You know him, and you don’t know him at all. I’m referring to that client of yours who you’ve been dealing with over the last couple of months. In an average week, you spend more time communicating with him than your best friend. Yet you have no idea what he looks like, or even what his voice sounds like.
Sure, in the 1,200 emails you’ve traded back and forth you’ve picked up on some quirky personality traits (he has a penchant for using semicolons and unnecessary exclamation points), but at the end of the day he only really exists to you as black words on a white background. All this suits you just fine, until one day it hits you: that’s all you are to him as well. And we all know how simple it is for words to be, well . . . deleted.
It’s easy to watch an episode of “Mad Men” and romanticize the bygone era of personal business relationships, when meetings were conducted over a giant plate of oysters and enough stiff drinks to give a gorilla alcohol poisoning. However, there’s a certain elemental truth that will never go out of style: no amount of technology can ever replace the power of genuine human connections.
Let’s examine a few ways you can help nurture your personal connections in an age where flesh and blood has been replaced by micro-chips and data.
Pick up the phone
Chances are, the last time you had a birthday you received several texts, Facebook messages, and emails. But how many people in your life took the time to call you on the phone? Chances are, the ones who did left a lasting impression.
While you may once have been able to get away with the excuse that the cost of long-distance service is a budget-breaker, such cost-effective options as VoIP for businesses have rendered that concern null and void. Don’t allow yourself to become just another message in your client’s inbox. Stand out as the rare voice on the other end of the line.
Ever get an evite for a birthday party, even though you told the host that you’re going out of town for the weekend? The kindness of the invitation is completely negated by the fact that your friend simply didn’t listen to you. Unbeknownst to them, you find yourself muttering irritatedly under your breath about their thoughtlessness for the next few days.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but paying attention to the details of your clients’ lives will go a long way toward fostering a connection based on trust and respect. This can be as simple as waiting until a little later in the day to email them if you know they had to take the red-eye the night before, or it can mean responding to them promptly because you’ve noticed that they are always lightning-quick at getting back to you. Small gestures, but each one will add up over time and eventually pay off with a far more textured and rewarding relationship than most of us have come to expect.
Go the extra mile
Every holiday season we’re inundated with cards. It’s one of the few times that we all take the time to reach out to the people we care about. Yet even here, these acts have the quality of appearing routine, as most of the cards we receive are likely to have a simple “Happy Holidays” or “Wishing You a Happy New Year” written hastily inside.
All the friendliness and care has a tendency to blend into the background, because we know that the card-giver probably wrote the same thing in everyone else’s card. But every once in a while, you get that card with a sentence or two that’s written specifically to you . . . and that’s the one that goes up on your refrigerator.
Ultimately, there is no greater way to instill a much-needed dose of humanity into your business relationships than by taking time out of your life to go one or two steps further than required. You want to make the “refrigerator cut,” so to speak, in your client’s mind. Take 30 seconds every now and then to go the extra mile, and those seconds will add up to a relationship that is measured in years.
Remember: The technology in our lives is meant to enrich our relationships, rather than overwhelm our relationships. That’s something to keep in mind the next time you’re staring at all those black words on your computer screen.