In September 2020 one third of the workforce in Australia was working from home, and two-thirds was spending at least one day there.
The numbers in 2021 have come down but it is still 23% working from home and 55% spending at least one day there. These are statistics from a November 2020 survey report titled Hybrid Working 2021 by Bastion RM and Pitcher Partners. That report lists many benefits for employers and employees working with paperless offices and contactless communications and transactions.
In that digital environment there is also evidence of rising cybersecurity, customer onboarding and other risks to manage. That’s the topic of this article which lists 11 solutions. It is also the product of research for my popular hour-long lecture for lawyers titled Taking Instructions: Client Communications in a Digital World.
Effective and efficient customer onboarding is a starting point for reducing the risks associated with virtual or remote communications. An initial obstacle is that different people, for different reasons, prefer different communication mechanisms or platforms. Preferences differ between sectors and age groups. Not everyone wants, accepts, has available or is good at all of the technologies listed in the graphic on the right.
Still, there are overarching ways to make onboarding both effective and efficient.
Use the 11 points below to check the sufficiency of your customer engagement or onboarding process.
1. Check identity: People can be fooled whether in conversation face to face or virtually.
If you are a service provider and are contacted by email, reach out too for a phone call and video conference to assess the character of a person. Are they who they claim to be? If your process involves asking for a copy of a drivers licence or other photo ID also ask for a selfie, the licence may be a forgery. Store identity records.
In all situations the first task is to know who you are talking to. If a customer behaviour concerns you, maybe it should trigger a prudent enquiry. Is the person pitching like a salesperson, failing to listen, exhibiting unbounded ambition yet minimal evident competency, or telling a story that does not stack up?
2. Maintain a good contacts database: An up-to-date contact database facilitates prompt identification of people, their network of relationships and potential conflicts of interest. Contact details are a beginning. A good database identifies entities by industry, job role, related people or organisations and maybe the last contact point or query.
3. Use templates: Onboarding is made easier with forms. Consider placing online fill-in forms on your organisation’s website or send them by email to prospects to extract their requirements prior to a first chat contact point. Template types to consider are checklists, questionnaires, fact sheets, guides and template agreements. A frequently useful option is to design a contract with a form or schedule of variables on the first page and the standard terms and conditions on subsequent pages.
4. Communicate your protocol: Do this in your terms of service, service agreements, engagement letters, and online chat forums. It can avoid misunderstandings about communication preferences.
Smooth onboarding strengthens user experience and encourages repeat business. Imagine you are an inn keeper. Your role is to ensure everyone’s interests are catered for without anyone being allowed to be rowdy. Here I’m referencing the 17 points at the end of a seminal 1993 article, Cyberspace Innkeeping: Building Online Community, by John Coate. Coate wrote from experience, he was the systems operator in the 1980s of The Well, arguable the first social network.
5. Be alert to money laundering: Concerns expressed regarding money laundering, terrorism financing and local influence by countries abroad resulted in introduction of regulatory requirements over recent decades for holders of Australian Financial Services Licences, the professions and businesses to conduct “know your customer” procedures when onboarding and serving customers. Included is the need to identify the beneficial owners of all or part of companies, assets and ventures. Where required risk monitoring systems identify possible money laundering or terrorism risks an “enhanced customer due diligence program” must be applied. AUSTRAC is the relevant Australian Government agency.
6. Apply cybersecurity hints: For the reduction of cybersecurity risks the insurance company for lawyers, LawCover provides a very useful list of 20 questions that are relevant to all types of businesses. See here https://lawcover.com.au/cyberriskassessment.
7. Watch out for mental health and cognitive impairment triggers: In an ageing society professional services providers and others need to be aware of triggers that can be an early alert that a person’s capacity and capability needs assessment. This is important for example before entry into transactions or signature of documents. Many triggers that can be an early alert that a person’s capacity and capability needs assessment are noted by neuropsychologist Dr Jane Lonie, including regarding mild cognitive impairment.
8. Hire only people with a right to work in Australia: When hiring employees, and before any employee onboarding, to check their right to work in Australia request permission to check the Federal Government’s VEVO service. See Department of Immigration and Citizenships Visa Entitlement Verification Online.
9. Ask: “Who else is in the room?” The need for use of multiple rooms or separating meetings is important in many situations. It is no different in online environments. If only identified people are to hear or participate in a meeting, ask “Who else is in the room or in hearing distance?”
People in an physical or virtual meeting room may have differences in their interests. This may need separation or private quiet diplomacy. Separate meetings when people are not necessarily in full alignment in their interests.
10. Stay hip: Access to a customer database or an online search about a person and their affiliations can speed building rapport. With it comes dialogue which is essential and critical for production of quality customised services.
People buy from those they trust and consider to be authentic. Are your antennas up for building rapport and dialogue? Video and social media sites are full of amusing marketing and ads from prior decades. They are funny because they are foreign to contemporary mores and styles.
Better writing, document design, presentation and communication provide cheaper, faster and better ways to build the communication foundation for marketing and delivery of offerings. Consider improving your templates (point 3 above). Consider how and what you say. Saying “clients trust us” and “our most important people are our clients and employees” may be read as cliches indicating something different to what you intend.
11. Know your fellow Australians: This final point builds on point 10. A great deal of data points to the growing diversification of the people in Australia. Relevant to that is the tendency of social media to split people into niche groups (see the accompanying graphic). Geoffrey West, a physicist and analyst of cities, notes that diversity is a reality in urban environments. As the expression notes: Do not assume because if you do you turn an ass out of you and me.
Check whether the person communicating with you and your understanding are both in sync. In case of complacency about how easy that may be, below is a surprising set of statistics. Reporting on changing views on news, citing research, The Conversation notes:
“In comparison to the other countries, the survey of 2,010 online adults shows that Australian news consumers:
- are the “lightest” news consumers out of 38 countries
- use fewer sources to access news
- are less interested in news and politics
- are more likely to subscribe to Netflix than news
- are less likely to check the accuracy of a story.”
In this era of increasing mechanisms and platforms for communication it remains a challenge to have honest, clear, uninterrupted and comprehensive communications. The distributed collaborative computing environment is a growing context. Each person, business and organisation needs measures to spot any warning flags, to protect against interference or abuse in communications with clients and customers, especially at the onboard stage.
 Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2020C00362
 Digital News Report: Australia 2019. This was the fifth year of this report, part of a 38-country survey coordinated by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. Reported in The Conversation, 12 June 2019. https://theconversation.com/australians-are-less-interested-in-news-and-consume-less-of-it-compared-to-other-countries-survey-finds-118333