Over the past year, thought leaders in every industry and profession have put their figurative pens to paper, writing about communication and engagement with remote coworkers and team members. Of course, it’s just as important to maintain strong relationships with clients even though we may not be able to meet with them face-to-face.
Like so many others in our profession, most of our team’s client relationships have moved online. Here are a few practices we follow to maintain chemistry and engagement with clients during this critical time.
Communication is always my number one priority in remote relationships – whether with coworkers or clients. Our team has been using video conferencing for years and encouraged our clients to do the same long before the pandemic hit.
Some clients took that advice, while others had to adapt quickly when their offices closed in March. I still find some people are hesitant to turn on their camera during Zoom calls. Don’t be afraid to gently push back on the instinct to hide behind a headshot or black screen. It’s important to see people’s faces so we can see what they’re doing and read the expressions on their faces. Set the expectation upfront, when to schedule a call. Try to avoid non-video calls, and ask them to plan to have their video going.
And remember, every client communication doesn’t have to be scheduled. Sometimes, it’s good simply to pick up the phone and ask how they’re doing. A five or 10-minute call to check-in can provide many benefits in keeping client engagement high.
Embrace active listening
Can you imagine meeting a client in their offices and constantly checking your phone or responding to emails during the conversation? It just wouldn’t happen! Yet many people try to multitask while on phone calls or video conferences with clients, making active listening impossible.
Active listening means actually listening to what the other person is saying instead of simply hearing them speak. Unfortunately, many people are so distracted by email or thinking about what they’ll say next that they don’t really listen to what their clients say. This leads to missing or misunderstanding key messages your clients are sending.
To avoid such an outcome, I shut down email, other applications and browsers when meeting with clients and ask them to do the same. Some balk at the idea, but when I tell them the call we’ve scheduled for 30 minutes might take just 10 or 15 minutes if we’re both fully present, they’re usually willing to give it a try.
Use CRM software
Customer relationship management (CRM) software helps organize notes, activities and metrics from your entire firm – marketing, sales and client service – into one cohesive system. One of the ways we use our CRM system is to store personal notes about our clients. Do they have a teenager touring colleges? A new grandchild due any day? Are they building a home or planning a vacation?
It can be tough to remember all of these details when you’re talking to a lot of people. Having these notes at hand, asking about their lives and families, and letting them know you care helps deepen your connection.
Make connecting rewarding and fun
Client relationships don’t have to be all business, all the time. Once in a while, schedule a virtual lunch, coffee, or happy hour. Over the past few months, we’ve all gotten more comfortable seeing family members, pets and people’s homes in video conferences, and I think it’s great!
If there’s one good thing to come out of this year, it’s that we’ve all realized we can have personal lives and work from home while being productive. While we want to be recognized as professionals, it’s important to be people first.
Maintain some sense of normalcy
Many of the ways firms develop and maintain client relationships have fallen by the wayside in the past few months, but I encourage you not to cancel every event or outreach initiative. Find ways to keep some things you’ve done in the past as normal as possible.
If you normally do an in-office party for clients, consider whether you can tweak it to be more adaptable to this time. Perhaps a small, socially distanced event in a local park or even your parking lot. If that isn’t feasible, send a small gift and a note to their home. One firm we work with decided to cancel its annual client appreciation event but sent cookies to every client’s home. They were able to keep the client appreciation tradition alive, even though it looked quite different than it has in the past.
Working remotely presents some challenges to engaging with clients. Yet we can overcome those challenges by ensuring we have a plan in place to connect. By remembering the strategies listed above, you can create and maintain positive, productive and engaged client relationships no matter where you’re working from.