When it comes to working with customers, a mistake early in the relationship is worth ten screw-ups later. When a customer already knows and trusts you, he or she is more likely to look past hiccups on your part. But when you’re working with a new client, you can be sure that your missteps will be noticed, and you’ll have to work hard to regain your customer’s confidence in their wake. You also put yourself at risk of losing your new clients and suffering a high customer churn rate as a result.
That’s why it’s so important to get the onboarding process right. Onboarding is what happens when you get to know a new customer’s infrastructure and needs. The onboarding process starts as soon as a customer hires you as an MSP, and it continues until you “go live” with your services (in other words, until you begin actively supporting the client). During this early stage in your relationship with a new customer, it’s especially important to plan properly and avoid making mistakes that could undercut your credibility or cause the customer to rethink the contract.
Ensuring a smooth onboarding process can be challenging, not least because every client is different, and there is no completed standardized process that you can follow. However, with the right planning and attention to detail, you can achieve a smooth onboarding experience for you and the customer.
Keep reading for tips on what MSPs can expect during onboarding and how they can avoid making high-cost mistakes during this critical stage of a new customer relationship.
Onboarding Must-Have Checklist
The client onboarding process can be broken down into a number of different tasks. Below, we’ll walk through each one and discuss what you need to do to make sure it is completed smoothly.
#1 Collect Basic Information
For starters, you’ll need to collect basic information about your client and the infrastructure that the company uses. This process is not only important for familiarizing yourself with the client’s needs, but also for preparing your SLA - service level agreement (which we’ll discuss in the next section).
As noted above, every client is different and has different requirements, but in general, you should expect to collect the following information:
- Company name
- Client representative or contact name
- Service tier
- Number of servers
- Cost of servers
- Number of workstations
- Cost of workstations
- Managed services required
- Managed backup
- Cloud storage
- Hardware procurement
- Systems security
- Systems management
- System monitoring
- Existing documentation (ideally, with diagrams of the network environment)
- Server and workstation specifications
- Account passwords for all systems and equipment
- Business-specific details (for example, working hours for each location, or information about which production computers must not be restarted during working hours)
- Instructions for emergency responses so that you will know whom to contact if, for instance, a server fails during off-hours
- Third-party details regarding support for line-of-business applications, hardware warranties, and ISP accounts
#2 Sign the Contract
Once you know your customer’s needs, you are ready to write a contract and have the customer sign it.
Further reading Service Level Agreement for Managed IT Service Providers
You may be tempted to write a contract on your own, but it’s worth the time and risk mitigation to seek a lawyer’s help in making sure the contract provides you with reasonable protections and minimizes your potential liability. If you don’t have one already, you can outsource to a local law specialist.
#3 Welcome the New Client
After the contract is signed by both parties, send the new client a “welcome document.” The document not only helps to begin your relationship but also provides the customer with important information about your company.
The welcome document should contain the following:
- Introductory information about you and your company
- A description of the provisioning process
- A PDF leaflet with information about your services
- Content referencing your company, or links to it (blog posts, articles, etc.)
- Information about customer testimonials
It can also be a good idea to send a questionnaire along with the welcome document. The questionnaire should ask your client to answer questions about his or her business’s technology setup. Even if you already collected this information yourself earlier in the onboarding process, asking the customer via a questionnaire is a good way to confirm your findings, as well as allow the customer to feel engaged.
#4 Meet the Team
As part of the onboarding process, it’s a good idea to have your entire team (or at least any employees who will be working with the client) meet with the client, either in person or via phone. A meeting helps to establish a stronger connection with the client. It also provides an opportunity for the client to alert you to any concerns or problems that might have arisen during onboarding so that you can address them quickly.
A typical meeting agenda might include the following:
- Review of clients technology goals
- Status review of the onboarding process
- Set up a regular business review meeting schedule
- Review monthly reporting and expectations
- Review of Internal Processes:
- - Internal Use Policy
- - Anti-Virus
- - Anti-Spam
- - Website Hosting
- - DRBC
- Confirm the go-live date for your client’s support services.
