"I am sorry, I had to stop my child from coming into my office," "please excuse the fighting in the background my husband is trying to wrangle my children," "Hold on, someone is at my door, and my dog is freaking out."
At some point over these next few weeks or months, you WILL hear something like this on a virtual meeting or conference call with your customers. These statements are not a bad thing, and I believe it can be useful for the relationship-building part of our industry… let me explain.
We are in unprecedented times as it related to everyone having to work remotely. This new era is here to help slow or stop the spread of the global pandemic COVID-19. This need to have everyone practice social distancing gives us in the CS field a unique opportunity to learn things about our customers we may not ever be able to learn.
In regular times during remote meetings, we have about 5 minutes before the sessions start while others join. This time is usually consumed with small talk surrounding weather, work-related topics, or even short descriptions of what we did over the weekend. There is rarely anything actionable or rich enough to consider that we've learned something about our customers. At that point, we generally jump right into our agenda or meeting content.
These are not regular times, so we can take advantage of this short time to learn how to connect better with our customers. As you all know, building relationships directly translate into trust and ultimately into renewals.
Knowing that many states are closing schools and businesses are requiring employees to work from home, we know that there is a good chance that our customers with children are working from home. Their children are of all ages and grade levels, so they are trying to navigate their children's engagement in school and do their jobs just like many of us. This fact means when you have a scheduled call, the customer is already entering the meeting with a slightly higher level of stress.
You can find a list of states that have closed schools here (continuously updated):
Here is the list of “stay at home” orders (continuously updated):
A simple "how are the kids hanging in there" will open up a conversation fruitful with actionable intel that we can use in the future. Generally speaking, you will get ages, names, and other information about their children. Make the conversation about the information they give, ask about the challenges, how they spoke to the children about what is going on, are they doing school online, etc. This information will be at the top of mind for all parents. You may even get information about a spouse or partner.
WRITE IT ALL DOWN. This information is invaluable to building that trust with the customer and can be used later in your relationship to ask about updates. Even if there are multiple people on the call, ask everyone about their experiences. This helps to ease the stress by allowing everyone to see we are all dealing with the same thing. But it also enables you to ask about how everyone is doing in subsequent meetings. For example, "now that John is back in school, how is he adjusting to the time missed?"
Having this information available is essential to building this connection. I generally keep information in my outlook contacts notes section as seen below. More specific information is in the “All Fields” tab, where you can put names of spouses and children in designated fields. This is extremely helpful for me as I plan and prepare for meetings.
As a parent, let me say this, parents LOVE to talk about their children, even if it is for a few minutes before the meeting starts. The same with pets, a simple "do you have pets, if so, how do they like you being at home with them more" will do wonders for opening up the customer to speak freely.
When you have customers knowing you care about their lives, they are far more apt to contribute to the conversation at a higher level.
We are all working from home. This may be a part of our new normal, at the very least, let's take a moment to use it to our advantage by getting to know our customers better outside of the regular mundane work discussions. It will help your journey to become their trusted advisor.