Rethink the Customer Experience

Well now this seems obvious, doesn’t it? Like the divide between BC and AD, the au courant paradigm shift is Before Coronavirus and After Coronavirus. Navigating life and business will change in ways that we cannot necessarily anticipate.

It is safe to assume that our clients are anxious to get back to the office and into the driver’s seat, to work on generating profits. But it’s probably also safe to assume that clients are uncertain about how to make things happen again.

In the After Coronavirus world, their reliable golden touch business model may no longer make the cash register ring. What were once considered business best practices may no longer apply. There may be new public health regulations to follow, such as the number of employees who can work on site at a given time, or the number of customers who can enter the premises, all in observance of social distancing.

Many businesses have lost a great deal of money as they simultaneously paid employees, rent, insurance, utilities, software licensing fees and other fixed expenses. The owners/ leaders are relieved that the doors are open again but there can be confusion about what “open for business” will look like now, at least in the short term. Added to the list of worries may be the possibility that certain employees might continue to work from home until further notice and the impact that will have on productivity, work flow and team communication.

In the After Coronavirus business environment, nearly every operation will undergo a shakeout and no one can predict the length of that period or the needs of the business as the new normal unfolds. As a result, the client experience that your organization has dependably provided will have to shift in response. The usual benefits linked to the usual client touch points have already lost their relevance and luster.

As noted in previous posts, trust, dependability and communication will be among your most valuable intangible competencies and may I also suggest that you add good listening skills to your toolkit? Listening, empathy, trust, dependability, flexibility, agility and big-picture thinking are the qualities and skills that will help you to help your clients rebuild. Listen actively and figure out your strategy.

Face2face meetings I think will be most useful as you refresh client relationships, but there are also ways to make virtual meetings both fun and profitable.

Surprise and delight your client by adding a personal touch to a virtual meeting with a take out order that arrives 10 minutes before the meeting start time. Send over something tasty, be it afternoon tea complete with scones or gourmet pizza and Italian sodas. Deliver the same menu to yourself and your team. When the videoconference goes live, tah- dah! everyone will share a meal and a memorable experience, whether simple or elaborate.

Your services may also need to adapt to the new universe that your clients now inhabit, so do your best to customize your offerings. Furthermore, your usual payment payment schedule, if not the pricing itself, may need to be adjusted. While keeping an eye on one’s own revenue and cash-flow needs, do what is possible to encourage sales and make pricing attractive.

As your clients rebuild, they bring you with them. None of us will get through these trying times alone. Collaboration and cooperation are the way.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Bank of America office on Washington Street in Boston, MA 02111.

Your Technology Recovery Plan

We’ve been tethered to our tech devices over the past few weeks and they enabled our productivity in many ways. However, now that several states are in the process of cautiously discontinuing quarantine protocols, I think it’s time for us to rethink our heavy tech dependency. Too much of a good thing can lead to unfortunate consequences.

Unzip Zoom

I suspect that those who shifted from going to the office to working from home were particularly entangled in videoconference technology, which can eventually send team members into diminished productivity (or maybe just annoyance) if overdone. Well meaning managers inexperienced in the mechanics of leading an entirely remote team are known to hold many meetings and because videoconferencing technology exists, some managers will hold a (probably Zoom hosted) meeting every morning at 9:00 AM, for example, so everyone will be in the loop and, especially, the big bosses will know that your boss is getting the work done (or doing a good job at making it look that way!).

Despite the technology’s surging popularity, there is no need for every meeting to be a videoconference call. Audio only conference calls remain useful, especially when they are of less than 30 minutes duration. Furthermore, the matter at hand might be resolved in a two paragraph email. Resist the temptation to use video calls as your default communication tool because that’s not what it was designed to be.

Moreover, no one who is working from home should on a regular basis feel the need to assess the Home & Garden Magazine readiness of their home/ office space whenever they need to talk business. Not only that but your home may not have the best WiFi service. Your neighbors are also working from home, participating in videoconference meetings while their children are home schooling lessons on Skype or Google Hangout. Your internet signal could slow down or freeze up. Videoconferences are pressure and one does not always need to take it on to get the job done.

Physical over digital

As was discussed in the last post, suggest a face2face meeting with your VIP and arrange to have at least a beverage on the table when you meet. Oh, it’s been so long since we’ve been able to grab a coffee or whatever and sit down at a table and talk. Oh, how powerful that simple ritual is and how we took it for granted until it was gone!