If possible, record the meeting and share the recording with your client so that everyone has a record of it.
#5 Make Planning Documents
Planning documents help you stay organized and ensure you don’t overlook anything as you start providing services to the client. Planning documents should include:
- A project task list, which contains all of the individual tasks you need to complete to serve the client.
- A project schedule.
Share these documents with the client so that expectations are clear.
Provisioning, or the process of integrating your client’s systems into your systems, is one of the most important parts of the onboarding process. Here’s a list of the tasks you can expect to complete as part of provisioning:
- Set up the client in your Professional Services Automation (PSA) tool
- Set up the client in your accounting and billing systems
- Set up the SLA agreement in PSA
- Send an announcement email introducing the new client to your company
- Obtain all contracts and warranties for hardware and software, including:
- IT hardware manufacturer and all warranty contracts
- IT software license contracts (operating system, anti-virus, proprietary applications, backup, etc.)
- IT communication and service contracts and contacts for the client
- Enter emergency support information into your PSA
- Change administrative passwords wherever relevant. This may include:
- Gateway routers
- Wireless access devices
- Switches (ethernet, fiber)
- Virtual machines
- VOIP devices
- Windows service accounts (administrator, SQL, SA, Sharepoint)
- Workstations admin passwords
- Other network appliances
- Anti-virus console
- Discover all user, service and backdoor accounts and remediate as needed
- Identify all admin and domain admin group members and remediate as needed
- Identify all RRAS, groups, and membership for remote access
- Review PCs for local admin and service accounts
- Scan the network’s internal LAN for IP-enabled devices and review
- Register for web properties and DNS
- VPN access
- Web portals
- Remote assistance programs
- Review firewall rules and modify as needed
#7 RMM Setup
Remote monitoring and management, or RMM, the software is critical for enabling you to manage your client’s infrastructure remotely and to respond quickly when you are offsite. You’ll, therefore, want to include RMM setup as part of the onboarding process.
In particular, perform the following:
- Install RMM agents on the client’s servers, workstations, and mobile devices
- Make sure your RMM tool is compatible with any applicable antivirus programs and backups routines
- Test the monitoring and alerts to ensure they work
Once you have RMM working, you can use it to install antivirus on the client’s servers, workstations, and mobile devices.
#8 Conduct Training
If your client’s employees will be using any technical support software that is new to them, you’ll want to train them. In most cases, the most efficient way to do so is to set up a webinar or schedule on-site training. Try to keep the training concise, but make sure that you answer any questions and set clear expectations for how employees should contact you when they need your help. Considering providing the team with small gifts, like stickers for monitors, to reward them for devoting their time to the training.
#9 Go Live
The final step in the onboarding process is to take everything live. Once you do, record the onboarding completion in your PSA tool. You might also wish to send an email to the client confirming that you have gone live and that the SLA is in effect, just to make sure expectations remain clear.
Even after the onboarding process is complete, your relationship with the new customer remains young, and it’s important to continue to do your utmost to avoid any hiccups or misaligned expectations.
Toward this end, it’s helpful to perform periodic process reviews once a month for the first few months of the contract. The reviews provide an opportunity for you to identify any concerns the customer is having about the transition to your services. They also allow you to report milestones that you have achieved (such as a reduction in the client’s cloud computing bill, or a more reliable backup schedule) in order to reinforce the value you are providing. Last but not least, they are an opportunity to request feedback about the onboarding process. (You could also request this feedback in other ways, such as via a questionnaire if you wish.)
You should always strive to deliver the best service to all of your customers, no matter how long you have been working with them. But because hiccups in the early stages of a new client relationship can be particularly damaging, it’s especially important to do all that you can to ensure a smooth onboarding process by following the steps described above.