The pandemic and the corresponding obligations to work from home integrated many digital processes into everyday working practices. This caused a lasting influence on us and the contact with our customers. However, we also realized that alternative types of counselingcannotreplace face-to-face consultations.
Up until now, the physical meeting was the typical consulting situation. Telephone counseling, email support, and chat counseling were seen as supportbuthave never superseded face-to-face consultations entirely. While working from home, another type of consultation has become the standard; namely, videoconferencing. The pandemic illustrated that this can be an efficient and time-saving method. Simultaneously, the limitations of video meetings were illustrated. In the last few years, we made our own experiences with different types of meetings and came to know their advantages and disadvantages.
In the past, contracts were only concluded after a personal interview. It is much easier to estimate whether cooperation could work on the basis of a real encounter. Right at the beginning, one senses whether they harmonize with the other person. This information is derived from facial expressions, gestures, body language, and the mood of the person as well as the general atmosphere in the room. Such information is limited in all other types of communication.
Exclusively in this setting, the reactions of the interlocutor can be observed directly. In addition, the meeting takes place in the office of the consultant or client. There may be some personal photos or other belongings, which can help to get to know the other person on an additional level. According to the Fürstenberg Institute, personal communication release hormones that reduce stress and cause a sensation of comfort.. Consequently, the general mood in the first meeting is more relaxed in a physical meeting rather than in a videoconference or telephone call.
On this account, it is much easier to build trust in this setting, which is vital for customer contact. We realized that face-to-face meetings are essential at the beginning of customer relations because in this step the subsequent proceedings, goals, and the respective expectations of each party have to be clarified. Due to its significance, this step requires direct, functioning, and precise communication. It is much easiertoset the record straight in a face-to-face consultation.
However, one has to consider that this is in the words of IHK Nürnberg, the most intensive, time-consuming, and expensive type of consultation. Additionally, the journey to the consultation office can take up a considerable amount of time. On the one hand, fixed working hours, work-related travels, or family circumstances can make a personal meeting impossible. On the other hand, the distance between the office and a rural domiciled person or an international client can cause problems. In such cases, online meetings are often the only way to arrange a suitable appointment. These points have to be consideredwhen deliberating about whether it is worth it to arrange a face-to-face meeting.
Of course, it has happened before that something came up on short notice, causing the customer to be late or keeping him from attending the meeting. Such unforeseen occurrences are numerous and versatile, from the failure of public transportation to family emergencies or health reasons. Often, it cannot be held against someone if they have to cancel suddenly. However, what effect does this have on planning? Most of the time, not all our team membersare present at the office because we have additional jobs or are still students. Nevertheless, whenever an important appointment with a client is pending, as many as possible try to take part in the meeting. If for whatever reason, the customer is unable to attend, this is unprofitable because it is likely that not everyone can be there on the new meeting date. Here, the effort accompanying a face-to-face meeting is its downfall. All expenditures can be reduced in a video format.
Videoconferencing is in-between face-to-face and telephone contact. It provides the advantage of time and geographical independence while still ensuring that the facial expressions of the interlocutors are transmittable. The freedom from the constraint of time is essential because it makes arranging an appointment much easier. Generally, the accessibility of most people is much higher in an online meeting rather than in an on-site meeting.
However, the body language is significantly different than in physical exchanges. It can be difficult to keep track of things and spot reactions such as a smile or a nod; especially, if many people are in the virtual room. The fixed stares of the participants can be unsettling. Perhaps a person seems inattentive if they make notes on a paper next to the laptop. Therefore, it is much harder to evaluate non-verbal signals and the attentiveness of participants in this setting.
Videoconferencing is time-saving, efficient, and reduces costs. However, it makes high technical demands. To participate, one has to have enough technical know-how, a laptop camera, and access to the Internet. According to a study from Barco, the tools Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Skype dominate in the context of videoconferencing. We mostly use Teams because this application is very customer friendly. n our experience, it can be difficult with this tool to get a chance to speak without interrupting others. Delays in broadcasting can cause interference with communication and uncomfortable overlaps. These are especially fatal if a person experiences a bad Internet connection.
Sometimes less the connection, but rather the audio is problematic. Audio problems are oftentimes exhausting because one has to ask continuously what was said. As a speaker, one is not aware of how the audio appears to others. It is possible that the bad audio quality causes a person to become unintelligible. Additionally, the environment has an influence on the video experience. For example, we had construction work done in front of our office, which caused a lot of noise and was fatal for videoconferencing and phone calls. It is especially annoying if someone in such a noisy environment does not mute his microphone when someone else is speaking. Thereby, the speaker is disturbed, and his understandability is decreased for all participants. In such a situation it helps to point it out to the respective person.
Client-specific blended consulting
Of course, the efficiency of the meeting always depends on the preparation on both sides. In an on-site setting as well as in a videoconference, one has to decide prior to the meeting what exactly they want to say to prevent misunderstandings. Additionally, this helps to structure the meeting. Thereby, a precise formulation is much more purposeful than the listing of vague mental leaps.
In our case,the matter of expense is particularly relevant because we work with a lot of startups. Especially when working with smaller companies, we have to deliberate about whether a physical meeting is necessary. It is important to discuss whether the general and price expenditures are worth it or whether a videoconference is sufficient. In our opinion, it is profitable to have a physical meeting if important or complex concerns or elaborate plans for the future are discussed. In contrast, for updates or short exchanges, the format of chat, telephone, mail, or video is entirely satisfactory.
Thus, it is the mixture of different consulting types that facilitates an ideal customer contact. Tools such as Teams, Skype, telephone, emails, and chats offer many different opportunities and possibilities. We believe that at least the first meeting should be held in person. Nevertheless, the different meeting types complement each other. Sometimes the circumstances make it impossible to hold a meeting on-site. A company has to be flexible and meet its customers halfway. It is profitable to support the physical meeting with different communication channels and adapt your offers to the communicative behavior of your customers. Simultaneously, one has to take into consideration that online coaching becomes more and more important. Hence, it makes sense to supply oneself with necessary technological utensils that enable and simplify videoconferencing, such as a webcam, headset, and a good Internet connection.