Blog|4 min

Digital Client Onboarding in a Remote World

Jason Blumer
Blumer & Associates, CPAs

During a recent webinar, we dove into the topic of Digital Client Onboarding in a Remote World. This important topic is part of the Driving Digital Transformation series that is leading this year.

This article will highlight some key aspects we touched on during the webinar.

How you begin your client relationship is key

Firms often bring on clients too quickly without giving them time to consider the value of the relationship. Speed is the antithesis to building a strong client base. Why? There are many reasons, but here are a few we touched on in the webinar:

  • Clients need time to choose value before they receive service. Accountants can work wonders for their client relationships when they present options of service and then allow the client the opportunity to choose and commit to the relationship.

  • Methodical choices are ones clients can invest in. Allowing a client time to choose means they will also commit to the relationship, just as much as the accounting firm does. This collaborative relationship leads to more valuable service.

  • Fast service with no barriers or walls feels cheap. Accountants can implement what we call “barriers to entry” into their firm, making a point to the client that entering the firm is a privilege for the client and worth the price they will pay. The faster you allow a client in the front door, often the cheaper the service can feel.

More intentional client onboarding allows a firm to build a strong client base 

A well-constructed strategic client base provides ongoing value to the firm, where the client base will pay more in service fees over time as the client base matures (continuing to provide future revenue to the firm from the same base).

Building a client base has two key components to consider. First, a client base is strategically built over time through the filter of digital onboarding. This is the ‘front door’ to the firm and is the most important door. Second, a client base is maintained through intentional attrition. This is the ‘back door’ and is one that a firm needs to use intentionally to keep the client base ‘clean’ over time. All clients in a client base must remain aligned with the purpose and mission of the firm, or a firm will find that legacy client bases will become an anchor to the firm’s growth over time.

Here are some key parameters to assess your client base. We call these alignment parameters because a strong, strategic client base is an aligned client base.

  • Belief/same page: This parameter suggests that the client trusts you and is aligned with what you believe about your service.

  • Clientship: This parameter suggests that the client is collaborative and maintains/owns their own role in the relationships with you. They are easy and enjoyable to work with.

  • Value Consumption: This parameter suggests that the client absorbs and uses the value you produce in service to them. They are transformationable.

  • Profitable: This parameter suggests that you have priced the client appropriately, and they are profitable.

Take some time to grade your own client base with these parameters on a scale from A to D:

A = Highly aligned

B = Somewhat aligned

C = Often not very aligned

D = Not aligned at all (consider removal)

Here are 5 reasons why digital onboarding should be a firm’s greatest tool in seeking aligned clients:

  • Preparation is for clients you may never meet in person. The digital nature of this means you need to step up your work to make your client feel safe in agreeing to work with your firm.

  • Trust is the basis for making option choices between a client and a firm. Give your client at least 3 options to work with you: a high, middle, and low so that they feel they can trust you have their best interests at heart.

  • Requirements placed on your clients allow you to lead them. If you require them to go through an onboarding process, they will show you very quickly whether they are ready to be led and cared for by your firm.

  • Alignment with your clients can be the result of having your clients participate in an onboarding process. A digital client onboarding process can have as many steps in it as you want (ours has 7 to 8 depending on the situation), and not all clients will make it through the process. That’s the point—UNaligned clients need to be filtered out.

  • Discovery and diagnostics make your service world-class. Discovery is a service we created in our firm that became a requirement for a large client to enter our firm. We do our ‘medical examination’ to make sure we know who we are working with and the depth of all that they are going through. Eliminating client surprises allows us to provide a higher level of service.

Gaining trust digitally

As we’ve mentioned, trust is the foundation of strong relationships. How can you gain trust quickly in a digital environment? Here are some steps you can follow:

  • Require a value conversation before beginning work with a client (and don’t offer service suggestions in this meeting). A value conversation is where you simply listen to a client tell you about themselves and what they think a relationship with a financial partner looks like.

  • Move past talk about compliance services, and ask them where they want to be in 2 to 3 years. Hold back trying to give answers; instead, listen to the client tell you where they think they want to be in 2 to 3 years. Questions about the future are strategic and open the client up to speak to you in ways they never have before.

  • Empathize with the client about how hard it is to lead your own company. After all, firm entrepreneurs are running a business, too. Empathize with the client that you know what they are going through.

  • Propose your services with pricing options. Offering 3 options, as mentioned before, gives power to the client and they feel like they have a choice. Choice for the client gives them the freedom to trust you.

  • Ask if the client thinks you are the right fit for them. Make the client assent to you being right for them. It further commits the client to the relationship, and they will show up as a collaborative partner in their own service like never before.

We hope these ideals can help you to implement the steps of onboarding in a way that allows you to know your client better, and begin to serve them better. Be sure to watch the on-demand webinar on digital client onboarding.

Want to learn even more? Bookmark our Driving Digital Transformation series to hear from today’s industry thought leaders who have been there, done that, and are sharing what they've learned along the way.