Part 1: Professional Relationships
As our world becomes more and more digital, in many ways, it also becomes smaller. More than ever, we’re able to do business, and maintain personal relationships, over long distances. But while there are benefits to this ability to connect virtually, we also lose something. We lose a feeling of community and the connection that comes through sharing space with other people. There are some things that, no matter how connected we can remain online, we are really hard to replicate.
This is the first in a two-part series on how we can do a better job nurturing relationships over long distances. This post focuses on how to really support long-distance professional relationships, with vendors, clients, and even remote teams. Part Two focuses on ways to maintain personal relationships over long distances.
Technological advances have brought us into an incredible new era of convenience, and expanded choices. When it comes to retail purchases, you can now order online from a number of different sellers with the click of a button. Your target customer, which may have been limited by location in the past, could now be national, or even global thanks to online sales and improved shipping. And even your employees don’t need to be local anymore, with the internet and the improvement of tools to help teams work remotely.
While there are incredible benefits to being able to conduct business over long distances, it makes it a little harder to truly maintain and cultivate relationships without having that in-person interaction.
What can you do to nurture professional relationships, even if you rarely, or never meet in person? Let’s take a look at two types of professional relationships and the best ways to really show that you care, even if you can’t meet in person.
The Remote Client
If you run a tech or online company, you know that your customers and clients aren’t purely local anymore. It’s harder to take them to dinner, go to their kid’s graduation, or just win them over with your charm. Some of the ways we used to build relationships with clients are just not available if you live and work from Milwaukee and your clients live in Belize, France or Fiji.
So, what is a company to do in order to build trust and confidence? The first step, and a prerequisite to anything else you want to do, is to provide exceptional quality. If you consistently deliver high quality service or products, that will go a long way toward building trust; you can’t rely on your winning smile. Once you have that, here are some additional ways you can nurture your client relationships:
- Build and protect your brand. You want your brand to become shorthand for trust and excellence. Create a brand voice and style that is instantly recognizable, and make sure that all uses of your brand are reinforcing your brand’s ideals and values. Make sure you’re careful about where your branding is used to prevent diluting your brand with placements that are not consistent with your brand, or undermine your brand values. Strong branding will help build trust with your customers. Think of it as the digital version of a winning smile.
- Build a community among your customers. When your business is exclusively online, who is your ‘community’? Instead of looking to an existing community to find customers, online businesses can create a community from their customers. Depending on what kind of business you have, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Slack and Pinterest are all platforms on which you can build a community. To build a community, you have to look at what traits, interests or attitudes unite your clients (bonus points if these are also your key brand values), and build content, community and interactions around those shared interests.
- Build loyalty. Provided you have a quality product or service, loyalty programs are a great way to build a relationship with your customers. But it’s important not to think about loyalty programs as a short-term promotion, gimmick, or giveaway. Think about the online companies who have gotten repeat business from you. How many of them have loyalty programs? And how often have you spent more than you planned on spending because you were getting a loyalty discount of some kind?
- Reach out on special occasions. You might not be able to go to your client’s kid’s graduation, but you can still celebrate it with them! Why not send a card, or even a gift to acknowledge a special occasion? If you don’t know them well or are worried about picking out the perfect gift, a gifting service, like EvaBot, can help. EvaBot can chat with the gift recipient and figure out exactly what they like. Sending a personalized gift is always a good way to make someone feel special.
The Remote Team
According to one study 70% of people work remotely at least once a week. Teams that work together used to see each other on a daily basis; it was just the nature of work. But these days, you might be working on a team that has never even met in person. So, how do you build the camaraderie that defines truly great teams? How do you make sure everyone is working together for the success of the whole?
- Foster Communication. Workplace communication tools like Slack or Signal don’t just help you share documents, they allow you to communicate and build a company culture as well. Make sure there is a space for remote workers to engage in ‘water cooler’ chat and bond over shared hobbies, interests and obsessions.
- Video Conferences. Sometimes it helps people connect just to be able to put a face with a name. Video calls can also help clear up miscommunications, on occasion. But don’t require a video call on short notice. Remote workers aren’t always dressed for a video call on the spur of the moment.
- Cool Swag. Now, just to be clear, we don’t recommend giving clients branded merchandise as ‘gifts.’ However, sending your remote workers some high quality branded swag can help build a sense of pride in their affiliation with their company and team. Just make sure the gear is cool, useful and high quality.
- Provide Feedback. If you’ve seen Office Space, you might recall that Peter has eight bosses. So, whenever he makes a mistake, he hears about it eight times. With remote workers, there can be the opposite problem. Remote workers can fall into a vacuum where they don’t get feedback on their work, good or bad. Make a plan to give your remote workers feedback on a regular basis so that the feel engaged and part of the team. But make sure this regular feedback does not turn into micromanagement.
Remote doesn’t have to mean disconnected. Make sure you spend time nurturing your long-distance business relationships.