01 February 2021
Expansion & Improvement
Whatever business you are in, 2020 will have been a tough year and the start of 2021 is no different. We have lived through ten months of a pandemic, huge business uncertainty and the challenges of having most of your staff working from home and communicating via Zoom and Teams calls.
However, although video technology has helped us to stay in touch, it is not always the most productive, or personal, medium for keeping in contact with your staff, customers or your advisers. Sometimes face to face communication is just better. Andy Jepson outlines his belief in the power of ‘walking and talking’ and explains why a socially distanced walk in the open air in accordance with government regulations is one way to build a more trusted and open relationship.
The challenge of face to face communication during a pandemic
Normally, I am a big “meeter and greeter” and I always have been. I will have a coffee with clients, even if it is five or ten minutes and we just have a quick catch-up. I did that a great deal prior to Covid, so when lockdown happened, the restrictions and limitations really hampered my usual way of communicating with clients. Because Haines Watts London had Covid procedures in place, I did come into the office once we could, and I did the Microsoft Teams and Zoom thing.
However, for me it is too formal and too regimented and you always seem to be being ‘fitted in’ around other video meetings, as people are so busy. It just does not do it for me. I have a relationship with clients and that is my USP, and this has made things very difficult.
The importance of proper human relationships
I knew something was needed to allow better for communication. I work with owner-managers that I like, so these people are more than clients – they’re people I know, who trust me and who want to ask my opinion on their business issues and value that opinion etc. During the first lockdown a few clients started to come in, once we could, and we would meet face to face in coffee shops.
The idea for ‘walking and talking’ sprang from there and I encouraged staff to come back in and meet clients in a safe environment if they felt comfortable. Relationships are always king for me, and what clients buy into is ‘me’ and my expertise. That requires an open and valued relationship, and you just do not get that rapport over Teams and other video mediums.
Technology is helpful but it does not have a personality, and everyone still wants that human interaction. The modern age may be great, but we do not like it so much when we have a customer complaint and are put through to an AI call centre – at the end of the day, we all want to communicate with a real person. That is certainly, what I believe.
The value of walking and talking
Going for a socially distanced and compliant walk with clients has really worked well. I have always had those informal relationships with clients and half the time it is just general chitchat and that is where you really do find stuff out about them and their business. I do not charge for this time and that has always made people more relaxed. When the clock is ticking, people know that they are spending money, but on an informal chat they tend to open up more, let you in and keep you in the loop re their business issues.
The Covid rules have changed constantly and people are getting fed up with it, so I started doing the client walks to get around this. I do not do formality on these chats, and we never talk just about business. These are people I like and who trust me – and that is so important. I have not had to convince anyone so far and have had many people phoning me up to go for a walk. They want an excuse to do something healthy and safe, but still be able to chat.
The need for real human contact
The mental health impact of lockdown has been intense and its getting worse. People want real contact and you do not get that on Zoom. I would always rather have an old-fashioned phone call over a video meeting. I do use text and WhatsApp, so, generally, texts, phone calls and face-to-face meetings are my primary ways of communicating. However, rarely video these days and only where necessary.
The overriding USP I have as an advisor is the personal level of my relationship with the client – and my clients love that. It is about being a human being really. Therefore, I will travel to them, and they know they will not get charged. It is about building and nurturing that relationship.
WeWalk – let’s walk and talk!
I think, sadly, the majority of people will be working from home for some time in 2021, especially in the bigger companies. Zoom and Teams will get better and more refined, and I know that some of the younger people in my team do love video tech.
However, for me, there has to be a better option – and that has been walking with clients and getting back to basics. I call it ‘WeWalk’ and it has been a real bonus for me in these challenging times. People will say stuff on a walk that they would not do in a video meeting. It is so easy to do, and it does not have to be about work. It is just a walk, a chat and a way to catch up and shoot the breeze. It is about going back to basics and making the most of the ways we can communicate as people.
Some of the things the tech can do is great, but it is not the end goal – it is just a means to get us talking, and I really want us to get back to walking, talking and building those trusted relationships. It needs to be done all within the constraints of current government guidelines and regulations. TRY IT, YOU MAY LIKE IT!