8 min read

Client onboarding checklist: your comprehensive guide

April 09, 2024


Most of us know client onboarding as the process during which a business brings on a new client. It typically involves agreeing to terms and signing paperwork, and services typically after onboarding is complete.


For employees, particularly those at businesses without the right technology, client onboarding can be time-intensive and involve manual tasks. Onboarding is among the first interactions with a client after you have secured their business, and the quality of the experience can make or break the relationship.


Words that probably come to mind when you think of a great client onboarding experience are simple, easy, and quick. To build this kind of experience – one that welcomes, enables, and empowers new customers – you need a client-onboarding checklist. It can help you to define a repeatable, consistent, and effective step-by-step process you can use with your new clients.


In this blog post, we'll look at the different types of onboarding styles and the essential steps to successful client onboarding.


What is client onboarding?

Before a business can start servicing new clients, it must set clear expectations for how the relationship will work. This is the goal of onboarding.


How long onboarding takes and the number of steps involved depend on the complexity of the service or product. But the desired outcomes of the process are usually the same.


Successful onboarding helps customers understand:

  • The scope of work, or what services and outputs the client will receive
  • How to leverage the service or product to support the client’s needs
  • Primary points of contact within the service provider’s organization
  • Billing and payment procedures
  • Immediate next steps the client must take for service to begin (for example, a client might need to give a service provider access to a social media account or a customer relationship management (CRM) tool).


For service providers, onboarding clarifies:

  • The client’s goals, objectives, business model, industry, and target audiences
  • The client’s preferences around communication, project management, and status updates
  • Any compliance or legal requirements the company must meet to work with the client such as signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)
  • Primary points of contact at the client company


Benefits of successful client onboarding

Client onboarding has real financial impact: 76% of customers that have a good onboarding experience are likely to continue using a service or product.


More importantly, an effective onboarding process can reduce time to value by 34%.


There are many other ways an organization can benefit from quality onboarding, including:

  • Providing better client experiences that encourage retention
  • Preventing missed expectations about deliverables that can damage the client-service provider relationship
  • Delivering quicker and more efficient service, shortening the time it takes for customers to realize value
  • Mitigating risk by reviewing all legal, compliance, and billing details
  • Finding new opportunities to personalize products or services based on the client's needs


For these benefits to become a reality, however, a company needs to equip its employees with baseline information about how to conduct client onboarding. That’s where a checklist comes into play. It serves as a resource employees can return to each time they’re preparing to onboard a new client.


Client onboarding checklist

An onboarding checklist helps establish the baseline requirements for successful onboarding. It ensures uniformity and consistency in the process, improves quality control, and makes information more accessible to employees.


While the steps may vary by company, they generally include the following.



Before engaging clients, you should take these internal steps to help make the rest of the process go smoothly.

  • Add the client information to your CRM or database so the team can quickly source how to get in contact with the client.
  • Prepare your team. This is usually done in an internal onboarding meeting. Before the team meets the client, help them understand the client’s background and goals. Share the scope of work and allow time for questions.
  • Research the client’s industry. This will help you lead more proactive and impactful conversations with the client.


Welcoming new customers

The most important step is an internal one that involves the handoff between your sales team and your service team. This needs to be as seamless as possible so every customer relationship starts off on the right foot.

  • Send a welcome email. Let the client know what the next steps will be during the onboarding process. Begin by scheduling an onboarding call.
  • Reinforce the value of your product or service. It’s natural for users to feel some buyer’s remorse after a purchase. This is your chance to reassure them of their investment while they’re waiting for an official onboarding meeting.
  • Share relevant product, service, and / or company information with the customer. Before they get into the details about your services, make sure they understand the basics of what you do and how it will help them.


Conduct a kick-off meeting

A kick-off meeting is a great way to establish a personal relationship with your clients, giving them a chance to meet the people working behind the scenes to deliver a service or product. Use the time to go over your strategy, project plan, milestones, and timelines in detail.


Covering your legal bases

At some point in the onboarding process, you and the client will need to sign legally binding documents. These documents protect both you and the client if a dispute occurs in the future.

  • Prepare, send, and collect documentation. This could include an engagement letter, a contract, or even an NDA.
  • Prepare and share important tax information such as a W-9 form.


Accelerate this phase with eSignature. Clients can review and return signed documents much quicker if done electronically.


Establish lines of communication

Effective communication and customer success go hand in hand. That's why it's important to define how and where collaboration takes place. This involves a few things like:

  • Identifying key stakeholders and contacts
  • Determining and accessing preferred communication channels
  • Establishing your response times and business hours
  • Agreeing on a schedule for updates, touch-base meetings, and more in-depth project discussions


Demonstrate value

What about ROI of a project? The ROI of a product or service should be clear to everyone. You should understand your customer's goals and expectations by this point. Now, you need to figure out how to demonstrate that you're meeting those expectations and helping them achieve those goals.

