How to preserve the personal touch in virtual settings

It’s an understatement to say a critical aspect of business is customer relationships. People engage to build trust, and engagement is done largely through face-to-face interactions.

However COVID-19 has affected the way we all do business, and my research has shown that trust can also be built in virtual settings. Here are four simple suggestions to help in this new era.

Maintaining face to face contact is important in business.
Maintaining face to face contact is important in business.Credit:Getty.

Maintain face-to-face through technology

If you have a small business or are an employee in any business, you’re going to have to embrace technology, now more than ever. A huge aspect of sales and relationship building is visual – people see you and you see them – so embrace video technology software. Get a subscription to Zoom, Skype or one of the other video services, jump on a free webinar to learn how it all works, and connect online.


Stay passionate

How you communicate your emotions online really matters, whether you’re a staff member talking to other staff or a sales manager communicating with customers. It’s easy to come across as flat over video, so remember to show passion through facial emotions, voice projection and hand signalling. Make an effort to get into a mindset where you choose to be enthusiastic, and project that in your online interactions. Yes, it’s a performance and you have to be up for it, particularly in these difficult times.

Give customers electronic things

Tap into your creativity and find ways to provide value for your customers online. For example, cafe owners could give simple Zoom-based cooking classes, or advice on how to make the perfect coffee. Architectural firms could hold webinars on design drawings. Keep customers “connected” to you and build affinity for your business through these online interactions. This includes offering deals for customers ordering online, which can be communicated via email, website announcements or store–front signs. By building loyalty using technology you might even increase your business by reaching more people.

Hygiene is now a primary product

Hygiene is the greatest concern at the moment. If your store or workplace is still open, explain to customers the extra measures you’re taking to keep things clean and hygienic, so they feel safe and more inclined to interact. For example, dental practices have exceptionally high hygiene standards. Dentists could allay the fears of their prospective clients by providing emails, or posting hygiene videos, that explain why dental surgeries are a safe environment. Businesses can also ensure social distancing measures are easy to follow by using visual signals, such as tape on the floor.

COVID–19 has caused us to rethink ways of building connections with customers. Don’t be afraid, the basic rules remain – embrace technology, show your passion, give customers things online and vigorously communicate your hygiene standards. These simple steps should help your chances of success in these difficult times.

Professor Prabhu Sivabalan is Associate Dean of External Engagement at UTS Business School.

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