Have you ever gone back and forth with a client or colleague endlessly over text or email?
Only to jump on the phone or a video chat and resolve the issues in five minutes.
Have you ever had a client who you just could never please?
Until you sat down with them over coffee one afternoon.
Or maybe you watched an argument go down on social media between two seemingly sane individuals?
And you knew it never would happen in real life.
Of course, you have!
That’s the reality of our digital world and the new, ever-evolving virtual communication channels we now navigate.
Our connections have increased exponentially in quantity.
And as communications pros, it’s our job to make sure they don’t decrease by the same degree in quality.
Modern day communications is not about the number of followers or “media impressions”.
It’s about real PR metrics.
Key performance measurements that drive business results.
And for that, quality communication always comes first.
Quality Communication in an Anonymous World
I once worked on a project where the entire goal was to figure out why employee to customer communication was suffering.
And create a strategy to fix it.
The communication in question was at a large customer service call center, and the organization struggled with customer loss, as a result.
Additionally, employees lost time because issues weren’t resolved on the first, second, or often third call.
The customer kept calling back, talking to new people, and trying to find a solution.
Eventually many took their business elsewhere.
And for those who didn’t, the endless hours wasted by call center employees trying to solve the same issue over and over again resulted in a large net profit loss.
The basic dilemma was how you improve “connection” when the client is a faceless individual.
After call, after call, after call, the client loses their individual identity, and starts to simply become a nameless “it”.
A to-do to check off a list.
This translates into carelessness and a tendency for overall customer service to decline rapidly.
The Power of Human Connection
I’m sure we’ve all experienced those call center horror stories, where we hang up feeling as if we might as well talk to a robot.
And let’s be honest, in many cases, the robot might be nicer.
While trying to figure out a way to get around this environmental job defect, I remembered a study I had read in Daniel Pink’s book “To Sell is Human.”
It revolved around strategies to help radiologists do a better job connecting with their patients.
The researchers gave the radiologists a series of x-rays to evaluate.
The first set of x-rays they reviewed included an actual photo of the patient being evaluated.
Several months later, the same radiologists reviewed another set of x-rays, not realizing they were the same ones.
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.
Almost 80% 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.
The advances of our current communication landscape have improved convenience, efficiency, and our ability to connect (in the literal sense) with others anywhere in the world.
This is good.
They have also put up barriers when it comes to making human connections with those we interact with on a daily basis.
This is bad.
It’s much easier not to care when a client or co-worker is mostly represented to us through email or a phone call versus live face-to-face interaction.
Anonymity has a way of downgrading the quality of connection.
How to Be Successful at Virtual Communication
It doesn’t have to be this way.
As business owners and communication pros, we can take the findings of this radiology study and translate them into our own world.
This is true both for client and customer interaction, and communication within teams.
There are endless ways to do this, but here are a few suggestions.
Virtual Communication When Working With Clients and Customers
- Create ideal client personas or archetypes, and distribute to all your staff.
- Invite one customer each month to talk to your team about a “day in the life” (in-person or through video conferences).
- Have team members create “trading cards” with your ideal client personas or, even better, real client stories (get approval from them first). Include info about them, fun facts, a basic overview of who they are and what needs your employees fill for them. Hand them out to employees and have them switch cards each week.
- Get your team out of the office and into the community. If you have outside sales reps who visit clients, send customer service reps out with them. Send team members to events. Give any team member who doesn’t have anything but virtual communication with customers a chance to work with them face-to-face.
- Launch community service initiatives.
Virtual Communication Leading Virtual Teams
- Take advantage of video conference. We use Zoom for our meetings, both internal and external. This means our team actually sees one another (and our clients) at least two or three times per week (but often more).
- Encourage “non-work” interaction. Group activities or competitions, community service, out-of-office events. Provide team members opportunities to connect in a non-work setting.
- 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 who never reaches its maximum potential. The same is true in a virtual office.
Virtual Communication Rules for Every Setting
And here are some evergreen rules that apply across the board:
- Practice what you preach. Internal culture is reflected externally. If you don’t treat your employees with care and respect, they are less likely to treat the customers they interact with such a manner. As with anything in business, it starts with you.
- Establish guidelines for when a particular channel (i.e. email or text) should and should not be used. Just like you shouldn’t break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend over text, there are certain rules for professional virtual communication that need to be set.
- Set expectations around communication. For example:
- Customers should know within what timeframe they should expect a response.
- And team members should understand and execute upon this expectation.
Leaders Set the Tone
Another consistent you’ll see in every organization is that leaders set the tone.
The way a leader communicates both internally and externally WILL dictate the entire team’s communications.
Gini has previously discussed the actions and words that undermine leadership.
Virtual communication puts an even greater responsibility on leaders to be aware of those actions and work really hard to serve as a constant example of the type of communication they wish the organization to execute.
The world can often be a cruel, nameless, faceless place a good portion of the time.
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?