By Katrina Olson
Today, I had the pleasure of meeting with one of my clients in person. We had lunch at the famous (if you’re from Illinois or Indiana) Beef House Restaurant near Covington, Indiana. She lives in West Virginia, so over the past several months, we have been communicating by phone, email and text (except for a brief conversation in an elevator at a conference).
Now…I will preface this article by saying that I love digital communication—email, Facebook, texts, What’s App—I’m all in.
But there’s something special about connecting in person that can’t be replicated by digital technology. Dyann and I talked about our kids, our crazy families, animals, friends, hobbies, and so much more I can’t even remember.
We talked business for maybe 10 or 15 minutes—mainly because I asked for her input on my website revamp. We also discussed the upcoming National Association of Electrical Distributors AdVenture Conference in Chicago where we may visit again.
So what’s my point?
It’s easy to send an email, set up a Skype call, text, or Facebook message your friends, associates, or clients. But don’t do so at the expense of face-to-face interaction.
Social media is a convenient and efficient way to build relationships en masse—especially for marketing purposes. But if you really want to get to know someone, meet them in person.
When it comes to your clients, here are a few ways you can “connect” with your customers in person:
1. Host a Customer Advisory Council.
I recently facilitated one of these for a client. They had been hosting these one-and-a-half-day, focus group style customer meetings for about ten years, but only recently started using an outside facilitator. You’d be surprised what you’d learn when you buy them dinner, out them up in a nice hotel, and put them in a room with someone who truly wants to know what they think.
2. Meet up at conferences.
You’re already there! Take advantage of the opportunity to get to know each other on a deeper level and maybe discuss opportunities, plan for the future or work on a project.
3. Conduct live research.
Are you considering offering a new product or service? Before you go to the expense and trouble of launching, host a focus group to find out what your customers really want. I recently conducted two focus groups for a non-profit, youth services organization, and it changed the way they planned to offer a new service.
If your launching a product, let them try out and see how they like it. Watch them, ask questions, and take copious notes. Let them ask you questions. And while you have them, ask about existing services, too!
4. Get the team together.
Do you have a geographically distributed workforce? How often do you get the department heads or managers together to plan, strategize and share best practices? What? Never? Consider inviting key personnel to one of your locations for a combined workshop and planning session. It’s a great opportunity to learn something new and learn from each other.
Worth The Investment
Of course, it’s more difficult, expensive and time-consuming to arrange in-person meetings. But your customers will share things in person that they may not divulge in an email or text—especially if they can do so anonymously (which is why it’s important to use an outside facilitator). I’ve seen this feedback actually change the way companies do business.
Also people (especially for marketing people), are stimulated and energized by interacting in person. Creative people tend to feed off of each others’ ideas and energy. They’ll come up with solutions and strategies they would have never come up with working individually—especially when they’re trying to solve common problem or issue.
The Original Social Media
Sometimes my kids will ask if we have fruit snacks—you know, those chewy, rubbery blobs that come in the shape of animals or cartoon characters? And I tell them, “No, why don’t you have the original fruit snack?” (a.k.a. a banana or apple).
Again, I love digital and social media; I work with it daily. But sometimes, you need to use the “original social media.”
Katrina Olson is an award-winning advertising copywriter and creative director, marketing and public relations consultant, freelance writer, content developer, trainer/coach, former college professor, and principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website at katrinaolson.com.