In an increasingly digital world of social media – where marketing teams often gauge company success according to ‘likes’, ‘retweets’ and ‘comments’ on posts, we often forget the value people place on the personal touch.
Whilst ‘hard skills’ – training and qualifications – are easy to measure, ‘soft skills’ such as effective communication, insight and adaptability are not.
It is said that we are far more likely to remember events that fall on either end of the emotional spectrum – be it good memories or bad. The same can also be said of people. How many of us remember people we have come across in the world of business – but for all the wrong reasons?
Ultimately the foundations of any successful business are built on acquiring and, more importantly, keeping your customers. Businesses can reap the rewards of ensuring, as far as possible, that their customer or client-facing staff have those necessary soft skills. Good personal relationships in business are essential.
One of the most valuable skills that you can use is to actively, rather than passively, listen. We have all had those conversations where we notice the other person staring over our shoulder into the distance, glancing at their watch periodically or impatiently waiting for the point at which they can jump in with something more interesting. Awareness and understanding of these non-verbal cues is vital – not only because it demonstrates that the subject matter has ceased to be of interest to the meeting participant but because it will ensure that you yourself do not fall into the trap of appearing disinterested yourself when talking to others.
In all walks of life, especially business, people appreciate feeling valued. Ask questions of your client – and by ensuring you actively listen, their responses will not only give you an invaluable insight into their business, but you will learn how they like to work, their company ethos and what makes them tick.
The art of conversation is another skill that cannot necessarily be taught, and we have all been in situations where it has been sadly lacking – be it through awkward silences or one-sided conversation-hoggers. Showing a genuine interest in your client is always appreciated – by remembering, for example, their favourite hobby or interest, food or holiday destination. I always find a shared sense of humour goes a long way.
Also remember that as the saying goes, ‘time is money’ so don’t outstay your welcome. If you arranged a two-hour meeting, don’t stay for three unless you’ve agreed that it is OK to overrun.
In the event that things don’t go to plan and you are faced with a complaint, try to understand how the situation arose and what has caused the dissatisfaction. Most people appreciate being listened to and fraught situations can normally be turned around with understanding and the presentation of a planned solution. It’s not normally personal!
In the world of business where a large amount of communication is done via email which has no shade or tone, a warm handshake, friendly smile or engaging phone conversation can go a very long way.