Holiday time can bring you in contact with customers or clients you may not see the rest of the year. But if you’re expecting to be greeted with cheer you may be surprised.
Frustrated business owners and senior executives say they are turned off by being the customers of a service provider who communicates mostly by email.
Although that type of communication is efficient, a CEO recently told me, “I see them as a commodity — faceless and easy to replace.”
More often, executives complain, they have never even met face to face the actual person on their account — a lawyer, accountant, account executive — leaving them asking: Is this the new way of doing business?
Alejandro Fernandez, a senior executive at a Florida industrial parts company, says he hasn’t seen a few of his service providers all year and won’t let that happen again in 2013.
“I’m not saying I need to go to lunch with you every day but if I’m dealing with you for a year, come out and meet me,” he says. “How do they know all the issues they could be addressing if they are just answering the question I ask?”
Of course, business owners and high level managers are busy, and many time-pressed clients even will say they prefer texting to emails or calls.
Michelle Eisner, chief HR and talent officer with Hollander Home Fashions in Boca Raton, says she knows and trusts the initial contact at the law firm she uses, but spends much of her time working with attorneys there she has never met — and that’s OK with her as long as they are “responsive” and their email communication is “short and to the point.”
Eisner says she travels often and even getting her on the phone is challenging. “I want to work with someone who is able to put a decision or opinion in writing and feel comfortable with that.”
But workplace experts say don’t mistake an interest in efficiency for lack of interest in face-to-face interaction.
Jeff Connally, president and CEO of CMIT Solutions, provides information technology services to small business and has 135 offices, including one in Miami. Connally visits his customers a minimum of once a quarter and requires his franchisees do the same. He attributes the company’s high retention of customers to the on-site visits. “We think it’s vital because people do business with people they know and trust.”
Connally says the visits open the door for cross-selling opportunities that email communicators miss out on. His managers will analyze calls that come into the help desk and bring ideas to the client. Visiting in person allows him to understand the company culture, management style and business needs. “As we listen, we find opportunities to deepen the relationship.”
Consultant Jerry Wilson, a recently retired board-elected senior vice president of the Coca-Cola company, recommends knowing how and why to ask a senior executive for face time. “You need to understand the valid business reason. If you’re just asking someone to lunch to plug your company, that can be seen as a time waster and that hurts relations. Also, meeting with a client to ask “how are we doing?” will be seen as a time waster, he says. Instead, do some homework first and bring ideas for how you can help them grow their business or tackle a concern. “That shows a CEO you care about the relationship.”