Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has become the new normal throughout many organizations. According to a study done by UpWork, “By 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely, an 87% percent increase from pre-pandemic levels.” This provides some evidence that remote work is not going anywhere and is increasing in popularity in many organizations. Although many employees have been thrown into this type of work from home environment without preparation, many are thriving. Yet, the greatest challenge for many has been the sometimes-constant communication through a screen. According to a study from Buffer, “20% of remote workers identify communication as an obstacle.” Not having face-to-face contact in an office setting can make easy communication much more challenging. It is crucial to connect with others and make a communication plan, whether it is a colleague or a professional connection, like a customer. We have generated some new ideas to help build strong customer relations to help organizations connect with customers while making the shift to remote work:
Working remotely is challenging for everyone, and things often do not slow down. Meetings can be long and sometimes inconvenient, especially when calendars do not match up. At times, appointments must be held during lunch or break hours. When in the office or meeting with clients, you could provide coffee or lunch for long sessions; however, we do not have that luxury when remote. Instead, think about an alternative like providing a client with a gift card to grab lunch or coffee (e.g., GrubHub or Starbuck). The same concept can be applied to working lunches with colleagues. We are all juggling the work-life balance; showing clients and colleagues that you appreciate their time can create strong customer relations and often make them more interested or engaged.
Break Long Meetings Up
All-day or all-afternoon meetings were not uncommon when working in the office. This was typically due to one of the participants traveling to the other and only being able to come for one day. Now that almost everyone is a work from home environment, there is no traveling involved when meeting with a client due to tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WebEx, or any other web conferencing tool. Although we now avoid traveling, that does not change the length of these meetings, and many continue to be very long. To ensure meetings like this are successful, we recommend breaking up long sessions into smaller meetings throughout the week or month. This allows all attendees to digest the information and ask any questions at the start of the next meeting. Creating an agenda for each session will also set expectations and allow more organized conversation. This is easily achievable through tools like Microsoft Teams, which provides a scheduling assistant, notes, recordings, and shared files to increase collaboration and allow you to connect with customers. Breaking traditional full- or half-day meetings into two or three sessions can help alleviate meeting fatigue and allows for more focus and worthwhile discussion.
Connect on LinkedIn
When speaking with clients or customers, it is essential to make personal connections with them while remaining professional. Social media is a great resource to keep up and interact with people; however, some individuals like to keep their personal social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram separate from professional contacts. LinkedIn is an excellent social media platform to utilize when looking to connect with customers or professional contacts on a more personal level. It allows you to remain connected to the person while in a work from home environment without physically seeing or talking to them. You can engage in personal updates about their life, celebrate their victories, provide assistance with challenges, and even strike up a casual conversation. This can help build strong customer relations without being too intrusive.
Create a Communication Plan
Only reaching out to clients when you need something or scheduling a work-related meeting to get something done can make it challenging to develop a more personal relationship. A great idea to consider is a communication plan. This is a mutually decided plan to communicate with the client or customer regularly. These cadence calls’ goal is to ensure you are not overwhelming the client with numerous meetings or taking up valuable time. This can be weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Setting up a communication plan allows time for any work-related questions to be asked or answered, but it also allows personal conversation time. It also helps develop trust within the relationship and allows the customer to feel more engaged with you and the company. It is essential to schedule time into the meeting to engage in non-work-related conversation. We face the same challenges when working from home as the pandemic has limited our ability to engage with those outside our own houses. Taking 5-10 minutes at the start of a meeting to speak and share casually is often a welcomed reprieve from the daily workflow.
When making professional connections, the most important thing is to make an effort. Customers and clients value being appreciated. Although many of us are remote, there are steps we can take to improve and maintain relationships. Remote relationship building is different, but that does not mean it is impossible. By taking these steps, it will not only create strong customer relations , but it will make your work more enjoyable and allow you to connect with customers.
To learn more about the best technologies to implement during the era of a remote work environment, read our white paper “The Future of the Workforce”.