For MSPs, client onboarding is a critical first step for developing a customer relationship; it usually involves in-depth assessments of the client's IT infrastructure and project work to ensure successful delivery of services.
Failure to adequately execute the client onboarding process can have far-reaching consequences. For IT managed services firm Burwood Group, clients include a large regional healthcare network, for which Burwood manages its hospital equipment, such as crash carts. Though the client onboarding process is similar across most vertical industries, the stakes are high in life-and-death situations.
"From the beginning of our relationship with this customer, we worked with them to ensure that we had a complete understanding of all of the equipment that we manage as well as the customer's operational procedures," said Renee Lawrence, director of product marketing for Burwood Group, based in Chicago.
"We set up all of the necessary monitoring toolsets and alerting, and we review operations with the customer on a weekly basis. We also ensure that we have HIPAA-trained staff in place to manage these environments."
In addition to healthcare, Burwood Group has clients in vertical industries spanning manufacturing, retail, education and financial services. Lawrence said they follow a very standardized onboarding process for all client types to ensure a consistent customer experience.
The onboarding process entails examining the customer's existing IT infrastructure, including the tools they use, and "ensuring we have people in specific roles so a customer has an advocate as they navigate becoming our customer," she said. "If there are specific vertical requirements or specific technologies they have in their environment, we tailor that process to that environment."
In the stringently regulated healthcare and financial services industries, for example, Burwood has subject-matter experts who help with specific requirement areas, Lawrence said. This helps ensure that Burwood has a clear understanding of clients' IT infrastructure from the outset and uses the right tools to manage and monitor those environments.
While Burwood may tailor the onboarding process to meet a specific client need, "we'll still follow the same process, with any customer, regardless of vertical or size or geography," Lawrence said. At the same time, she added, Burwood recognizes that "everyone has a unique environment."
Onboarding clients requires looking at each vertical industry standards, agreed Brett Moss, senior vice president of client success and development at managed services firm Ensono, based in Downers Grove, Ill.
The internal onboarding team sets up a configuration management database (CMDB) that implements rules-based engines to ensure the internal team adheres to the industry requirements, Moss said.
How MSP client onboarding gets easier
Once an MSP develops a consistent and documented client onboarding process, the process becomes easier because it is standardized, Lawrence said.
"I find it's a combination of having a roadmap and standardized processes," Lawrence said, "but also having people in place with the experience of having done this and having very well-defined roles."
She noted Burwood Group uses "a customer onboarding manager who oversees the whole process [and acts as] a quarterback." This way, when a company signs up with Burwood for services, "there's a warm handoff between the salesperson [to] a technical account manager on the operations side who is assigned to be the customer advocate."
Within this onboarding process, there are touchpoints for a customer related to operational issues to make them aware of the progress being made on their behalf, Lawrence said.
Brett MossSenior vice president of client success and development, Ensono
Client onboarding is as critical internally as it is externally, Moss said. "We want to make sure there is a clean handoff from the pre-sales [and] sales teams to implementation and operations. For our clients, our ability to build and drive standardization allows for a lather-rinse-repeat approach, making it much easier than it was many years ago," he said.
As Burwood Group gains more experience with customers in different vertical markets and requirements, Lawrence said the company naturally finds itself repeating processes and standardizing them. The MSP can then "apply repeatable processes in how we interact with customers to gain information to make sure we're monitoring all aspects of that environment and working [well] with the customer," Lawrence explained.
Tools to help move onboarding along
"We also provide tools as a service to a customer, such as network-mapping technology, so a customer can see in real time their network environment and potentially do troubleshooting on their own," Lawrence said.
Through its customer management portal, customers can interact with Burwood, create incident tickets, see the status of their infrastructure and access tools. This provides an added level of communication, she said.
Ensono also has an automated ITSM tool called Ensono Envision that provides 24/7 cloud monitoring to reduce incidents and downtime, Moss said. The tool also consolidates incident tickets, which makes IT operations much easier for internal teams. Envision is "the heartbeat for Ensono," he said.
Today's onboarding imperatives
As customers' IT environments evolve in sophistication, there is a greater level of complexity to contend with. More technologies are being used today, and there is often a mandate to get new IT deployed quickly.
Geographic requirements have also changed, and customer organizations want to provide personalized customer experiences regardless of their end customer's location.
It is also important that Burwood's clients have visibility into their IT network infrastructure, and, when they have multiple locations, they need a holistic view of what is happening, she added.
Because Burwood Group handles clients' complex IT infrastructure, "the benefit we can bring [to customers is a] foundational level of operational management," Lawrence said.
"The introduction and heightened importance of a single pane of glass from a client portal and CMDB perspective is more critical than ever," Moss agreed. "Five years ago, it was a 'talk a good game, get a client and then figure it out' [situation]. To win in the market, understanding [the client's needs] first becomes more and more critical."