How Lohika’s Client Experience Team Onboards Clients in a 100% Remote World

November 13, 2020

Hi there! 👋

I’m a Director of Client Experience & Solutions at Lohika. I lead a team of Client Experience Managers and Sales Engineers. We have the privilege of working with amazing clients on groundbreaking (and very exciting!) products.

In a prior post, my colleague Irena Stetska took you behind the scenes of our 100%-remote client onboarding process. In this post, I’ll share things we learned about onboarding clients in the months since Irena’s post.

My own onboarding 😊

The global pandemic affected my own onboarding as a Lohika employee. I visited Lohika’s San Mateo (California) office for on-site interviews in early 2020. By the time I accepted the position and started my first day, shelter-in-place orders took hold in California and the doors to our office were closed.

I have yet to step foot in our office as an employee and see many people, who I feel like I’ve known forever by now, in person. While employee onboarding and client onboarding are not the same, the process of getting up to speed with my job (remotely) gives me an appreciation of what our clients go through.

As Irena explained in her post, our standard onboarding process begins with a two-week engagement on-site at the client’s location. Since the start of the pandemic, these engagements have moved 100% remote.

Here’s how my team and I approach a 100%-remote onboarding process.

The importance of the internal handover

“Internal handover” refers to our process for communicating the full context of the client’s objectives and project details between our pre-sales team (e.g., Client Partner and Sales Engineer) and our Client Experience and Engineering teams.

The last thing clients want to do is to repeat the same information they already shared with our pre-sales team. They also don’t want to feel like the delivery team is out of context. That’s why the effectiveness of the internal handover can make or break the onboarding process.

A full “download” of the meetings and discussions that took place before the sale is available to Client Experience and Engineering Managers. We carefully study it offline and get together with the pre-sales team to validate the client’s business goals, why they chose to work with us, what we need to be mindful of, and what risks we foresee.  

You can’t hit your target when you don’t know where the target is. That’s why it’s critical for us to understand our client’s expectations from pre-sales discussions. Once we understand them, then our teams can meet and exceed the expectations.

Once the handover is complete, we’re ready for the first step.

First step: reduce client anxiety

By definition, client engagements begin with lots of unknowns. The client’s team might be wondering:

  • Did we make the right choice?
  • Is this going to work?
  • What are my new team members like?
  • Will they be “all in”  on what we are trying to achieve?
  • How will the first few days unfold?

I always tell my team: whatever anxiety you might have, our clients have that much more. I use an approach rooted in empathy, putting ourselves in the shoes of our client. Our goal at the very start is to reduce our clients’ anxiety. 

So before we even get to Day 1, we do a pre-kickoff call with the client to go over the following things:

  • Birds-eye view of the onboarding 
  • Things that need to be done on both sides BEFORE kickoff. It’s a pretty lengthy list from points of contact to provisioning accounts and more.
  • Who are the people from each team and what are their responsibilities?
  • Communication going forward
  • A draft agenda with a detailed list of sessions broken down by the hours, presenters and topics to be covered within each of them

Once we have this session, the clients are much more at ease. Now the majority of unknowns are demystified, we have a joint plan and everybody has enough time to prepare for specific onboarding sessions to spend time productively. We’re ready for kickoff!

It’s been said that it takes less than 10 seconds for someone to determine whether they like you and whether they want to do business with you. I hope we have more than that to make an impression, but it’s not that much longer. From my own experience, I’d say it’s just a couple of days once the client meets the team. 

We start the first week of onboarding with online meetings that take about three hours per day. Some of the things we focus on:

  • An understanding of the client’s culture and values
  • An understanding of the client’s success metrics for the engagement
  • An understanding of the client’s systems, tools and engineering practices

Just like the first 10 seconds of meeting someone in person, these first few hours of online meetings are so important. I find that when these first few meetings go well, there’s a high chance of success for the overall onboarding process.

Understand the differences between on-site and remote

The difference between onsite and remote meetings

I’ve been told by our teams that on-site onboarding is a lot of fun. We spend two full weeks immersed at our clients’ offices. We meet during the day, then go out for meals afterward. How can we continue to make onboarding effective when we’re spread all over the world? The key is to understand the differences between on-site and remote and adjust accordingly.

Sense of presence

When you sit next to someone, you can see and feel their presence. On a web meeting, what happens if you turn off your webcam and mute yourself? To the person on the other end, you may as well be absent. To address this, I ask our team to enable their webcams at all times. 

I also ask them to use their real background and not a virtual one, unless the client’s team uses virtual backgrounds. In addition, I suggest that people keep themselves unmuted (which is not the norm) if their home office is not noisy. This allows for spontaneous and real-time reactions, even something as simple as an immediate “mmm-hmmm” to a client’s comment.

If everyone is muted and the client asks, “So what did you think?” By the time people scramble to unmute themselves, the opportunity is lost. Keeping microphones unmuted prevents this and makes for a more interactive session. 

Ask your own teams to try it some time!

These small things are important but not as much as our teams asking good questions when the client briefs us. It shows not only that we’re listening, but we understand the product requirements, technical intricacies and overall objectives. It gives clients the reassurance that they made the right choice.

Here’s my number one rule of onboarding:

Asking questions is 80% of success in onboarding.

Optimizing productivity during off-hours

For an on-site onboarding, it can feel like there are no off-hours. We and our client are with each other day and night! With remote onboarding, however, we’re on a few hours of web meetings, then we stop for the day and resume the next day.

The key? To do our own homework during the off-hours and to let clients know what we’ve accomplished.

Before our day of web meetings begin, we’re often hard at work:

  • Reading supplemental material
  • Surfing our client’s wiki
  • Reading product documentation
  • Reviewing architecture diagrams
  • Setting up local environments

Before we wrap up for the day, we always make sure to summarize what the team will focus on tomorrow, including a review of that day’s agenda.

Don’t wing it

To be honest, there’s a little bit of “winging it” when we spend two weeks on-site with a client. What I mean is, over the course of those 10 business days, we might not script out when every action should get done, but we make sure each action is done at some point.

If we tried this in a remote setting, things would easily fall through the cracks. In response, we’re intentional about scheduling each and every thing. We make heavy use of the calendar and we set explicit target dates when things get done.

Create intentional social interactions

It’s critical that personal bonds get established across the team. Instead of an “open happy hour” where people show up and chat, I prefer more structure. And that means games. I’ll gather photos of people’s working spaces and a few facts about them, then put them up for people to look at. We play a guessing game and try to figure out the person behind a given space. The Zoom polling feature comes in handy here. 

We asked team members to describe the weirdest thing they ever ate. In addition to some wild stories, this led people to talk about interesting places they traveled to (i.e., where those meals took place). Once, a question led a UX designer to mention that she saved the receipt from every item she purchased over the past five years. Given this interesting fact, I dove deeper with a series of follow-up questions. It enabled the team to get to know her so much better.

Be flexible and adapt

We don’t know when it will be safe to return to on-site client onboarding. In the meantime, we’ll continue to improve our remote onboarding procedures. We certainly don’t have it all figured out. I’m learning new things to test and try each week.

I hope you enjoyed this look at our current processes. Thanks for reading!