Andrew Smith (Creative Director, A-Vision) speaks to EVCOM about how working with clients has transformed over the pandemic. He draws on his wealth of experience working with US clients to talk about how to develop relationships with clients virtually, and where to use virtual and physical interactions to make the most of their positives.
It seems our only constant is change and each change brings with it a ‘new norm’.
As we come out of Covid restrictions to a new normal of how we interact with clients, we perhaps also need to understand how transactions that were predominantly 30 mins and done over Teams or Zoom have benefitted or suffered.
Being a part of the board of EVCOM for nearly 15 years I have seen the struggles and needs of the Live Events and Film companies in our sector: what our overlaps are and where we thrive. I have always felt the one thing we ‘sell’ or do is not the staging of a live event or the making a film as such but more a relationship, which allows us to convince the client that whatever they invest in will be delivered on time, on budget and work – hopefully beyond their brief.
This is a complex relationship the epicentre of which is trust. They need to trust that we understand their brand, trust that we understand their goals etc.
But perhaps what A-Vision has done over the past 15 years is interesting. I have seen many companies look to the US and see potential expansion. Whether that is because of the size and scale of the market, or because of the opportunity created by the fact that there is not as such a ‘corporate film industry’ in the US. Most companies from our sector who have opened business in the US have done it by planting a flag on US soil.
What we did was different. We did not open a US office, instead everything was remote. We played to the advantage that resource was cheaper in the UK, we used time zones to our advantage and we developed relationships and trust with each client as an individual.
Corporate culture globally is cuts and thrust, but this is pushed to new levels in the US. There is a ‘sacking’ culture there way beyond that of Premiership Football managers, and we are always aware that the decisions that our main contacts make could easily render them fired and without a healthcare package. That is how brutal the culture is.
So how do you achieve that level of trust, empathy and engagement with a client – virtually? Well, I am not sure you can, but I do feel what you can do is combine two worlds and have them play to their advantages. The physical and the virtual – the physical for empathy and emotional connection and virtual for time expedience.
This is highlighted more as we move from a transactional culture where the value lies in delivering ‘everything now’ to more of an experience driven economy. Whether we realise it or not we are selling experience, and we also need to realise that our client interactions should reflect and connect with an experience culture too.
One of the most important things in order to maintain and build relationships with your clients is showing your empathy to them and humanising the relationship. Indeed, to build trust, companies should communicate more meaningfully than ever before, with emotional intelligence, care and honesty. The focus on humanisation becomes more important for remote communications. We now need to take the time to make sure the human connection – which comes so naturally in physical interactions – remains in virtual one, so we don’t lose this emotional connection as we develop relationships.
One challenge in developing and maintaining relationships is eye contact. Psychologists deem good eye contact key to making human connections, and video conferencing does not allow you to do this. Research has also shown that some people cannot help but stare at their own image in video calls. Suffice to say however much we feel connected in a video call – we never are. So let’s be honest about this. We may think we are connected but our eyes tell a different story
According to www.fastcompany.com, many client facing professionals say there are positives and negatives to remote engagement. 67% say it’s harder to “read the room” in video calls and therefore anticipate problems or relationship pain points.
How many times have we been in a client approval for a film and had to watch 6 expressionless faces watch your beautiful, crafted work and genuinely feel every single person was playing a poker face? Reading the virtual room is not a skill I mastered during the pandemic!
Interestingly 83% of people from the same report say however, that technology has allowed them to be more dynamic, with content and video sharing at their fingertips. No longer do they have to “send it to the client later”. It was bad form to get your laptop out in a restaurant or bar. Now you can have focused conversations where assets are always on hand and permissible.
78% of the nearly 700 CEOs surveyed by PWC’s CEO Panel Survey agree that remote work is here to stay for the long term. While the recent pandemic threatened to strain business-customer relationships, communication and productivity, research on remote work performed by the career search site FlexJobs has shown just the opposite effect.
Perhaps it is that dichotomy that gives birth to the experience economy. Our human interaction needs to be real, perhaps short but highly connected and our virtual connection needs to be more transactional and respectful of time.
Nevertheless, when you are building trust with your client, don’t hesitate to use all the many existing channels available to us now, according to the situation. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or to have a chat instead of having endless email conversations. Meet your client in real life and take the time to discuss the subject, especially if it is more complicated or sensitive and requires more attention.
So, armed with my belief in the positives of virtual for time expedience and the importance of physical for emotional connection, I embark on one of my first trips back to the USA, 3 cities in 5 days – 4 presentations, several bars, 2 sporting events, 10 meetings, one very sore liver and hopefully a heap of great client relationships to come!