How do we build relationships with customers when face-to-face communication has been replaced by screen-to-screen? It’s a question on everyone’s mind.
In fact, when Nick Mehta, the CEO of customer-success software company Gainsight, asked his network on LinkedIn how to connect with customers in a 100% virtual world, the post generated more than 100 comments in just a few hours.
Mehta bundled these insights into actionable tips in a webinar conversation with Christina Kosmowski, Slack’s global head of customer success and services. You can watch the full webinar, Customer Success in a Pure Virtual World, below. If you’re tight on time, we’ve distilled their combined wisdom into a few concise tips.
1. Turn on your video
Associating a face with a voice is a simple way to foster genuine connection and helps your clients feel heard and understood. Mehta recalls a time when a proposal that was rejected over a call was accepted a week later over a video conference. “The connection through video made the client feel like we were listening to them more, even though the facts didn’t change that much,” Mehta says. (And if your preferred workspace is still a work in progress, try these West Elm interiors for your video background.)
2. Set an agenda, and follow up with notes
Sending an agenda in advance not only provides a clear course for the meeting and maximizes everyone’s time, it also serves as a gentle reminder of the meeting itself. Mehta recommends sharing ownership with a champion, your biggest advocate at a client company, by “helping them co-present that agenda so it’s not just your agenda, it’s their agenda too.”
He also advises following up after the meeting with notes, which provide a written source of truth and reassure the customer that you plan to take action. And as an extra thoughtful touch, Mehta suggests sending your clients a gift card to a local restaurant through an online service like Toast as a post-meeting thank-you.
Quick tips on running a virtual meeting from start to finish
- Open with an icebreaker: Reading the room is hard, especially if it’s a virtual one. Icebreakers are a simple avenue to establish common ground. Some of our favorite questions include What is your go-to karaoke song? and What advice would you give to your younger self?
- Make meetings interactive: Virtual meetings don’t have to be limited to back-and-forth discussion. Conferencing tools like Zoom offer virtual whiteboarding and breakout rooms so you can actively collaborate with your customers.
- Provide a forum for questions: Designate a Slack channel where folks can ask questions or give feedback. “We even do interactive polls where we can get a poll to gauge how people are feeling about the meetings, where maybe they wouldn’t be as vocal on the call,” Kosmowski says.
3. Communicate with empathy
As much as we may try to re-create lost normalcy during this time, it’s also OK to acknowledge your shared reality with customers. “We’re all human beings together here,” Mehta says. “You may have dogs in the background and kids, and you’re balancing a lot of stuff … let your clients know so they feel that connection with you.”
Mehta observes that his strongest customer relationships are ones in which both parties can talk candidly about business and their personal lives. And it doesn’t hurt to use emoji to express empathy and engagement online, according to Kosmowski. “Using emoji or even building custom ones can bring some fun,” she says.
Both Kosmowski and Mehta also rely on shared channels, which allow two different organizations to collaborate in the same Slack channels, for fluid communication with customers. “At Slack, we prompt discussion and actually push best-practice ideas to our customers in shared channels,” Kosmowski says.
Mehta and his team bring their larger customers into shared channels to build a strong rapport. “It’s a no-brainer to get yourself closer with your clients,” he says.
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4. Get the team on the same page
Maintaining positive customer relationships isn’t the only challenge when everyone is remote—keeping your team aligned is a feat in itself. “All your team is likely virtual too, [so] all the same rules apply internally,” Mehta says. That means turning on your video, sharing a meeting agenda and communicating with empathy are equally applicable when collaborating with your own team.
Kosmowski also advises communicating especially clearly and creating more regular touchpoints now that people can’t meet in person. “Setting expectations and boundaries is really important,” she says. Her team moved from longer meetings to shorter yet more frequent stand-ups to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Although keeping everyone safe and healthy to the best of our ability means hitting pause on in-person interactions, we hope these tips can spark some creativity and empathy in your customer relationships. In the meantime, don’t shy away from asking your network all things remote-work-related—after all, these insights were inspired by one humble LinkedIn post.
To help you navigate the transition to remote work, we’re hosting a series of dedicated webinars. Get more information and sign up here. If you’d prefer personalized help on using Slack with your newly remote team, we’re happy to chat. Click here to schedule a time.