How to Align Client Onboarding Expectations and Reality

By Peter Ord
May 19, 2021

When you buy something—from a sweater to a new TV—you have an expectation of what the product will be like. So, when your new blue sweater turns out to be purple instead, or when your new HD big screen has a grainy picture, you’re justified in feeling disappointed. Your expectations didn’t match the reality. The same can happen with onboarding expectations.

There is often a disconnect between expectation and reality that could happen during your new client onboarding process. You have expectations about the client relationship—what they want and what they value—and so does your customer. But those two views aren’t always aligned.

Or, you may start out on the same page but find expectations and the reality of the onboarding experience move you further and further apart. When the process doesn’t live up to onboarding expectations, it opens the door to a lot of anxiety and frustration on both sides.

A transparent client onboarding process that gives everyone access to the information they need can eliminate anxiety, build trust, and help reality match onboarding expectations. We’ll share a few examples of common misaligned expectations and how to fix them.


Expectation: People Are Going to Buy My Product or Service and Be Happy Customers for Life

Reality check. We wish it were that simple. With every purchase—no matter how outstanding your product—your customer is balancing fear and value. It’s neuroscience. They are worrying:

  • Did I buy the right thing?
  • Did I spend too much money?
  • Is this going to be as good as I think?
  • Are my colleagues going to like it?
  • Is my boss going to think I made a mistake?

Throughout onboarding, they will be assessing what they expect your product to do and whether or not it is delivering.

How well you onboard your clients, how easy and transparent you make the process has everything to do with how they will feel about their decision and your product. To alleviate fear and demonstrate value, you need to understand the person you are working with—not just the company but the individuals as well. Make sure you know what success looks like to them specifically. And then, of course, deliver it.


Expectation: My Internal Processes Are What Make Onboarding Successful

Reality check. Your customers don’t care about your internal processes. Ok that’s harsh, but it’s true. What matters to them is the experience they are having day-to-day during the implementation and onboarding process.

If your internal processes are running smoothly but your customers have no idea what’s going on with their implementation, you’ve got a disconnect.

I think a lot of implementation managers get frustrated when their customers call them asking where they’re at and who is responsible for what. Those are two questions that shouldn’t have to have phone calls attached to them, and you can quote me on that. The project manager shouldn’t have to tell the customer what’s next. That should be automated. Project managers are meant to manage the experience, not to be the technicians and the mechanics to fix everything.

Give your customers visibility into your onboarding plan. Show them how long the process will take and the current status. Make sure they know who is responsible for tasks and what the next step is. Remember, if your implementation process isn’t working for your customers, it isn’t working.


Expectation: If I Just Conduct Another Status Meeting, I Can Clear Up Confusion

Reality check. If you need another meeting, another email, or another spreadsheet to clear up possible confusion, yes, it might be helpful, but it means there’s room for improvement. If you want to dedicate the time to these manual processes, we are in full support.

We do suggest that when you are laying out any process, whether it be manual or automated, that you take the time to outline it from start to finish. When you first apply the outline to an onboarding project, it’s not going to be perfect. When you’re asked common questions, or your clients have trouble understanding a certain milestone or task, you can put it in your outline to work on those things so you don’t have to send out that extra email or conduct that extra status meeting.


Peter Ord


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