Tips for Engaging with Colleagues and Customers When Face-to-Face Meetings Aren’t Possible
There is no substitute for a face-to-face communication. But, getting together in person isn’t always possible, particularly right now as cities, states and countries are asking people to stay at home. For those accustomed to in-person interactions, this has meant rethinking how we engage and collaborate with our colleagues and our customers.
Thankfully, there are options available that allow us to work together and collaborate, even in these challenging times. It’s just a matter of knowing how to make the most of them:
Decide what you need to accomplish, and whether a phone call or virtual meeting would be a better fit.
Both phone calls and virtual meetings — using Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype and similar digital platforms — have benefits, as well as drawbacks. A phone call can provide a quick, effective, way to share information or answer a question; however, it does not provide non-verbal feedback from a person’s body language or facial expressions that a video conversation can offer. A video call, on the other hand, does help create a more personal feeling interaction, but can be challenging if there are issues with WIFI connections or other technology difficulties. If either would be equally effective, you might simply ask the other person if they have a preference.
Start the conversation with an open-ended question that provokes thought or concern with their business.
Instead of just asking, “How are you?” or “How is your day?” consider starting with something more focused, such as, “How is your business doing? What is your status (open or closed)?” Or, “Is everybody safe?”
At a time like this — when so many people are transitioning to working from home, and may have spouses, kids or pets around while they are at work — you may want to expand that question to ask how their family is doing, and what the adjustment has been like for them.
Know the reason why you are calling or meeting.
Having a reason for a call or virtual meeting is very important. You may already have a scheduled meeting, or a regular check-in for an ongoing job or order. You also might be reaching out because you have company, local marketplace or other industry information the person might find valuable.
If it is the latter, it is particularly important that you identify the reason you are reaching out and communicate it to them early in your conversation. This will help facilitate additional conversation and help maintain a professional connection with your customer.
Keep it brief but impactful.
Most meetings have a scheduled duration, whether it is 30 minutes, an hour, or more. While it may be important to schedule a time for your call or virtual meeting, be flexible and don’t feel as if you need to engage for the entire time.
To increase the impact of your call ask yourself what information the other person needs, or if you can share something that would be useful to them, their job or their business. What will they remember from the conversation a month from now? Share that information, allow for a natural discussion, ask if there is anything else you can help with or that they’d like to discuss — and then, end the call or meeting with “Thank You.”
Follow up with an email that captures one or two takeaways from the conversation or meeting: It could reinforce or provide more detail to the information they requested or simply confirmation of an action item with next steps. This extra step helps bring closure to the conversation.
We are all adjusting to a new way of doing business — but, we are in this together.