The Human Touch
By Diane Krakra
I had a rough wake-up call last month. As the principal of a small consulting firm, it's the worst kind of wake up call – one that hits your bank account. I must admit, I now see we got complacent during the five years of boom economy. Dare I even say we got lazy, which seems obviously wrong in our current economy? We were relying on the impersonal but effective and efficient means of email and voicemail to manage our client relationships. We became slaves to convenience and electronic means of interaction, instead of taking the time and flights to see our clients face to face.
The wake-up call happened last month when our long-time and most profitable client sent us an RFP. A request for proposal. I nearly died. We hadn't been subjected to a bid situation with this client for more than three years. Typically, we just discussed the client needs and presented a proposal and received a PO. Now, we were lumped in with all our other competitors, fighting for the opportunity to work with our best client. We had lost our advantage. We had lost our relationship.
What we forgot, and what I believe is missing in today's business, is the spark of human-to-human connection. A matrix of email, cell phones, faxes, voicemail, Blackberrys, instant messenger, MSN, CNN, web sites and portals, keeps us connected to data, but disconnected from each other. Somehow during the crazy pace of life during the dot-com boom, we lost each other. In the dot-com times of 18-hour workdays, short runways and sky high corporate evaluations we lost the human touch in favor of corporate speed and efficiency.
I believe we're lost in the matrix of constant fixation to data and information and we're losing the ability to relate to others as human beings, even in business. Would the corporate, political and personal scandals be as prevalent today if we were more personally engaged and connected with people? For example, would Ken Lay have been able to jilt his suppliers and customers out of billions of dollars if he had a personal connection to them? As humans, we are better able to keep each other in check when we have face-to-face contact.
Business is about relationships. People buy from people. Corporations don't buy from other corporations – at the end of purchasing cycle, there's a human purchasing goods and services. We need to get the human touch back into our business relationships. We need to build relationships with our customers, suppliers and partners. Get to know the people you do business with, as people. What do they like to do when they aren't working? Do they have children, hobbies, beliefs?
Getting to know the people you do business with will increase trust, open communications and build a deeper relationship that can withstand the winds of a shaky economy. When you invest a little time in getting to know the people you are doing business with, you are investing in the longevity of your own business. When you care about the people who purchase and use your product, you end up developing products that serve a purpose, answer a need and actually get people who want to come back for more. There will always be Enrons because people are human and deal daily with human flaws like power, greed, control, etc. However, by communicating one-on-one with your customers and suppliers, you might have a hand in limiting these incidents.
I'm not suggesting we trash our addiction to information or automated systems to gather data. I happen to like the efficiencies of banking through a web portal. Nor am I advocating we go back to Mayberry, USA where everybody knows everybody's personal business. I'm simply suggesting we are missing human-to-human touch in life, and establishing that contact in our business relationships is a good place to start.
Here are three easy things you can do to increase your human touch with business mates, customers, suppliers, and channel partners.
1. Pick up the phone. Instead of emailing or instant messaging a colleague, pick up the phone and call them. Listen to their voice. You can learn a lot about a person's mood and intentions in the tone of their voice.
2. Take someone to lunch. Or breakfast, or coffee or a cocktail. Long gone are the days of social business lunches. Most people eat lunch tethered to their desk – if they eat at all. Unplug from voicemail, email and instant messenger. Leave your Blackberry and cell phone in your drawer and go have a human-to-human experience. It just might lift your spirits and re-energize you for the rest of your business day (and night).
3. Ask someone else about himself or herself. Seriously inquire about the other person, instead of just going through the motions as a means to an imminent sale. Do a favor for someone – we could all use a helping hand these days.
We at Amazon Consulting took our wake up call seriously and started to change the way we work with clients and partners. We got on planes and in cars and met with our clients, prospects, partners and vendors face-to-face. We re-structured our business model to encourage face-to-face meetings, moving away from hourly billings. We also worked extremely diligently to put a personal touch back into our relationship with our major client. We responded to the RFP, won on our past performance and are putting the human touch back into this relationship.
Ask yourself, where can I increase the human touch in my business dealings? Because that's where you can develop a relationship that could lead to a friendship, a referral or even a sale.
About the Author
Diane Krakora is President & CEO of Amazon Consulting,consulting firm based in Silicon Valley, dedicated to helping high tech clients increase profitability by effectively developing and leveraging partners. For more information on Amazon Consulting, please visit http://www.amazonconsulting.com.
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