Keeping & Improving Client Relationships in a Remote Work Environment
The move to an increasingly remote workplace has been a real game changer for employees and employers alike, offering increased autonomy and healthier work-life balances for many workers while presenting a bevy of cost-saving opportunities for employers, not to mention a happier, healthier workforce. However, everything is not sunshine and rainbows with remote work.
The value of in-person interactions is immeasurable in every part of your business, from casual small talk with your co-workers to dealing with vendors. In-person interactions help us to get to know the person behind the title, and without them work can feel much more like work.
One of the biggest changes of switching to a remote workplace is its impact on client relations.
We’re no longer meeting face-to-face with clients, conducting in-person presentations, shaking hands and making small talk. In fact, the general “wining and dining” approach to closing a large deal or impressing a potential client, for example, is effectively DOA - and some managers and company owners are wondering if it ever needs to come back since, for the most part, business has been successful for many industries unaffected by the pandemic for well over a year.
Removing the in-person element to creating and maintaining relationships can lead to more than a few awkward moments, but modern technology has made it easier than ever before to adapt and overcome. Businesses have already found new ways to maintain healthy relationships with clients and colleagues alike in a virtual environment.
How are you going to communicate?
First and foremost, it’s your responsibility to work with your clients to establish expectations and boundaries in a remote environment. This will set the tone for your relationships, and starts things off on the right foot. Setting expectations lets you and your clients decide how you’re going to communicate - will you use video conferencing apps like Zoom or Google Meet, messaging tools like Slack, stick strictly to phone calls, or maybe you’ll mix it up and use a combination of various tools.
No matter how you and your clients choose to communicate, it’s important to get these preferences out in the open - involving your clients in the decision-making process will keep them happy and ensure that they’re always meeting with you in a way they’re comfortable with, allowing you to avoid those awkward moments and set the right tone at the start of any meeting. If, for example, a client prefers Zoom and you prefer Google Meet, don’t force them to use your preferred solution; use theirs.
Some people won’t want to be on camera, while others will prefer to see you during meetings. Preferences will vary based on things like age, industry, client personalities, and your experience and history with these people. If you have longtime clients who you’re used to meeting with in person, it’s probably best to opt for more personal means of communicating like video conferencing, which can help you maintain that personal connection that you would otherwise miss out on.
Anytime you’re working with new clients, establish communication preferences from the start so you can always communicate with them using their method of choice. While video conferencing is more personal, there are simply some who will want to avoid it, and that’s fine - just make sure you’re prepared for anything with your camera and microphone.
Set expectations and boundaries
Once you’ve nailed down how your communications are going to work, it’s up to you to set expectations for your clients. How often are you going to be meeting virtually? What are the best days and times to set meetings? Building a work plan will let both parties know what to expect so nothing will be missed, and to ensure that nobody’s constantly playing phone tag or missing out on important meetings. Creating a schedule, no matter how loose or informal, will make it far easier to establish boundaries and will ensure trust. Your clients will feel comfortable knowing that they’ll be kept in the loop, and that a plan has been created to keep everybody on the same page.
We all lead our own lives, and because of that, we want to avoid overstepping boundaries whenever possible. That means you’ll have to outline when you and your clients aren’t going to be available, and when it’s best not to hold meetings. Be mindful of their time, and respect the boundaries laid out by your clients. This will help you work together in a way that everybody can enjoy without ruining work-life balances or getting in the way of other important responsibilities.
You should also work with your clients to establish deadlines - when new projects come in, what’s the timeframe going to look like? Are you going to be in constant contact, or only meet once certain milestones have been met? When these deadlines have been decided, work with your team to ensure that everybody sticks to them. The last thing you want is to start missing deadlines after doing all this careful planning. Agreeing to deadlines also lets you hold clients accountable for when they miss them, or suddenly change the scope of work. Creating communication plans will allow you to get on top of client expectations, creating a stronger relationship built on trust and reliability.
It’s also very important to show up for virtual client meetings on time. There is really zero excuse for not making it to a virtual meeting - everyone is dealing with the pressures of working from home, so try to make it so that you are not “the late one” for every meeting. Obviously the odd time is excusable, but nobody likes the person who shows up late for every meeting. It makes other participants feel like they are not important, and that the late person does not respect them. The client, of course, can be as late as they like - but if they make a habit of it you should discuss it with them to see if meetings should be moved.
Listen and learn
Listening is one of the most important aspects of any successful relationship, and it’s something made more difficult when hosting remote meetings. If you’re working remotely and communicating with customers, there’s a good chance that they have concerns and will require assurance that you and your team are there for them. The best way to let them know that you hear them and are there for them in their time of need is to listen actively.
One of the biggest obstacles of working with clients remotely, especially during video conferences and phone calls, is the tendency to accidentally cut speakers off or let your mind drift off. During meetings and casual conversations, practice active listening to ensure they know you’re really there. Take notes, relay their messages back to them, and ask questions when it’s appropriate. Showing that you’re willing to really listen and work with clients will establish a relationship of trust and understanding, showing clients that you genuinely have their best interests at heart.
Just as you would with your employees and colleagues, it’s important to regularly check in with your clients, make sure you understand their needs, and are working towards their core concerns. Ask them about the challenges they’re facing, the worries they have, and what they’re expecting out of you and your team. Then adjust what you’re doing as needed. Do not take your work plan as gospel; new scope and requests may come up in the process of working together, and you have to be prepared to pivot.
Use technology to promote collaboration
Cloud technology has made remote work a reality by allowing everyone to work together in real time, allowing you to invite clients and partners to view, edit, and work with you and your team. Take advantage of this technology by using it to its fullest potential - encourage clients to work alongside you and your team so every member stays in the loop and understands client expectations, share files and information with each other, and hold regular presentations to update on the status of ongoing projects and show off new revelations.
If they’re not using the same technology as your business, find a way to share your business apps with them so they can seamlessly collaborate and communicate with your team whenever they need to. Invite them to a Slack channel to facilitate brainstorming, give them editing permission in Google Docs or Sheets, and store project-related files in Google Docs where they’ll be able to view and access it on demand. With the right technology at your disposal, you, your team and your clients can feel like you’re all in the same room together, no matter where you’re working from or how long it’s been since you were all back in the office together.
Don’t be afraid to get a little personal
If you were taking your client out for a fancy dinner instead of a Zoom meeting, you would naturally be talking about their kids, sports they like, fandoms they’re a part of, and many other personal things. Don’t be afraid to do the same in your day-to-day interactions. People who don’t make “small talk” are often looked at as cold and impersonal - you don’t want your client to have that impression of you. You can also consider sending small gifts for birthdays, holidays, or other special occasions.
Managers who want to make sure that employees are making full use of the communication and collaboration tools at their disposal can rely on contextualized productivity intelligence data provided by Prodoscore. By measuring activity across your favorite business applications, Prodoscore allows you to better understand how your employees are engaged each day. Find brand new opportunities for growth and improvement, identify at-risk employees in need of extra resources or intervention, understand how business applications are being used, and drive performance and growth - all with a simple score and easy-to-use dashboard.
Prodoscore offers contextualized data that can help you and your team create and maintain healthier client relationships, no matter where they are. Managers can see how often staff are communicating with clients via email and even VoIP phone systems. This is arguably one of the most important metrics for sales teams.
For more information on what Prodoscore can do for your business, get in touch with our team today.