Now that it is, or soon will be, within our grasp again, why not pay homage and invite a client you’re reconnecting with to meet you for ice cream now that warmer days are here? Surprise and delight!

Daily tech break

Rest your eyes and hunched shoulders and schedule two 30 minute tech tool breaks every day (unless you’re on project deadline). Believe it or not, taking a couple of short breaks during your work day is a time management technique that boosts energy, concentration power, creativity and productivity. We all need to periodically unplug and refresh ourselves physically, psychologically and emotionally because resting is necessary.

Pencil and paper

It’s also possible to walk one’s use of technology all the way back and periodically remind yourself of the charms of paper and pencil. The next time you (and your team or client, for that matter) need to brainstorm ideas or make a list, pull out a sheet of paper and a pen and write in longhand. Whether you’re in a face2face or videoconference meeting, don’t be afraid to go low tech old school every once in a while. You can use the white board in your office and plot a timeline in longhand. When you’ve completed it, take a picture with your phone and send it around. The raw, in the moment look of your notes will be the soul of creativity and authenticity.

Finally, you can cut back your screen time and reclaim the lost art of reading a physical book or newspaper. Every Sunday I buy the paper and read it in sections throughout the week. My eyes and brain appreciate the break; I enjoy it and find it relaxing.

Whenever I grab something to eat, I almost always also grab something to read as well. If I want to share an article with someone, I go online to find the link and copy/ paste, reminding myself that technology maintains its advantages.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark May 19, 2020. Office at Chase Bank 800 Boylston Street Boston, MA.

Bouncing Back

Can we at last peek out from under the covers and think about ending the shutdown and getting on with life and business? I certainly hope so! A few businesses are beginning to reopen, depending on local regulations, Apple, Microsoft and Panera Restaurants among them. The definition of reopening may be limited but a few small steps are being taken and more will join in soon.

In reality, Freelance consultants did not so much close down but either ceased or continued operations according to what clients were doing. Some of my clients temporarily closed because they could no longer function, as was the case with a well-known arts organization. Their twice-a-month live events abruptly ended and were last held in February.

Might local officials allow the group to reopen in September? When will their audience feel comfortable to return? Might the organization regain full capacity by Spring 2021?

Most of us intuitively know that a “new normal” is ahead of us and we don’t yet know what it will mean for business, whether our clients’ or our own. Resilience will be among the most valuable resources we Freelancers can bring to bear and we must call it up from within ourselves and learn how to apply it.

Honor your feelings

Are you frightened by the potential outcome of the shutdown, which is unprecedented in the history of the U.S. if not the world? Do you wonder if your Freelance entity will survive and how you’ll be able to support yourself if it collapses?

Being deeply concerned about the future viability of what you’ve built and its ability to sustain you in even the near term is only natural in light of what the national economy has been through. Whatever you’re feeling is normal for you. Acknowledge and own your emotions.

The only thing we cannot do is become paralyzed by fear. We are compelled to move forward because life demands it and our clients expect it. Constructive action is required and to fulfill expectations—-remember that meeting or exceeding expectations is the core of consulting—-Freelancers must tap into and magnify our ability to recover from setbacks.

Share your feelings with peers and mentors

Selectively share your worries and doubts, questions and potential answers, with those whom you trust and respect. Fear is a widely experienced emotion these days and you will find yourself in good company. Talking with others will make you feel supported and will give you the confidence to recognize and act on solutions and opportunities that will help you get back on your feet.

Get perspective

I grew up hearing my parents, aunts and uncles tell moving stories about the 50 year long polio epidemic which took a devastating toll on many countries. I heard about children being confined to the iron lung. I saw polio survivors, and be aware that the fatality rate far exceeded that of COVID-19 no matter how much the media plays it up, and the outcome was not pretty.

Polio nearly always severely crippled those that it did not kill. BTW, everyone went to work or school and the only social distancing that occurred was when my grandparents every so often would not allow my (eventual) parents and their siblings go to the movies or otherwise be in crowds.

I was myself in business during the 2009 Great Recession and I suffered. But failure was not an option. I found an under the radar, low wage part time job to help cash-flow and stayed on a rebuilding course.

I continued to post these columns weekly and found another site to post them on as well. In two years, my posts were featured on a national (and now international) digital publication whose target readers are female entrepreneurs and that gave me a nice title and a little money. I was resilient and you can do the same.

Prioritize

As I think about it, the most important thing that Freelancers can do to rebuild is to reestablish the trust, dependability and empathy that our clients need to know are present before they’re comfortable doing business with us again.

