Wilson says inviting someone to lunch or golf won’t forge a bond as strong as face-to-face connection to discuss business issues and ways to partner. “It is no longer about entertaining. People don’t have time for that. This is about your team thinking about your client’s business as if you were their CEO.”
Going forward, the challenge for service providers appears to be a new generation of staffers who look to technology to boost productivity and service multiple clients at a time from their tablets and smartphones. Often, they just don’t see face time or travel, even local travel, as necessary when they can get in front of their clients electronically, through e-newsletters, social media, Skype, WebEx and text messages.
Even business etiquette expert Barbara Pachter, author of the upcoming Essentials of Business Etiquette, says personal meetings now are considered less necessary. “A 10-minute phone call to catch up is OK. Particularly if you’re doing your job well and the client is happy.”
Yet, the clients themselves see the value of human interaction as they service their customers. In a new American Express survey of 200 U.S. CFOs and senior financial executives found that face-to-face meetings are the No. 1 reason their companies invest in business travel — both to build new business and retain current business.
Jorge Herrera, a former corporate attorney, travels often as he works with his partner, Jack Locke, to build his Miami-based company, Nopetro, a compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquified natural gas (LNG) provider. Nopetro recently opened the first CNG and LNG fueling station in the East Coast in Tallahassee and plans on opening more in Florida. Herrera finds personal contact critical to develop client rapport and new business.
Because he travels often, Herrera says once he establishes a relationship with his service providers, he is comfortable doing business by email. However, the more business he gives a provider, the more effort he expects them to make to see him in person. “If they don’t make that contact, there’s not much distinction between them and a competitor besides price.”
Going forward, Fernandez wonders if future generations and the firms that employ them understand that risk. “How can you groom the next generation of rainmakers if they haven’t been trained to practice those in-person relationship building skills with existing clients?
But maybe it just won’t be an issue, he says. “The customers of tomorrow may have different expectations. Today we want trust and that comes from personal interaction.”
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit worklifebalancingact.com..