By Laura Petrolino
I once worked on a project focused on improving human connection through better communication.
The communication in question was the human connection between employees and the customers they communicated with on the phone every day.
The basic dilemma for them, and for many people in similar positions, is how you improve ‘connection’ when the client is a faceless individual.
After a while – call after call after call – the client loses their individual identity, and starts to simply become a nameless “it.”
Instead of another human being, they are a job to get done, a to-do to check off a list.
This in turn translates into carelessness and a tendency for overall customer service to go down hill rapidly.
The Power of Human Connection
I’m sure we’ve all had those ‘call center horror stories,’ where we hang up feeling as if we might as well have been talking to a robot (and let’s be honest, in many cases the robot might have been nicer).
While trying to figure out a way to get around this environmental job defect, I remembered a study I had read concerning strategies to help radiologists connect with their patients.
The researchers gave the radiologists a series of x-rays to evaluate. The first time they were given the x-rays for review they accompanied each one with an actual photo of the patient being evaluated.
Several months later the same radiologists were asked to review another ‘set of x-rays’ – not realizing they were the same ones – but this time without the patient photos.
Want to guess the result?
The doctors provided a much more meticulous reading of the x-ray results when a photo of the patient accompanied the file. In fact, approximately 80 percent of the findings reported originally were NOT reported when the photograph was omitted from the file. That’s a pretty remarkable (and if you are a patient, scary) difference.
Although the advances of our current communication landscape have improved convenience, efficiency (in some cases), and our ability to connect (in the literal sense) with others anywhere in the world, they have also put up barriers when it comes to making human connections with those we interact with on a daily basis.
It’s much easier not to care when a client or co-worker is mostly represented to us through email or a phone call vs. live face-to-face interaction. Anonymity has a way of downgrading the quality of connection, no matter how many new fangled channels we have to connect with.
How to Be Successful in Virtual Relationships
It doesn’t have to be this way. As business owners and communication specialists we can take the findings of this radiology study and translate them into our own world.
There are endless ways to do this but here are a few suggestions.
When working with clients:
- Create ideal client personas or archetypes, and distribute to all your staff.
- Invite one client each month to talk to your staff about a “day in the life” (through Skype/Google+, or in-office if that’s a possibility. Just make sure it’s a face to face, whether virtual or in real life).
- Pick a varied group of actual clients (get approval from them first) and create “trading cards” with info about them, fun facts, a basic overview of who they are and what needs your employees fill for them. Feature one each week, including a quiz or role play about their needs and how to best communicate with them.
- Get your employees out of the office and into the field. Sometimes just being more connected with the working world can help re-align perspective.
- Launch community service initiatives. Again, getting employees out of the office and connected to the community they serve can make world of difference.
- Practice what you preach. Internal culture is reflected externally. If you don’t treat your employees with care and respect, they in turn are less likely to treat the customers they interact with in such a manner. As with anything in business, it starts with you.
When leading virtual internal teams:
- Take advantage of video conference. Here at Arment Dietrich we frequent Skype and Google+ for our meetings. This means our team actually sees one another at least two or three times per week (but often more).
- Encourage ‘non-work’ interaction. In a real office setting you have the ability to bond with co-workers through happy hours and group activities or competitions. Here in AD land, we replicate those things through our weekly “Wine:30″ Google+ chat, and our Jawbone UP band steps competition (which don’t tell Gini, but I’m going to WIN in November!)
- Be available. Make sure everyone on your team knows that even though you aren’t in the office next door you are available and willing to meet with them when needed. In a real life setting, a team that silos itself is a team that never reaches it’s maximum potential. The same is true in a virtual office.
The world can often be a cruel, nameless, faceless place a good portion of the time. This is why being a “face” will always set you apart from your competition and improve both your internal and external communications. In the end, being human and connecting to others as empathetic peers is all we’ve got.
What strategies do you use to better connect with virtual teammates and clients?