No matter what industry you’re in or what size business you may be, building strong relationships with your clients is paramount to your success.
But, now that COVID-19 has grounded business travel and put the brakes on face-to-face meetings, organizations have to find a way to keep client relationships strong in a world without handshakes, office visits, or “let’s meet for lunch” options.
How can you adjust your approach and your interactions when all you have is screen time? Just as important, how do you avoid the potential pitfalls that could derail the connections you’ve already built?
We talked to two of our own experts to find out.
Acknowledge that nothing is “business as usual”
Step one: recognize that you can’t just lift and shift what you were doing before.
“I think we’ve always tried to come to every call from a place of empathy, but now that’s multiplied a hundred times over. You have to acknowledge that it’s not business as usual. Everyone’s dealing with a lot—whether they’re trying to work and home school their kids or pick up the work of colleagues who were suddenly furloughed,” explained Alexandra Schwenke, strategic client success manager for SAP Concur.
Although you’re still conducting business, you can’t simply replicate the same interaction you would have had in a pre-pandemic world. Because the world, at least for the time being, has dramatically changed.
“I really haven’t opened a PowerPoint deck since March, because it’s just not where calls are going,” Schwenke said. “We’re not checking on utilization or why travel numbers are down. We know why they’re down. We’re focusing on finding out ways we can help our clients get through this time.”
Turn on the camera
No matter how adamant you were about “audio only” conference calls in the past, now is the time to turn on the camera.
“You have the opportunity to connect with your client on a very personal level, to let them see a friendly face, your home office—your cat jumping in the background,” explained Elise Lapasin, strategic client success manager for SAP Concur. “We’re all going through some adjustments in all of this. By acknowledging that, you make the human connection stronger.”
Be aware of body language and social clues
Another good reason to use your camera is to be able to read the body language of the person you’re speaking with.
“I think we’ve all been on a call with someone who, after 20 minutes, starts checking emails on a second monitor or phone. At that point, you know you’ve lost them,” Schwenke said. “Just realize that they’re under a lot of pressure and the best thing you can do for them is to wrap up the call.”
How personal you get and how fast you get down to business has to be totally client driven.
“If you ask about their walks or how home schooling is going and your client immediately shifts the conversation to business, follow that lead,” Lapasin said. “If that client is having a difficult day, or looks tired or distracted, offer to reschedule the call. If they want to talk about their experience with grocery delivery, listen, and tell them about yours. You want to make a personal connection, but how personal you get depends on each individual client. So, you have to be aware of them, and how they want to interact that day, not on your own agenda.”
And, if you have clients that see that your camera is on, and never turn on theirs, they’ve sent a clear message that they want you to keep the call short and strictly focused on business.
Find proactive ways to offer support
If you send an email to a client and get a bounceback notification, reach out to that person’s supervisor and offer help. Again, be sensitive. You don’t know if your contact was furloughed or is ill. But, whatever the reason, the person left behind may be overwhelmed, and completely unaware of what needs to happen with your product or service, how to switch admin credentials or where to find documentation.
Whatever you can do to help all of your clients through the transition, do.
“We recently put together a quick how-to on different reports that would benefit our clients in this situation,” Schwenke said “For example, one report gives them a list of all employees who have travel booked throughout 2020, so they can follow up to make sure they get refunds or credits for those tickets. It’s not a new report, but it’s one they may not have been aware of or had a need to use until now.”
It’s not about creating new features, but about helping clients use existing tools in a way that benefits themselves in the current environment.
Recognize the opportunity to make a true human connection with your clients
Meeting with someone virtually in a conference room or office setting is nothing new. But, interacting with someone in his or her home environment provides a unique look into the whole person—not just their work personas.
In many ways, we’re seeing each other at our most vulnerable—doing the best we can, with cartoons blaring, dogs barking, and a dining room table acting as a make-shift desk. In many ways, this whole experience could make your business relationships stronger.
“We’ve had times when something happened on the West coast or the East coast that united people in those areas, but this is global. Everyone I talk to, no matter where they are, is going to be dealing with this; impacted by this in some way,” Schwenke said. “So, again, it all comes down to empathy. Asking how someone is doing and sincerely caring about the answer goes a long way.”
It sounds so simple, but that’s the thing that all of us are going to remember. Those moments of human kindness as we all try to keep life and business going in a very changed world.