Five things businesses need to know about the onboarding process

Banking And Financial Messaging


Kellie White

Apr 25, 2023

It was entrepreneur and “Shark Tank” co-host Mark Cuban who once said: “Business happens over years and years. Value is measured in the total upside of a business relationship, not by how much you squeezed out of one deal.”

Cuban could have been describing how all good relationships start in the business payments space, and that’s in the customer onboarding process. On the surface it sounds like an easy task. You land a new customer, get them to fill out a few forms, shuffle them off to operations and IT and you’re on your way to success, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. Note: We’re focused here on onboarding business customers to a banking platform, cash management platform or payments network, primarily from the user experience standpoint.

Onboarding – whether it’s a company like Bottomline onboarding a bank or payments customer or a bank onboarding its own customers - has become a sophisticated, complex process with two major outcomes. First, it gets the company set up on the relevant platforms and solutions. Second, it puts the company in a position to effectively onboard its own customers. The experience should be a positive one on all touchpoints and will be a significant influence on future buying decisions. In fact, new research from CANAM research and Bottomline shows that 18% of responding banks consider onboarding to be their biggest customer retention challenge. Other surveys show that 86% of global banksare currently investing in technology to facilitate commercial customer onboarding and 93% of respondents to an Aite-Novarica survey said the implementation experience for cash management influences their likelihood to recommend that provider. 

There are many elements and approaches to onboarding from the due diligence that leads to project planning then to kickoff meetings and product testing. Knowing some of the common elements involved is essential, some of which might be pleasantly surprising to a company that has an onboarding process on its docket. We’ve selected five elements we believe any company should know before heading into a new relationship. 

Onboarding connects directly to the user experience: From the time when a company signs a contract to when they go live, the concept of efficiency is paramount. For example, when the interface for onboarding is done correctly there is a massive opportunity to reduce the time-to-value ratio, and it requires a deep knowledge of the customer being onboarded. The UX team needs to know the user journey from a process and product perspective. Much of this is determined during the sales process, but it comes to life during onboarding. What will be the most critical touchpoints in the process? Who owns those touchpoints? All of this needs to be automated as much as possible. UX works hand in hand with the account team to reduce manual processes and improve productivity. Handholding should be minimal. When you promise efficiency as an outcome for the relationship, make sure you fulfill that promise in the onboarding process. 

Onboarding runs on data: This is an underrated aspect of the onboarding process. In our business, most data files received from companies will require data mapping. For example, if we're uploading payment files, those files must be formatted in a particular way for onward processing. The data received from an ERP system will be in a specific file format. We then grab that file and ingest it into one of our payment systems. Understanding the structure of that data and how it needs mapping to various file structures within other products is an essential part of the process. 

Onboarding syncs with the company’s customer strategy: Delighting our customers is at the heart of what we do, which boils down to the customer’s experience. Sometimes, it can stem from work we do with white-label partners (such as banks or other software providers) where we must consider user experiences beyond one company brand. In that instance, we need to support the combined experience of both brands for users, taking manual processes in several cases and move them into a streamlined digital model. Whether we’re doing this for our solutions alone or in partnership with another company, we must step into the customer’s shoes and understand what the experience would be when moving from a very manual process to onboarding them in a digital environment. This also takes into account the requirements of their next interaction and experience. So, we developed things like “getting started” guides within a product to deliver very concise, contextual information about what they need to do and when they need to do it, giving them the right information to help them onboard. 

It defines the customer journey: The process described in the previous paragraph sets the tone for the relationship between the partner companies. It also speaks volumes about the customer journey. And here, the most important thing is for all these different groups within the business(es) to work together when planning the product, feature set and functionality. Once we start to deliver on those, we need to work closely with that holistic customer team - the people implementing and delivering the software. We all collaborate to define the customer experience even before we start delivering it. I’ve been involved in onboarding experiences where the UX team has been able to help offload a lot of the work that usually falls on service delivery to fulfil. I’ve also been involved in onboarding experiences where we could predict what the customer journey would be and, in the process, create new and better experiences that were not in the original roadmap. We must see the bigger picture and create the best customer experience. By doing so, our own internal teams can work far more efficiently.

It decreases churn and increases loyalty: According to a recent survey of business executives, 86% of respondents say they’d be more likely to stay loyal to a business that invests in onboarding content that welcomes and educates them after buying. It’s a positive result that stems from close attention to the previous four items here. Onboarding has the short-term goal of getting a customer up and running. But it’s not a short-term project; it sets the tone for the entire course of the relationship. I agree with Evan Hall, my colleague from Bottomline’s business payments network Paymode-X, who recently told us: “Onboarding is not only impactful to the team who onboards and uses the product. It extends beyond that. They will inform their entire organization about the satisfying process and its benefits. And what if a key team member leaves the company or joins a different team? They are likely to go on and spread the word. It’s a domino effect of recommendation.” 

Let’s return to that Mark Cuban quote about building business value over time. Onboarding is the start of a business relationship and a long-term alliance that should build value for all parties involved. It is not a quick hit series of soon-to-be-forgotten form fills. With so much emphasis on sales conversion today, it’s easy to think of the signed contract as the most important goal. Make effective onboarding your goal, and you have a much better chance of long-term success. 


Related topics

User Experience

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Kellie White

Kellie White is the head of UX design at Bottomline with more than over 20 years of delivering engaging digital experiences in a number of roles both creative and technical.
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