Customers. Covid. Connection: Key to surviving the pandemic

Trevor Evans at Consenna focuses on the challenges the channel faced in the shift to remote/hybrid working and the need to strike the right balance to address customer needs.

Customers. Covid. Connection. Every team, every leader and every quota-chasing salesperson will have mentioned those three words in the same sentence hundreds, upon hundreds of times since March 2020. The new three ‘Cs’ for growth in the channel. We’ve been told to ‘adapt’; to find a ‘new normal’; to evolve to hybrid working. Worst of all, we’ve been told that this is what ‘customers’ expect. The channel is overwhelmed with opinions on surviving the pandemic. Most advocating new styles, approaches, or language; others suggesting that face-to-face engagement is forever lost, that the future is now digital, and we must live it, or drift into irrelevance. We’re persuaded everything has changed and whilst each view is legitimate and no doubt sincere, I profoundly disagree.

Lots has changed in how we run our business, but nothing has changed in the purpose of our business. Importantly, nothing has changed in what customers expect, so surviving the pandemic should not be about adapting to changes in customer expectations. It’s about delivering on the only strategy proven time and again to prevail, upholding trust. Those who see hybrid working as an opportunity to cut corners, or compromise on impact in the guise of efficiency, are in their competitors’ sights.

Upholding trust is entirely compatible with change and continuous improvement. That is precisely how the best get better, how challenger businesses emerge and thrive, and how reputations are built.

I meet lots of people offering me help – they want me to trust them. I also meet a lot of people I’d like to help – I want them to trust me. Mostly these remain virtual meetings and this is where I depart from many others advocating new styles. The fundamentals of building trust are established within a few seconds of any engagement, be it virtual or physical. I wouldn’t expect to attend a customer meeting without an agenda, objectives, a punctual start, a well-managed timely close, minutes promptly following. The virtual world should be no different.

So how can it be right that some see virtual meetings as license to lower the bar? No agenda, a late arrival, an unkempt appearance, or even a camera left off? To make light of their device being slow, their camera broken, bandwidth insufficient or a phone exhausted of charge? That isn’t remote working or the ‘new normal’. It’s poor preparation; it’s lazy and complacent. Customers know that, competitors know that; nothing has changed.

I was taught to send an agenda at least 24 hours in advance and verify timings; to plan my journey; and to turn up early. To research attendees and always be prepared. These things really matter and, thankfully, they’re still exhibited by many across the channel. In the virtual world nothing has really changed: I’m early, my computer is charged, in standby mode, application open, presentation loaded – the meeting is underway within seconds. It starts and concludes on time; notes are taken; and actions agreed. Minutes are, of course, distributed promptly. Nothing has changed.

Irrespective of format, the customer absolutely feels and sees the same investment into planning, preparation and understanding. They’ve been treated no differently, and nothing has changed.

But, of course, in a remote workplace professional and personal lives collide. We’re told customers are tolerant of punctuality lapses; of technology glitches; of appearances and meeting etiquette. Some may even ‘understand’ that meetings may be paused to accept a delivery or feed a pet: it’s just how life is now.

Really? How do customers feel knowing, for that short moment in time, your attention is focused elsewhere? It’s all avoidable with a little thought and preparation. Remember: those customers may well be juggling the same collision of home and work. It wouldn’t happen physically; it shouldn’t be accepted virtually.

So why then have some resellers released long-standing, seasoned sales leaders in preference for home-based teams with no expectation of physically meeting anyone anymore? They are betting their business on being purely virtual. They are making choices about what is right for their business, not customers. If they are right, precisely the same habits that build trust physically, are still needed in the virtual world. If they are wrong, well… they’ll soon realise the enormous choice customers have across the channel.

As the ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ worlds increasingly collide, those in the channel must remember that customer need always precedes our need. The only long-time proven customer retention and acquisition strategy is to uphold trust. What we do, what we say, how we conduct ourselves, how we make people feel – these all matter as they always have. There is no distinction between physical, hybrid or remote worlds when it comes to excellence. The bar has not been lowered – customers know that; competitors do too. We exist to serve customers through care and empathy. That is our choice. How they are served, when, and by whom is theirs.

Customers. Covid. Connection. The mechanism in which those three words are used together has certainly changed. The purpose has not. Excellence is a habit. Nothing has changed.

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