With the tools we have at hand today, the business world has done a dramatic shift from the warm “face to face” meeting from days of yore to the frigid electronic relationships we have today.
Gone are the days of “shaking hands”. Welcome the new era of “Digital Signatures”. I have found in my own business ventures that although the Internet Age has afforded us luxuries that we could not have dreamed of as youngsters (don’t get me wrong, I love techie gadgets and software as much as anyone), we have lost an essential part of ourselves in our daily business dealings.
Take, for example, the old “Full Service Filling Station” that had one gas pump. You would pull up and never have get out of your car. They came to YOU. Bobby would come bounding out the door like he had been waiting for you all day with a huge smile on his face. You could look him in the eye when he said, “Hi Mrs. Olson! Would you like me to fill her up for you today? Sure is a nice day out, isn’t it!” While your tank was filling, Bobby would run around your car and wash your windows, check the air in your tires, polish the chrome on your car, and check your oil. You could watch him work and see how much he appreciated SERVING YOU. Just puts you in a good mood thinking about it, doesn’t it? That Bobby was awesome. The point? You left feeling like you got WAY more than you expected.
Now, I pull up to the quickie gas station that has 39 pumps. Not only does no one come out to assist me, but half the time they yell something through a speaker in the pump itself at me that is completely inaudible. I assume that I can go ahead and pump my gas. We use debit cards these days, because Lisa working behind the counter would really rather that I pay for the gas and pump it myself and not bother her inside the store. (She’s on Facebook and really doesn’t need my interruption while she’s working.) But sadly, I pulled the hose out and hit the grade button before I swiped my card and now the whole pump is on “Burglar Lock-down”. And I have to go in. Oh boy….
I walk up to the counter, no one else is in the store. Lisa is on her phone texting faster than I could ever type with both hands. I know she can see me out of the corner of her eye, but she doesn’t acknowledge me for 12 minutes (Just to show her annoyance with me). When she finally puts her phone down and comes up to the counter, she just stares at me. (I figure that is her way of giving me permission to speak. I am sadly mistaken.)
“Hi, I’m so sorry, I must have messed something….”
“You SHOULDN’T have hit the grade BEFORE swiping your card or it locks it up!!! Now I will have to reset it for you.” (She mumbles, “Idiot…” under her breath.) She then goes and “resets” the pump which consisted of hitting one button that she could reach easily from her “Facebook chair.”
“Thank you!! I will be more careful next time.”
Nothing. The point? I left feeling like nobody gives a damn anymore and for what we are paying for gas these days, I got WAY less than I hoped for.
I don’t know about you, but I miss the old days with Bobby. He acted like he actually gave a you-know-what. He cared. He was genuinely HAPPY to see you. He liked his job and everyone knew it. If Bobby and Lisa were real people today, where would YOU go get your gas? I don’t know about you, but I’d pay a pretty penny to have Bobby wait on me over Lisa ANY day.
The art of the “Face to Face” meeting should not be lost or ignored simply because we have technology that enables us to conduct business and make a very comfortable living without ever getting out of bed or meeting people?
Fast forward. I have never met my insurance agent. I have spoken to her on the phone many times, but I could not pick her out of a lineup. It bothers me somewhat that I have never seen her…what does she look like? Does she have laugh lines or frown lines? Does she have motivational posters by her desk? Or an empty box so she can bail at the first sign of trouble? Does she have children or grandchildren? And what do they look like? I am basically a “visually driven” person. I enjoy reading people; their expressions, mannerisms, tone of voice, and did they take time on their appearance this morning or come to work looking like they just flew out of a wind tunnel? These things all MATTER to me. They help me form a RELATIONSHIP with that person. But instead, I am left to my own imagination based on a cranky voice, a tone that sounds like I am interrupting, and email signatures.
The point is this: you can run your business without ever meeting people. Many do and are still successful. But what if you made a POINT to see your clients face to face? What if their first impression of you is a VISUAL one? Do you think they would be more likely to say “yes”? To want to work with you based on the “relationship” or would they rather get an email from you saying “This is what I do and there is good possibility that this is spam, but keep reading and get your credit card out…” I don’t expect anything less from myself as the business owner than I expect as the consumer. What can YOU do in YOUR business to start forming lifetime relationships?
Try These Tips and See What Happens
Meet your clients face to face as soon as humanly possible (preferably on their turf.)
Let them shake your hand, look you in the eye, and check out your car if that is what makes them tick. This is a double bonus: you now have some knowledge of their surroundings. You may meet other employees, notice how they set up shop, and see how they actually interact with a customer. You may see pictures of their family on their desk. This is information you just cannot obtain in “virtual relationship”. This type of interaction with your client is unparalleled to any other type of communication. Now you know something personal about your client, and hopefully you have shared something about your family as well. Once the client realizes you are human, the relationship begins to solidify.
Talk to your client on the phone as much as you talk to them electronically.
Eventually, you will both get to a point where you DO have a relationship and this may not be quite as necessary. But in order to FORM the relationship, it’s imperative. Yes, you may have to actually take a shower and put on nice clothes and go out. It’s worth it. Make the point to make the PERSONAL contact with them as much as possible in the early stages until they trust you enough to be comfortable with an “electronic relationship”.
Ask your client “Open-Ended” questions.
The more they talk, the more you know. These types of questions may lead you to learn that your client’s wife has MS. You then tell your client that you have run the MS Half Marathon for the last 7 years in your city in honor of your neighbor who also has MS. Now you have something in common and your client is seeing you in a favorable light. Maybe your client tells you that he just moved here with his family a year ago from Sasquatch, Indiana. WOW!!! What a coincidence…you went to college in Sasquatch, Indiana!! The conversation now turns to discuss your mutually favorite pizza joint and whatever happened to the really tall waitress? (Solidifying with common ground.) I guarantee, your client will talk about you with others once you start forming these common denominators. He probably won’t discuss your email signature with anyone. Ever.
Bring something fresh to the table.
This isn’t as hard as you think. Stop for a moment and think of a professional relationship that you have had or have seen. What could the service provider have offered that would have set him apart from the rest of the service providers? What if he stopped in unannounced with a plate of homemade cookies? Everyone loves cookies. What if he had a nice plant delivered to your office that just said, “You guys are awesome and I am so glad to get to know you.” What if he calls and says, “You know, I have had such a positive experience doing business with you that I would like to put you on my “Favorite Places” page on my website. Would that be okay with you? I would love to offer you the exposure.” WOW! Who does that?? YOU should be. It will set you apart and I guarantee they will be talking about you.
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Now get out there!
Contributed by: Carol Anne Jackson, owner of Girl Friday Results, is based out of Sioux (pronounced “Sue”) Falls, SD. She has been involved with face-to-face client relationships for more than two decades and in that time has reinforced the fact that there is no substitute for meeting prospective customers in person whenever possible. Without that, it’s certainly harder to pick up on any subtleties that enter into an electronic conversation when doing business in the future. The step by step process that she employs has been a real help in putting the customer at ease and developing trust. Her extensive office management background has certainly helped, but she attributes most of her success to a willingness to present her ideas to prospects proactively rather than waiting for the phone to ring or email to populate. Carol Anne carries a degree in Psychology and along with her husband, Steve, works to raise three teenagers while running a successful VA business.