"Maintaining Customer Relationships During the COVID-19 Pandemic"
As a functional or technical consultant, and perhaps this applies to developers as well, you frequently visit customers. Often the same customers, and some of them also for a longer time period. I usually experience the latter scenario as if I am becoming part of a company’s internal ‘family’.
It has been a little over a year now, that being part of customers in this sense during project implementation is no longer possible. Everything is done remotely and online, but only involves the people that you work with. When visiting clients, you are inclined to have a chat with the receptionist or the tea lady. But tasting the atmosphere this way cannot be done online.
So how do you maintain the relationships with your customers? Knowing the answer is important, as the current way of working just might become the new normal, either entirely or partially.
Personally, I find this rather awkward, as you are less visible and audible to clients, so the things that they normally appreciate about you as a person are picked up less. It has also struck me that I tend to use mail and chat functions sooner.
I have noticed, that it helps to call customers the old-fashioned way, as well as through Microsoft Teams. Your voice often tells them how you feel about certain things. Video-calling through Teams or WhatsApp also works. Items that can be seen in the background, or an especially chosen background image with a personal picture, provide welcome distraction of all things corporate prompting you to get in touch. A bit of casual chitchat, as it were, to replace traditional conversations near a coffee machine.
Speaking of coffee, when engaged in longer conversations, indicate that you are going to get a cup of coffee, and encourage your conversation partner to do the same. Give each other five minutes or so, to do something for yourself. This also provides distraction, which is a good reason to change the conversation topic.
You should also not be afraid to show something from your environment, for example, the garden that you are looking out on, or the tiny room that you are ‘squeezed’ into.
What it basically boils down to, is that you behave in the same way as you would when visiting a customer, be it, that the triggers and causes are somewhat different.
When having a workplace conversation, it is also often useful to take a short break and to let go of the conversation topic, thus providing distraction.
Keep in touch with customers, and not solely during appointments who may have been made through Teams. Phone them in between every now and then, and ask them how things are going and whether progress is being made. Support consultants, often hidden behind a support portal, now actually have an advantage. They are already used to only communicate online with customers, and the ‘good ones’ among them also get in touch in between. In other words, talk to your colleagues and discuss their ideas and habits.
I hope that we can soon return to the old normal, be it entirely or partially, and visit customers again.