Laura Petrolino

Human Connection Creates Stronger Businesses

By: Laura Petrolino | November 26, 2013 | 

Human Connection

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?

Faces Matter

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:

  1. Create ideal client personas or archetypes, and distribute to all your staff.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Launch community service initiatives. Again, getting employees out of the office and connected to the community they serve can make world of difference.
  6. 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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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!)
  3. 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?

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

  • Laura this is great advice and I love your idea of ‘a day in the life’ — super smart. Also, I hope you give @ginidietrich a run for it in November 😉

  • What an interesting study! That’s honestly very insightful.
    Sadly, many of us don’t ever get to meet or converse with our clients face-to-face, but it’s definitely worth the attempt! If that’s not possible, I suppose interacting with your co-workers non-work-related ways is the next best bet like you mentioned. If we’re not able to see who we’re doing the work for, at least we can remind ourselves that we do it to be with great co-workers (at least some of them).

    That’s why we every Friday our company celebrates the end of the work week with a nice happy hour for everyone in the company. It’s a nice way to form camaraderie to get through the next work week.  
    Thanks a bunch for sharing!

  • Laura, it’s so true that our technological advances have created a disconnect and that x-ray study is really scary!  I think your suggestions are creative and effective ways for bridging the gap.  PS – I hear @ginidietrich is pretty tough competitor, but I’ve seen your videos…should be an interesting race! 😉

  • JRHalloran Yes, totally agreed! I think there are many ways to do it and you have to find something that fits your company and team. We sometimes forget how important forming this ‘non-work’ bond is for overall work productivity.

  • KateFinley Oh I’ll win! 😉
    Thanks Kate!

  • lizreusswig You have no idea. ginidietrich LauraPetrolino

  • lizreusswig Hahaha! She is a tough competitor. I think I start getting ahead and BOOM she hit me with a 2 and a half hour bike ride! And then on top of all that she expects me to work as well, so I can’t even just walk around all day! It’s ridiculous!

  • Wow – so many things racing through my mind because of this post:
    1. How my former and once great company KNEW this – it was at the core of the company culture, and it included employees as well as customers.  We had a sales force spread across the US that only got together yearly, but they ALWAYS included a segment the mill so we could get face time with our co workers, not just a golf/drunk conference for the sales reps.
    2. Anthony Iannarino convinced me that I was wrong – phone calls are still far more important than emails. G+ even better – I have to force my long distance clients to get web cams sometimes (NO marketing geeks, not everyone has them still), but they always believe it is worth it.
    3. Uncanny – we just did this today at ArCompany, but focused on Business Traits:  Create or archetypes, and distribute to all your staff – ON our G+ weekly call.
    4. The greatest sales manager I ever had was loud, abrasive and over the top, but my customers respected him because he traveled his rear off and they saw him multiple times a year – and he has 18 other reps he was doing the same thing for.  Real life time in front of the customer always matters.
    Great, energizing post Laura!

  • AmyMccTobin Wow! First, amazingly uncanny that you all just did client personas today!! I love it! 
    It really is interesting the human face to fact dynamic. I’m a total geek about stuff like this and there is a lot of crazy interesting research out there looking at in from an evolutionary sociological standpoint, as well as the actual physiological changes of seeing another human (or not seeing one).
    I’m like you that I prefer to have video calls, especially with some clients are think it is really needed. Not to mention the fact that it helps me do a better job for them because I can pick up non-verbal cues on things they are unsure or uncomfortable with that I would totally miss out on over the phone.

  • Laura, what an inspirational post. I believe we lose focus many times of the why behind what we do.

    A friend of mine tells the story to her employees about “buying monkey food.” A team that ordered and shipped monkey food became disillusioned by the mundane tasks of their jobs. As morale nosedived, a consultant was brought in to help with productivity. After some research, the consultant took the team out for an on-site field trip (much like you suggested) to the warehouse where the food was distributed and to the lab where the food ended up. When the team arrived, they were enthusiastically greeted by the scientists. You see, the scientists ordered so much various monkey food because it was vital to the AIDS research they were conducting. After learning how their efforts supported such a worthwhile cause, morale improved among the team.
    It’s important we understand the bigger picture our daily tasks support. Your tips provide great ways to get back to what matters.Thanks for sharing.

  • livwhit

    Great post! I think the x-ray experiment provided interesting results. I don’t think most people realize the value of matching a face to your online persona. I agree that it gives you an advantage. I like suggestion 4 in the “when working with clients” section. It’s a great idea to use them within an organization, making people more comfortable and understanding of how to communicate with each other.
    The tips about leading a virtual internal team are also helpful! Using video chatting and making yourself available to communicate with your team members will definitely be helpful in building a stronger business. I like the tip about “non-work interaction”. I think time should be made for this in every organization.
    Thanks for the tips!

  • livwhit Glad you found it useful!

  • MonicaMillerRodgers I LOVE that! I think it is really important that we always remind our teams (and ourselves) of the greater context in what we do. Sometimes it is so easy to get stuck in the day to day and start just checking off tasks like a to-do list. But in order to really provide clients with value, in order to really work to our max ability we always need to take a step back and think within the larger context.
    Thanks Monica!

