Customer loyalty is the end all and be all of business success. Without it, companies struggle to retain customers and drive bottom-line growth. For as long as I can remember, in-person meetings have been an essential component of engaging with customers and forming meaningful relationships with them. But if online meetings are the only option, many fear customer loyalty will pay the ultimate price.
According to a recent study by Thryv and America’s Small Business Development Centers (ASBDC), three-quarters of US small businesses have already experienced a large drop in demand since the coronavirus pandemic began. And so, we’re seeing businesses – and their employees – fighting tooth and nail to win over their clients for the sake of business continuity and growth.
As new research from Doodle reveals, this pressure has now trickled down to employees and is taking a toll on their mental health and wellbeing. Over half (55 percent) of employees find themselves going the extra mile to be more dynamic in virtual meetings because they feel the need to overcompensate for not being able to interact with clients in-person. On top of this, 46 percent of the employees surveyed by Doodle confirmed they’re conducting virtual meetings with clients outside of normal business hours to keep them happy and, ultimately, loyal.
If you’re working remotely and struggling to adjust to the shift to online-only meetings, here are some key steps to keep your clients happy, engaged and loyal, while also keeping an eye out for your employees’ mental health and wellbeing.
Set realistic boundaries for the sake of your mental sanity (and productivity)
Employee burnout is a common phenomenon in the workplace, with 77 percent of respondents in Deloitte’s “Workplace Burnout Survey” saying they have experienced burnout at their current job, with more than half citing more than one occurrence. Now consider this: Employee burnout costs an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the US. Clearly, burnout is a serious and costly problem.
Since lockdowns and social distancing rules went into effect in March, there has been a significant increase in the number of virtual meetings being held. If you look at employees’ calendars right now, you’ll see a common pattern: meeting overload. More client meetings are being scheduled than ever before.
It’s important to understand the link between employees’ mental health and their performance. If employees are stressed and feel overwhelmed by their work environment and responsibilities, it can take a serious toll on their mental health and wellbeing. That can, in turn, result in an inability to focus, which can directly impact the quality of work and overall performance on a client’s business.
So what can employees do to stay mentally sane, while also maximizing their productivity?
● Carve out clear boundaries between your personal time and professional time. This means not scheduling client meetings outside of your normal working hours. Regard that time as sacred and keep it unavailable in your calendar so that meetings don’t inadvertently get booked into those time slots. These are times when you should be decompressing, enjoying quality time with friends and family and focusing on yourself.
● Set clear expectations with clients about your commitment and availability. Your clients are humans and need to take care of their own wellbeing too. Being honest and upfront with them about your commitment and availability to meet will increase their respect and trust for you.
● Block out dedicated time in your calendar (during normal business hours) for research and creative brainstorms. Make sure meetings don’t get booked during these time slots. Use this time to come up with new ideas and examine areas for improvement in your client projects. Make this a regular part of your workday.
● Practice a self-imposed ban on devices and social media. Put your phone away and don’t do background work while you’re sitting in virtual client meetings. When you’re in a client meeting, be present, listen, ask questions and offer up ideas and suggestions.
Create a personalized online meeting experience for each client
Customers no longer base their loyalty on price or product. Instead, they stay loyal with businesses that deliver a personalized customer experience that meets their specific needs. If businesses can’t deliver, customers won’t hesitate to walk away. The need for personalizing the customer experience is just as important in the current climate, where online meetings are the only option.
So how can employees personalize the customer experience? If one of your clients is soft-spoken and prefers to listen during meetings, try to coax them out of their shell and engage them. One way to do this can be to start every online meeting with this specific client with an ice breaker. It can be a funny story that gives the client some deeper insight into your personality or life outside of work. It can also be a fun quiz-like game (like two truths and a lie), where you make three statements and ask your client to decipher the truths from the lie. In the current situation, trying to keep all client interactions as formal as possible won’t serve anyone. Your clients are going through the same experience as you are – so acknowledging it and making the online meeting experience feel a bit more human and honest can go a long way towards cementing a lasting relationship with your clients.
If you have a client who prefers and expects ongoing communication, try to switch up the types of meetings you set up with them. Don’t only meet with them in formal virtual meetings that have been pre-scheduled and have a pre-defined purpose and goal. Mix things up and invite them to have a virtual breakfast and coffee chat. Don’t make this feel like a business meeting at all. Instead, make it as informal and relaxed as possible. Maybe even bring the video into your kitchen and just chat casually with your client while you brew your morning cup of coffee. The kitchen is one of the best places to connect and engage with people – so take advantage of the space now that you can and use it to stir up real, candid conversations with your client.
Personalization of the online meeting experience doesn’t have to be an elaborate ordeal or require days of preparation. If you put a little thought into it and pay attention to the needs of your clients, it should be relatively easy. As you personalize the online meeting experiences for each of your clients, you will see their trust, respect and loyalty grow. And the more trusting and engaged your clients feel, the less stressed and fearful your employees will be that customers will churn. This will lead to increased productivity and improved performance. Essentially, employees are mentally healthy and fulfilled. Clients are satisfied and retained. That’s a win-win.
Preparation and creativity are the best weapons against client churn
The customer loyalty stakes are high right now. Taking a lackadaisical approach to virtual client meetings just won’t cut it. Yet, that’s exactly what many employees are doing. In fact, 19 percent of employees said they aren’t doing anything to be more engaging virtual presenters in client meetings and 13 percent are showing up unprepared to online client meetings. This is not an ideal approach under any circumstances, but especially in the current situation.
Rather, organization, creativity and practice are key to successfully running online client meetings. One of the most effective methods for keeping online client meetings on-track is to send an agenda ahead of time. For something that’s so quick and easy to do, this step is often overlooked by meeting organizers. Sending a meeting agenda keeps the meeting running smoothly, ensures everyone stays on topic and typically results in strong performance and deliverables. Meetings without an agenda, on the other hand, often lack a clear direction or focus, run long past the scheduled time and, ultimately, don’t produce actionable results. This could inevitably affect the quality of work and performance delivered for clients, which could very well have a negative impact on their overall trust and loyalty.
But it’s not just the meeting organizer who should shoulder all the burden of running an effective and productive meeting. Participants must do their part too. For one, participants should do their own research and read relevant materials before showing up to their next virtual client meeting. This will show your commitment and passion for doing excellent work – and delivering results for your clients. The more preparation and research you do, the more creative and innovative your ideas will be. Not only will that translate into stronger client relationships and improved client results, but it will also prove worthwhile when it comes to time to decide whether to renew their contracts or take their business elsewhere.