New client onboarding is tricky when you’re not on-site. You have to coordinate teams, schedules, admin, and operations. You also have to make it look seamless—like you’ve done it a million times before—to your client.
First impressions matter. If you’ve done it right, you’ve gotten your client super excited to work with you during the pitching process. Now it’s time to deliver. Even out of sight, your client still needs to feel like they’re top of mind.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for remote client onboarding and kick-off. Remote industry insiders agree, however, that communication is the most critical component of establishing successful rapport with a remote client.
Adapt to Your Client’s Preferences
Clients, like anyone, just want to feel heard. How they want to be heard depends on the client.
“In a remote scenario, communication is essential,” says Darren Murph, Gitlab’s Senior Remote Culture Manager. “There’s more nuance in recognizing the communication style of the client and adapting to suit that. Don’t be afraid to inquire how they prefer to communicate, be it email, text, phone, Google Docs, video chat, etc.”
Insist on Best Practices
While it’s important to communicate with your client in a way that suits their work style, don’t forget that you are bringing your expertise in remote work to the table. So, it’s okay to insist on certain communication practices that you know from experience will contribute to a successful outcome.
“We insist on a “cameras-on” policy,” says Jake Goldman, President and Founder of 10up. “We’ll do video conferences in well-lit rooms. Sometimes, as a partly-tongue-in-cheek measure, we’ll even send webcams to clients. We encourage customers to come to us with their video on. We don’t dismiss the importance of non-verbal, non-written communication, and we like to get that across.”
Hailley Griffis, Head of Public Relations at Buffer, agrees that seeing the people you’re collaborating with brings a certain je-ne-sais-quois. “We like to do introductions via video calls instead of through emails,” Griffis says. “Even if you don’t continue to regularly video chat, communication tends to be a lot clearer after that first video call. In fact, any time communication starts to feel frayed, it can jumpstart things by jumping onto a video call. So sometimes we’ll have several emails back and forth, then jump on a video call to realign, and then work asynchronously.”
Say What You’re Going To Do, And Then Do It
Don’t let a single email go ignored. Don’t communicate intent to do something and then overlook it, or do it on a later schedule than originally stated. Take the lead on scheduling meetings, setting agendas, deciding on next steps, and communicating status updates as the work progresses.
“One thing I like to do is look up where a partner contact lives in the world and propose a few times using their timezone, not mine,” says Fadeke Adegbuyi, Marketing Manager at Doist. “Also, I take the lead on doing all the scheduling and logistics: proposing the times, sending the email invite, and everything else that makes it easy for them.”
Madhav Bhandari, Product Marketing Manager at Close, says that “Remote communication is an extension of your intention. Your communication is a form of ownership. You’ve taken it upon yourself to deliver X value to a client, and every time you send updates, you’re re-stating your commitment to that delivery.”
So, it’s important to establish a regular update schedule, and stick to it. “If you can, send them every week or two with bullets on: here’s what is happening, here’s where we arrived, here are potential issues, here are potential roadblocks, here are wins,” Bhandari says. “If you proactively send updates without them asking, clients usually appreciate that. If you show that genuine care and ownership with clients, they actually love that. They love to work with these types of companies, remote or not.”
For more great advice on how to work with clients you’ve never met face-to-face, check out our ebook, Long Distance Relationship, which will walk you through all of the details you need to think about to ensure that both you and your remote client are satisfied with your experience working together.