what they can expect to receive from a particular service. This step in the SOW review process is essential because it helps avoid confusion down the line. For example, our firm once handled the Accounts Receivable aspect of a client's business, and we ended up approaching the service in a way that was completely different from what the client expected. Walking through the deliverables for this item would have easily spared us from the fallout from this misconception, which is why this step is now a permanent part of our onboarding process.

  • The process for each deliverable or project. Breaking down the process for each deliverable or project gives the client a clear understanding of what your business will be doing to provide them with a specific service, as well as what you can expect from them. For example, if you're providing a service for a client and your team needs to meet with them every week, explaining that these weekly meetings are an integral part of your process lets the client know that their attendance is expected at said meetings. Therefore, if the client decides to continue with the service, then your team can expect that they will attend those mandatory meetings.

  • Communication expectations for each project. Informing clients about how you will communicate with them to deliver a particular service provides them with much-needed insight into how they can approach you and how you will respond. Establishing expectations on response time for the platforms you use is important. You want to be clear and ensure that you and your clients are on the same page. We typically inform clients of the platforms we use to communicate (e.g., e-mail, video chat platforms like Zoom, etc.) and instruct them on how best to reach us, as well as when they can expect a response to non-urgent requests.

Say What You Will and What You Won't Do

Clearly defining what your services do and do not include can also help avoid misconceptions and expectations around particular services. In our experience, identifying what our firm does and does not do has also clarified our role and allows our clients to make more informed decisions about whether or not to proceed with a particular service. For example, while our firm handles payroll administration, we do not handle Human Resources (HR) matters on behalf of clients. In the past, we have had clients who believed that our payroll management services included us handling certain aspects of HR. Moving forward, we make it clear when detailing our services what each one entails and have had clients add or drop services due to this point of clarification.

Setting expectations and boundaries around your business's work further clarifies the services and deliverables you will be providing your respective clients. This process also allows you to get a new working relationship off to a strong start since all parties involved are aware of how they will be working together and what actions will ultimately help them achieve their business goals.

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About the Author

Summit CPA Group is a fully distributed accounting firm and leading provider of Virtual CFO Services in North America. In addition to providing VCFO coaching, CPA firm augmentation, Summit CPA Group is building a community of CPA firm owners who want to learn how to provide or enhance their existing VCFO service offerings. The CFO Community includes: free monthly CPE webinars, a Slack network, The Virtual CFO Playbook – a course dedicated to teaching CPA firm owners how to build and scale Virtual CFO services, and more. Join the community today and start getting the support you need to grow your firm.