  • I love stuff like this. Like the x-ray experiment. I’m watching a doc right now about personality, and whether you can *actually* change yours (as an old person, I mean). As for technology and how it’s changing the way we do business *and* the way we communicate with other people – I’d give my right arm to be around 200 years from now just to see if there really IS an impact – i.e. do we eventually turn into robots who physically can’t have face to face interactions? Or will we just adapt to this new way of life, by incorporating non-visual communication more and more into our lives until it simply becomes normal, just another part of our evolutionary path as humans. I think we’re always “so frightened” of change (especially when it’s come as quickly as the internet/digital/new technology has these last 25 years or so) that we forget about the millions of years of change and adaptation that has come before. If we don’t manage to blow ourselves off this mortal coil, I think we’re all going to be A-OK.

  • Laura I love this! Both the way you set context, but also the list of immediate take-aways. We were meeting just as this was posted yesterday about how to reach more customers. Some of the tips and strategies that you presented here are things my team can implement immediately! I am sending to Boss Man and the team. Thank you so much for this dose of #PetroPower!

  • RebeccaTodd There is nothing I like to hear more than that! Thank you! Keep us posted on the results if you do implement.

  • belllindsay You are 100% correct. We often forget the scope of our perspective is pretty small (I think those of us in NA have this problem in particular because everything around us is *relatively* so new). But when you really take a step back and look at the timeline of human evolution, certain trends appear that reinforce our general ‘human-ness’. For example, we purposely seek out community, both for mere survival and for softer social needs. When we become seclude for long periods of time things go physiologically (and of course psychologically) haywire. Anyway…I could go off on this topic (and I’m sure you could too, so we can geek out together over this stuff elsewhere!) but my hope and belief is similar to yours. As things evolve for us technologically we might go through ‘growing pains’ that will cause us to stumble and disconnect a bit, but we will eventually evolve to utilize these things to build community, connect further and support our human needs.

  • LauraPetrolino To recap, the important point of this post is that you will win the November Jawbone activity tracker contest, right? Thought so.

  • LauraPetrolino (but seriously……..) I love this and having been involved in contact centers for a long time I saw the challenge of keeping the callers “human” and “unique” in the eyes of the representatives. // One other sort of medical related story — I don’t know if you’ve read The Checklist Manifesto or not — but one thing they did is make every person on a surgery team introduce themselves to one another. The outcome showed that just knowing the NAMES of your teammates made a difference in positive surgical outcomes. Imagine if they had seen pictures of the patients non-anesthetized — would have also put a face on the procedure. Great points made here! 🙂

  • biggreenpen of course! In fact I wrote this entire post as a covert way to get that point across!

  • biggreenpen Oh interesting. I haven’t read it, but I’m putting it on my list now! I’d also be interested in hearing more about some of your experiences sometime as well.

  • LauraPetrolino Here’s a link: and yes I’d love to share my experiences sometime!

  • LauraPetrolino Science geek sistahs!!

  • Spot on! This is why I am cautious and leery about dashboards of only metrics and analytics that don’t allow me to ‘get down to the people’. It is amazing how quickly we can start thinking about people as ‘hits’ and ‘impressions’ when we stop actually looking at faces.

  • thomasknoll Yep, the numbers should be used as a way to gain intelligence about how to connect better, not a substitute it. And even from a mere business perspective, an impression is not a customer, an impression is an insight into a customer behavior and potential customer interest, many lose sight of that.

  • danielleserrano

    I totally agree with this post! I think many people rely too heavily on social networks and technological sources of communication today.  Face to face communication, human connection and many interactions indeed result in better, more productive business.  As part of the generation that is accused of heavily relying on social networks, I think we really need to get back into face to face communication and business practices.

  • LauraPetrolino thomasknoll Was thinking about this exact thing over the weekend – there are a lot of layers, to say the least. 
    At the very least there’s a) How / who people think they are b) How/who they think other people see them as, and c) The actions they take
    Haven’t yet seen a dashboard or app that can account for all of those things..

  • All good stuff Laura, very nice setup of the problem, too
    I think a lot in terms of empowerment, both internal and external. I want the people I work with to really love what they do, and to own their responsibilities and their role (even when the circumstances make them not want to). Same goes for clients. 
    In fact, I had a conversation with one of our large pharma clients a few weeks ago, super awesome person, very much responsible for corralling several internal groups….and after talking through what she needed to get a set of projects done, I flat out told her “I get that you are engaged in some digital cat herding, just keep me posted on any tools or things I can give you that might help that be easier.” She knows I get it, and as a result I don’t have to wonder if things are ok, because I know she’ll be empowered to solve what she can, and pick my brain when she can’t.

  • JoeCardillo I love that. I think sometimes you just need to give people permission to be human. Essentially that’s what you did.

  • Outstanding suggestions, Laura. If we allow ourselves to go totally virtual – without that human interaction – then both clients and employees will commoditize the relationship. It will be based strictly on costs/salary versus relationship/culture.

  • dbvickery Exactly! So well said. It’s sad to think that we have to remind ourselves to be ‘human’, but unfortunately as worthwhile as some of the communication ‘conveniences’ we’ve developed are, they also put us at risk of losing that connection that, well connects us. 
    Thanks Brian!

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