Being relevant can be powerful, but it will require you to put down your devices and actively engage with those around you.
No doubt you have been in meetings and looked around the room and noticed multiple people with their heads down, staring at their smartphones instead of actively participating. There was a time when this would have been considered just plain rude, but now we take it as a cultural norm.
Statistics indicate that the current average daily usage of smartphones exceeds five hours and that number is only increasing. Of that time, less than 25 percent is related to phone calls and that number is decreasing. And before we blame all this on the millennials, the numbers are not radically different when you consider age.
We are increasingly separating ourselves physically from our clients and relying on non-verbal means to communicate with our clients. What can possibly go wrong? So how can you assure client interaction, satisfaction, and retention when the world is swirling with digital communications that everyone deems more important? In short, how can you stay relevant?
- Recognize demographic and cultural differences. Just like one size does not fit all, you should recognize that the approach to gain and maintain relevance with your clients will vary. What works for a jaded 20-something urbanite who talks in legalese may not work for a weathered West Texas rancher who conducts all business based on a handshake.
Being relevant requires being aware of these cultural, social, and professional differences, and focusing on what matters most by being willing to embrace those differences. It requires you to be a bit of a chameleon as you need to adapt to your surroundings. The only way to successfully do that is to be focused on the moment and the people.
- Focus on engagement. Engagement should be evaluated holistically and include professional, social, or community-based aspects of your client relationship. You need to understand what matters most to your clients, both external and internal, in these different spheres of interaction. The only way to do that is to be involved in some of those same activities. And true involvement rarely occurs through technology. When was the last time you attended a fun “virtual” party?
- Choose multiple ways to communicate. Text messaging may be quick, but does it create a relationship? Does it enable you to enjoy a deeper understanding of your client’s expectations and needs? Are these virtual conversations important or a waste of time?
For me, face time and phone time are the most important in building strong relationships. But these forms of connection require more effort and commitment. However, once you connect, the conversations you have can unearth important feedback and help to create long-term relationships that benefit you and your firm.
- Be accessible. This is probably the hardest but most impactful way to remain relevant. Your peers may seek input because of your experience, your network, or your friendship. You may be asked to be a sounding board for things that matter to others. You may be engaged as a mentor, coach, or volunteer to provide support to your team, your clients, or your community.
Your time is your most valuable personal asset as it is finite, but it can also be the most valuable gift to others. You must decide to what extent you will be accessible. In my experience, the gifts of my time in both personal and business activities have been repaid many times over.
- Create a partnership relationship. I have a healthy ego, but there are times when I need to be a good partner, take a second seat, and actively listen and accept other viewpoints. If you must always be right, or the center of attention, you will not accomplish anything. Developing meaningful partnerships ensures long-term and satisfying relationships provided you are willing to give and share information which holds value for both parties. Of course, this must be a two-way street because reciprocal effort is at the heart of good partnerships.
- Do not retreat. Whatever you do, do not use technology as a shield. If you have an issue in the office, on a project, or with an employee, do not hide behind voicemail, an email , or a text message to avoid the issue at hand. In times of crisis, those who are remembered and lauded are those who run toward the problem, not those who run away.
To sum it up: Being relevant can be powerful, but it will require you to put down your technology and actively engage with those around you. Those who see you as willing to help and support them will also find a way to reciprocate. By setting the example of recognizing and engaging others within your firm, you can help elevate your entire firm to bring greater relevance to your client base. And if you find this article meaningful, please set up a client lunch to discuss it instead of just clicking “forward” on your email.
Stephen Lucy is CEO of JQ with offices in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Lubbock and San Antonio, Texas. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.