Making the effort to meet your clients in person may not be a priority with heavy workloads and little time, but this is perhaps the most valuable and effective way of communicating with your customers. Yes, it might be more convenient to send an email, pick the phone up, or even to log in to Skype, but what can you learn from face-to-face interaction that you can’t get from a virtual meeting?
Most communication isn’t conveyed through words; it is done by reading the small signs of people’s body language, hand gestures and facial expressions. You don’t have to be an expert to interpret the meaning – most of it is done subconsciously. The opportunity to ‘read’ people is invaluable and will give you far more information than a telephone call ever will.
You can see far more than what a person’s tone will tell you, so for instance, if a client is telling you that they are in agreement with something you are suggesting, their body language might indicate that they have reservations. If you spot the signs, you can either reassure them if they have any worries, or you can suggest an alternative solution they feel more comfortable with.
Clients appreciate it
You may have to juggle your schedule to fit in the travel time to get out and meet your clients, but most of them will appreciate your endeavours. It also helps you make a strong favourable impression – if you have made the effort to arrange a visit it shows that you appreciate their custom. It also deepens your business relationship and increases customer loyalty.
In much the same way as reading body language, observing your clients surroundings will tell you a lot about their mindset. Is their office tidy with everything organised? Or is it a sea of chaos with piles of paperwork balanced on every surface? Knowing how they work will help you handle communication and requests. If their work environment is a bit jumbled, you might have to send requests for information earlier and cajole them slightly to deliver what you need to do their accounts. If their method of working is a bit disjointed, do they need extra (paid!) support with planning and strategy?
Get to know the inside story
When people meet in person, communication often becomes a lot more informal. Some very interesting off-the-record conversations can be had making you privy to information that you wouldn’t otherwise get to hear. This doesn’t mean to say that this is an excuse to gossip, but clients may confide nuggets of knowledge that could make a difference.
For example, if there are rumours that the company might be cutting back the workforce, could you step in and lend a hand with budgeting and appropriate guidance? You might also find that clients are willing to open up more and get your opinion on other aspects of the business that they would never think to mention in a short telephone call. Another positive is that they could also tip you off to other business opportunities that they are aware of that might be of interest to you.
Develop transparency and trust
Something we have probably all done at one point is use the more distant form of communication such as email to either ignore an action that needs to be taken, or fob someone off. It’s much harder to do this to someone’s face, so actual meetings may cultivate a better climate of trust. This is an integral part of building solid business relationships, and research shows this process happens a lot more quickly with face-to-face contact rather than through electronic communication.
It’s also easier to persuade people during personal interaction, so if you need to influence someone over an important matter, meeting them in person is without a doubt the best way to go about it. In short, it would be impossible to do all of your communication in person as your clients, as well as yourself, simply don’t have the time.
Virtual meetings and email offer far more practicality, but if you can increase the amount of direct interaction with your clients, you should certainly do so. Frequent contact to keep in touch with what’s happening is a good thing, but you don’t get the deeper level of engagement that in-the-flesh meetings bring.Make it easy for yourself. If you haven’t got the time to travel to your client offices, invite them to come to you. It may surprise you how many are willing to do the travelling to get the benefits of interpersonal contact. Even if you aim to meet one client face-to-face every month or fortnight, you will soon be rewarded with greater appreciation and stronger relationships with your clients.