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As we enter the holiday season and the pandemic surges across the United States, plans for a return to some semblance of “normal” by early 2021 seem dashed. A more realistic timeline has many now hoping that by next year’s holiday season we’ll have the much-awaited return to normal.

Furthermore, as we approach a full year of dealing with COVID-19 and adjusting to the pandemic, it’s easy to let down our guard and succumb to the exhaustion. As the Wall Street Journal reported in October, pandemic fatigue is real, especially as we yearn for more human connection.

This need for connection is crucial for businesses as well because so many companies provide services to their clients and customers. A great many business models are built, in part, are cultivating strong relationships with customers.

Challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated a number of changes that were already taking place in how and where businesses work. This article is the fourth in a five-part series about the ongoing evolution of offices and what businesses can do to adapt and succeed. The uncertainty unleashed this year has been harrowing for many businesses, but there are opportunities to grow amidst all the disruption. The first part of the series focused on employee communication while the second part examined physical office spaces and how they’re changing during the pandemic. The third part of the series explored how businesses can adjust their office and work policies to reflect our new reality. In this fourth section, we turn to maintaining relationships with clients, especially remotely.

The end of the year is an ideal time for a collective reminder about the necessity of adapting customer experience during a pandemic. As McKinsey & Company consultants noted in an April 2020 paper, care and creative thinking can actually forge stronger connections with customers.

In my experience, three lessons are particularly important and revolve around communication and bolstering relationships, even if from afar.

Communication is Key

As with so much, communication is crucial. Many organizations focused a great deal of energy and effort on enhanced communications as the pandemic first emerged and spread in the beginning of the year. Don’t let up on those initiatives now. If the frequency and substance of your communication has decreased in recent months, consider reengaging with customers at the end of the year. It’s a natural time to share updates about your business and your plans in 2021. It’s also a nice time to check in and say hello.

The holidays offer a chance to reconnect and reestablish consistent communications. Customers, particularly older clients, are continuing to stay at home and many will not see their family for the holidays. This isolation could be a welcome opportunity for a call to wish them happy holidays and check in.

When communicating with clients, it’s important not to make many assumptions either. To ensure you’re reaching them where and when they want, don’t forget to ask about their comfort level with video calls. They may have been excited about Zoom in April, but a phone call is preferable now (or vice versa).

As we all look ahead to more months of social distancing, consistent communication will remain vital. Ultimately, the best advice is to “Communicate, communicate, communicate.”

Make Digital or Distanced Connections Work

Remote meetings have become standard in 2020 and that’s unlikely to change even after vaccines are approved and distributed. These remote meetings and video calls often require extra preparation, for good reason. When meeting with a client or customer remotely, consider their perspective. It can be more difficult to stay engaged and focused. Therefore, you should take it on yourself to proactively anticipate and mitigate those challenges. How?

Practice the meeting in advance so you’re fully prepared and don’t have to reference your notes too frequently. Looking down at notes creates a break in the engagement and can be hard to recover. Also, consider shorter meetings to reduce Zoom fatigue and maximize focus for the time you have.

If you have customers who are comfortable with socially distanced meetings in person, get creative. Instead of sitting far apart at a large conference table, perhaps you can meet outdoors (weather permitting). Another option is to cover as much material via email in advance so the in-person meeting provides time to focus on the most pressing issues and gives you an opportunity to strengthen your personal relationship.

Don’t Forget the Personal Touch

An important business lesson that’s been true for generations should not be forgotten during the pandemic. That lesson is that relationships matter. Even if we’re not together as often as we’ve been in the past, people like to work with people they like.

Professionals would be wise to remember the value of the personal touch, especially during challenging times. For example, send emails to clients and customers with interesting or funny news stories. Think about what they might like and engage with. As a financial planning firm, we help clients better understand and manage their money. With so many kids still learning from home, our team thought it would be fun and helpful to launch a personal finance game for kids. Clients loved it! They recognized the value in the game and our team’s desire to support them in unexpected ways. How can you connect with and help your clients in a manner that will surprise and delight them?

Sometimes that personal touch is as simple as understanding what they like. When talking with customers, ask them what books they’re reading or what they’re watching. Do they have a favorite sports team? When you see something that would connect with them, share it.

We’re all looking for new books to read, podcasts to listen to, and shows to watch. Don’t be afraid to share some of your personality with clients and customers. Consider a blog post or email with highlights of what you’re reading and watching. You may find a common interest with a client. At the very least, you’re reinforcing a personal connection.

Finally, if budgets allow, send a small gift to customers and clients. This gesture is a great way to keep them engaged and let them know you are thinking of them.