With the government’s ‘work from home’ guidance finally being lifted this week, busy office buildings, vibrant city centres and face to face customer interactions are on the horizon. But in this new era of digital delivery, are virtual customer interactions here to stay?
After the abrupt shift to home working in 2020, last year saw many organisations successfully adapt to digital delivery of their services. Whether they were simply accelerating an existing digital transformation or starting from scratch, many discovered that with the right technology their teams could effectively collaborate, achieve high productivity and continue to support customers virtually, from wherever they were.
Customers embraced the video call as an alternative to in-person contact. Video meetings were rapidly scheduled, company backgrounds were created, and previously unused cameras were switched on. Video calls were normalized overnight in a way that wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic as a catalyst.
Working virtually works
Along with convenience, lower costs, and wasted travel time becoming valuable work time, we’ve got good at video calls. With a structured agenda, virtual interactions are often quicker and more efficient than face to face meetings. And with less of a social element, we get more work done.
There was already a growing trend towards managing customer relationships virtually pre-Covid. Digital interactions from e-tenders to self-service capabilities were becoming the norm.
At the height of the pandemic, it wasn’t just online account maintenance that customers accepted – customer acquisition was forced to go digital. Sales teams utilized many of their traditional core sales skills when meeting customers and closing deals by video and live chat interactions.
But just as account teams have perfected their online craft, face to face interactions are returning.
Back to the (sanitised) handshake
There are some things that just work better face to face, and customer acquisition is often one of them. While quick, regular check-ins will remain a convenient and productive option for existing customers, new clients will be less willing to sign on that initial dotted line with a digital signature when in-person meetings are a viable option once more.
Business relationships are based on trust, and we instinctively prefer to look each other in the eye while we establish our first deal. While virtual interactions are ideal for maintaining existing customer relationships, there’s no doubt that it’s harder to establish new ones if the buyer and seller meet over Zoom rather than coffee.
- Complex interactive meetings work better in person. Getting a large and diverse group of stakeholders, influencers and account team members together to ensure a complete understanding of a complex situation works better face to face. It’s easier to raise points, questions and potential objections as they come up, and conversation is more fluid without the stop/start of virtual interruptions.
- You can’t properly read the Zoom room. Reading the expression of a grid of unknown thumbnail faces doesn’t always tell you what you need to know. Building rapport relies on body language, eye contact, tone of voice and other subtle non-verbal cues that tell you when a pitch or negotiation is going well (or isn’t).
- Sometimes small talk gets big results. An unguarded, off-hand comment on the way out the door can often uncover a critical point or an additional opportunity. Digital interactions don’t usually provide the time or space for that informality.
- Encouraging innovation and creative brilliance. Brainstorming a new solution to difficult customer problems often requires spontaneous and unstructured interactions. We’ve all been in the room where ideas have bounced around naturally to create something exceptional.
The Deloitte Corporate Travel Survey 2021 indicates that while we will continue to rely on virtual communication and e-commerce for simple customer transactions, business travel related to external relationships – in particular client acquisition – will be the first to return to pre-pandemic levels.
But be aware – when you’ve made the journey to get that crucial signature, your client will still expect you to be fully connected with instant access to your team and resources back at the office. Those same digital resources will still be needed to support a successful return to face to face engagement.
2022: Optimizing omnichannel excellence
The business landscape has changed. Accenture’s recent report, ‘A new era in customer engagement’ details how customer expectations of what constitutes basic digital capabilities have shifted permanently. Convenience, ease of access and ‘anywhere anytime’ interactions are the new normal.
The winners in this new hybrid environment will be the ones who find an optimal balance of traditional channels, digital interaction and in person engagement, and move seamlessly between them to improve customer experience in a post-pandemic world.
Being agile and responsive gives you the fluidity you need to support your clients in a fast, efficient way. Mode’s fully managed IT and digital workspace solutions combine multiple business communication tools, utilising the power of the cloud. They simplify the way your teams operate, support collaborative working, and improve your business flexibility and efficiency.