Successfully demonstrating value might involve:

  • Setting up reporting and analytics so you can to show measurable success and improvements over time
  • Defining incremental goals or milestones for the project and aligning them to the client's objectives
  • Defining metrics that show ROI at each milestone or stage of the project


Pre-onboarding preparation

In addition to a checklist, there are other steps you can take to support successful onboarding. Before your employees start the onboarding process with a new client, make sure they have tools that empower them to deliver their best work.

  • Create a document management strategy. An organized system makes it easy to find the right files.
  • Establish workflows, roles, and responsibilities. Each team member should understand their role in servicing the client.
  • Have a project management tool in place. This makes it easy to track time, project notes, and other backend service delivery details.


Post-onboarding success

Once you've completed the onboarding process, there are a few final action items to help your new client achieve success now and in the future.


Embrace continuous improvement

Every time you onboard a client or successfully execute a project, revisit your checklist. Ask yourself what worked, what didn't work, and what could improve. Leverage a combination of client feedback and metrics such as time to completion, time to value, completion rate, and customer effort score.


Maintain the client relationship

Don’t forget about a client once they're successfully onboarded. Your customer success team should periodically check in with established clients to ensure they're still satisfied with your business. This gives you a chance to explore potential upsell opportunities or gather suggestions on new product features.


Formalize department handoffs

Define a transparent, standardized process for transitioning a client to a different department or a new account manager. Clearly communicate with them at each stage of the transition and respond quickly to any questions or concerns.


Three types of client onboarding

Choosing the right onboarding model starts with thinking about your business needs. If your onboarding process is simple and well suited for a step-by-step approach, low-touch is likely your best bet. On the other hand, if your product has a steep learning curve or you're entirely service-based, high-touch may be a better choice.


An onboarding checklist is usable for both low- and high-touch onboarding. However, it works best when supporting more complex, high-touch onboarding environments. Here are a few steps to consider when creating your own checklist.


Low-touch onboarding

Low-touch onboarding, also known as self-service onboarding, requires little involvement from your business. New clients take the initiative to learn about your offerings on their own.


This approach is far more scalable than others and is for simpler solutions where self-paced learning shines.


While this requires fewer resources than other types of onboarding, it usually doesn't work for service-based businesses or technically complex products.


Examples of low-touch onboarding content include:

  • Frequently-asked questions
  • A knowledge base
  • How-to guides
  • Self-service product demos


Medium-touch onboarding

Medium-touch onboarding allows customers to go through the onboarding process at their own pace with the option of connecting with members of your team. This is useful for companies with products that benefit from a mix of self-paced and guided learning.


For example, a medium-touch environment may include self-paced lessons that are reinforced by one-to-one training and onboarding sessions.


A medium-touch self-service demo might include a built-in, live-chat feature to immediately connect a participant with an instructor. Other examples may include:

  • Training workshops and webinars
  • One-on-one customer support
  • An online support community such as a message board


High-touch onboarding

High-touch onboarding is when the company offers communication and interaction at every step. It’s also by far the most involved of the three models.


This model is ideal for companies with complex products where it’s important to ensure customers understand the ins and outs of a platform. For example, this may include a new CRM, more advanced cybersecurity solutions, or any platform that requires extensive knowledge to use correctly.


A high-touch approach requires you to actively engage with new clients and provide them with a highly personalized experience. Though it's more resource-intensive and requires far more planning compared to low- or medium-touch onboarding, it's also far more memorable and has the potential to create a lasting and positive first impression.


The takeaway: Successful client onboarding matters

Onboarding isn't just an introduction to your company and its offerings — it forms the foundation for a lasting relationship. With the right onboarding strategy, you can put your best foot forward and set every client up for success.


ShareFile can help expedite the client onboarding process with built-in workflows that enable seamless, hassle-free onboarding while dedicated collaboration spaces keep everyone in the loop and integrated e-signatures make it easy to get contracts and other documents signed and stored.


Interested in learning more? Feel free to reach out.


Frequently asked questions

How do you create a client onboarding checklist?

Creating an onboarding checklist involves a series of steps designed to understand what a customer needs to successfully onboard and learn your software. A typical checklist will consider initial steps, administrative tasks, training and support requirements, how collaboration will happen, and how to measure success over time.


What is the client onboarding process?

The client onboarding process works to teach new customers how to use a product or service effectively. This process plays an important role in building a positive working relationship between a vendor and the customer.


Why is customer onboarding important?

Customer onboarding is an important process that works to support a customer through the early stages of an engagement. Effective onboarding helps reduce customer churn, boosts retention, and helps build long-lasting relationships with customers.