The Value of Face-to-Face Customer Interaction

If you provide IT-related services, especially if your business is a small one, your company may be staffed mostly (or entirely) by “geeks” – people who are deeply immersed in technology. Many of them may be more comfortable dealing with computers than with people.

If that’s the case, you might be doing most – or even all – of your communications with your customers (and potential customers) via electronic means: an interactive web site, email, live chat, social media. All of those are great ways to advertise your business and stay in touch with your customers – but online interaction shouldn’t completely take the place of face-to-face meet-ups. Let’s look at some reasons to go out of your way to “meet and greet” in person as well as across the Internet.

Out of focus

Come on, admit it – often, when you’re interacting with someone online, you’re multitasking. You’re answering his email message at the same time you’re eating lunch, or going over the financials, or having a phone conversation. Multitasking helps us to get more done in a shorter period of time, but all too frequently the result is that we don’t do those multiple tasks as well as we might have, if we had been focused on just one at a time.

When you dash off a quick response to a customer via Instant Messenger, and your attention is divided, you might not put as much thought into what you’re saying. You might even say something that’s offensive to the other person. And if you do, there’s a good chance that you won’t even know you did it.

Reading in the dark

When we interact with people in person, we don’t just hear their words. We also “read” the little visual clues that help us to understand the thoughts and feelings behind the words. According to some theories, as much as 93 percent of the message we communicate is done through non-verbal means – that is, through voice tone, facial expression, and body language.

Although the actual number has come under challenge, there’s no question that much of our intended meaning does get lost when we’re deprived of that additional data. The same words, spoken with different inflections, can come across as kind, uncaring, incredulous, sarcastic or questioning. Thus the mechanisms, such as emoticons, that have been devised in an attempt to substitute for those in-person visual and auditory indicators.

Another means of trying to emulate the in-person experience is to use audio and video technology to communicate remotely with customers. This can be helpful in establishing a more personal rapport and cluing in to whether the person you’re talking with is enthusiastic, reluctant, concealing anger, disinterested or just being polite. However, it’s still not as effective as being in the same room, looking the person in the eye, shaking his/her hand and truly getting to know one another.

Trust is the basis of any long-term relationship, including business relationships. And it’s hard to trust someone you don’t know. While it’s possible to develop trust through online communications alone, it’s often the person-to-person meeting that removes doubt and uncertainty and “clinches the deal.”

A recent survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that “face time” is a priority for top business leaders, with 54 percent saying in-person meetings with customers have the greatest impact on their business, and even though email and the telephone were their most-used communications tools, they didn’t believe these were the best options.

The message you send

Not only will you be able to glean the underlying subtleties of your customer’s communications more effectively in person, and not only is there less chance that the customer will come away with a misunderstanding of what you say, but you send a message just by virtue of taking the time to engage with the customer in this way. It tells customers that they’re important enough to merit your full attention.

Different strokes

That said, it’s also important to tailor your methods to each individual customer’s preferences. Many welcome the opportunity to get “up close and personal,” but some don’t. Some are actually more comfortable doing business in the less personal ways. Don’t try to push the idea of in-person meetings on those who are clearly resistant to the idea.

 

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If you provide IT-related services, especially if your business is a small one, your company may be staffed mostly (or entirely) by “geeks” – people who are deeply immersed in technology. Many of them may be more comfortable dealing with computers than with people.

If that’s the case, you might be doing most – or even all – of your communications with your customers (and potential customers) via electronic means: an interactive web site, email, live chat, social media. All of those are great ways to advertise your business and stay in touch with your customers – but online interaction shouldn’t completely take the place of face-to-face meet-ups. Let’s look at some reasons to go out of your way to “meet and greet” in person as well as across the Internet.

Out of focus

Come on, admit it – often, when you’re interacting with someone online, you’re multitasking. You’re answering his email message at the same time you’re eating lunch, or going over the financials, or having a phone conversation. Multitasking helps us to get more done in a shorter period of time, but all too frequently the result is that we don’t do those multiple tasks as well as we might have, if we had been focused on just one at a time.

When you dash off a quick response to a customer via Instant Messenger, and your attention is divided, you might not put as much thought into what you’re saying. You might even say something that’s offensive to the other person. And if you do, there’s a good chance that you won’t even know you did it.

Reading in the dark

When we interact with people in person, we don’t just hear their words. We also “read” the little visual clues that help us to understand the thoughts and feelings behind the words. According to some theories, as much as 93 percent of the message we communicate is done through non-verbal means – that is, through voice tone, facial expression, and body language.

Although the actual number has come under challenge, there’s no question that much of our intended meaning does get lost when we’re deprived of that additional data. The same words, spoken with different inflections, can come across as kind, uncaring, incredulous, sarcastic or questioning. Thus the mechanisms, such as emoticons, that have been devised in an attempt to substitute for those in-person visual and auditory indicators.

Another means of trying to emulate the in-person experience is to use audio and video technology to communicate remotely with customers. This can be helpful in establishing a more personal rapport and cluing in to whether the person you’re talking with is enthusiastic, reluctant, concealing anger, disinterested or just being polite. However, it’s still not as effective as being in the same room, looking the person in the eye, shaking his/her hand and truly getting to know one another.

Trust is the basis of any long-term relationship, including business relationships. And it’s hard to trust someone you don’t know. While it’s possible to develop trust through online communications alone, it’s often the person-to-person meeting that removes doubt and uncertainty and “clinches the deal.”

A recent survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that “face time” is a priority for top business leaders, with 54 percent saying in-person meetings with customers have the greatest impact on their business, and even though email and the telephone were their most-used communications tools, they didn’t believe these were the best options.

The message you send

Not only will you be able to glean the underlying subtleties of your customer’s communications more effectively in person, and not only is there less chance that the customer will come away with a misunderstanding of what you say, but you send a message just by virtue of taking the time to engage with the customer in this way. It tells customers that they’re important enough to merit your full attention.

Different strokes

That said, it’s also important to tailor your methods to each individual customer’s preferences. Many welcome the opportunity to get “up close and personal,” but some don’t. Some are actually more comfortable doing business in the less personal ways. Don’t try to push the idea of in-person meetings on those who are clearly resistant to the idea.

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