Client onboarding is the crucial period at the start of your client’s journey with you. It's also the part of the advice process which most firms fail to fully exploit.

    This starting point is where you define the ongoing relationship your client has with your business.

    It’s a well established fact that first impressions are difficult to change. From your personal experiences, I’m sure you can think of an occasion where you began a relationship with someone on the wrong foot and, despite your best efforts, struggled to change their negative opinion of you.

    When dealing with clients, things are no different.

    That initial ‘honeymoon period’ (for want of a better phrase) lasts around about up until the end of the first year, and it's where the seeds of a worthwhile and mutually beneficial relationship are sown.

    If your firm provides a warm, hospitable environment, you can nurture these seeds and use them to bring in future clients and referrals.

    To stretch that analogy a little bit further, as much as cold weather can wreak havoc with young plants, if your firm’s atmosphere is a little - ahem - frosty , you risk losing those vital continued relationships as well as the future referrals that can sustain your business when you need them most.

    At the start of a client’s journey, their interaction with you is always going to be greater than three years down the line.

    Although this is truer in retail where the length of the client/business interaction can be limited to the time a customer spends in a shop, in the financial planning sector it is likely that your contact with the client will be less frequent after the first year.

    Because of this, establishing that ‘wow’ factor in the onboarding stage really matters.

    How to differentiate

    Delivering an excellent client experience is often what sets apart successful firms from run-of-the mill advisers.

    One way this can be done is through doing things differently, where the client can really be taken aback and pleasantly surprised by what you show them. Looking good across all touchpoints is essential - it demonstrates quality and professionalism, influencing the perception of value.

    It may be obvious but once you've done that, you must continue to raise the bar on what your firm offers throughout the onboarding period. This is what the best firms do well - continuous improvement.

    If you over-deliver on what you first offered a client, they are going to be impressed. You need to provide a service so good that the client comments on how excellent their experience with your business was. Because this is the tipping point when they refer.

    When a client receives a service that surpasses their expectations, whether that's the initial meeting or an experience with memorable little touches, they are more likely to mention you to their friends.

    Even if not as a direct recommendation, if your excellent service means your name pops up indirectly in conversation you are still raising awareness of your brand - and this will prove valuable in the long run.

    Lastly, at the onboarding stage, the finer details count for much more than you’d expect.

    Little things, like serving the customer amazing coffee, can make a massive difference to how your client perceives your business as a whole. For some people, being presented with a cup of instant coffee can shatter any illusions that your firm really does provide a bespoke, tailored service.

    If you want to be seen to provide an authentic service, you need to ensure this air of authenticity carries over into everything you do. For a client to enter into a partnership with a financial planner, they are placing enormous trust into that person's hands. Getting the small details wrong can jeopardise this fine balance.

    Overall, an effective client onboarding strategy allows you to do more than merely sell your service. It provides your client with a valuable experience; an experience they will maintain, remember and recommend to their friends and family.

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