When a client who has recently reopened reaches out to you, rather than just trading emails why not suggest a meeting over lunch or morning coffee to set the stage for a real connection? Offer to meet them at a convenient restaurant, or arrange to bring in some food and drink (you’ll pick up the tab, of course).

Now you can discuss what it appears the new normal could mean for your client and his/ her relationship with their clients and how recalibrated expectations will impact what will be needed from you. Articulate your awareness of the fact that so much has changed thanks to the shutdown and your willingness to be creative, flexible and resourceful in formulating solutions that will position your client to regain, if not improve, market position.

Model resiliency in your thoughts and actions

Yesterday evening, I received an email from a woman who was born to a prosperous family, has a part-time grant sponsored job at an influential global not-for-profit organization and a good and talented husband. Yet, she sought me out for some apparently much-needed encouragement. What is so funny is that I’m just a Freelancer, unmarried and not well-connected, who’s trying to maintain middle class solvency in America. Still, this very affluent woman, who I love talking to BTW, calls me when she needs a little hand-holding.

In other words, I do what I can to bring resilience into my life and I’m willing to share the resource with friends and colleagues to help them sort things out when they need. On a regular basis I also practice self- replenishing rituals to keep my physical strength and positive mental energy flowing because burnout will make it all come crashing down. I encourage you to think about your own resilience, how you can strengthen and expand it and share it when necessary.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Panera restaurants are reopening for takeout only. This one is on Huntington Avenue near Symphony Hall.

Pandemic Home Office

There is an art to working from home and not everyone can master the craft. Before COVID-19 dominated our lives, working from home was not a government mandate, but a privilege for the traditionally employed and a practical adaptation for Freelancers. The traditionally employed considered the ability to work from home a valuable perk that became a point of negotiation in employment contracts and employee annual reviews.

Those who work from home save time and money associated with commuting. One can avoid at least some aspects of office politics and those impromptu meetings that might ruin one’s work schedule. As long as water, electricity, Wi-Fi and heat or AC are working, you’re good.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken away some of the work from home luster, I’m sorry to say. Working from home still eliminates the time and money associated with commuting but it now also means that you might share your workspace with roommates who are also working from home; roommates who are home but not working; an intimate partner who now works from home, or does not; and children who must be alternately home-schooled, entertained and refereed because school and all after-school activities are cancelled, which effectively means that your kids are at the office with you.

The work from home life has become a radically changed landscape, filled with potential landmines that threaten to upend your carefully cultivated office environment. The internet is slow and Skype is freezing up because too many people are streaming data. The noise level is distracting. Your once de facto private workspace is now crowded and people are barging in and asking where the peanut butter went. Working from home is starting to feel like an out-of-control co-working space and you hate it.

Guy Winch, Ph.D., a New York City psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid (2014) told the New York Times in April 2020 to “…establish office rules and get granular.”

‘What are our work hours?

Where do we go in the house when one of us needs to take a call?

Where will our individual work stations be?

Who keeps an eye on the kids and when?’

At the end of each day during the first week of following a work from home plan that you and household members create, Winch recommends that you all “Check in with each other and say something like, ‘Just in terms of being work colleagues, what worked for us today? What would we like to change? Was it useful for us to take a lunch break at the same time?’ “

Most of all, be mindful of the emotions involved as those at home work, or don’t work, study, or put on a brave face as they wonder what will happen to their job when it’s time to return to work. Below are a few tactics that will keep you in a good work from home groove.

1. Create an office space

If you are able to have a room in your home to use as an office space, you are fortunate. City dwellers might place a small desk or writing table in the corner of their bedroom. Keep your work space clean and organized, as recommended by feng shui experts and also the neatness guru Marie Kondo. Orderly and attractive environments put us in a good mood and that state of mind boosts energy, creativity, confidence and productivity.

2. Establish boundaries

Teach household members to understand that when you step into your office space, you are at work. You cannot referee spats; you cannot chat with your mother-in-law; you cannot drive anyone to the post office. Shut the door and work. Noise canceling headphones may be helpful. Encourage yourself to take regular coffee and lunch breaks. When possible, take your breaks off-site to give yourself a battery-charging change of venue.

3. Dress for success

The popular image of those who work from home is of someone who is in sweats or even a bathrobe all day. Remind yourself and those with whom you live that you are a professional who takes your work seriously. Shower daily, brush your teeth, comb your hair and dress for work, whether in business casual attire or jeans and T-shirt.

4. Keep regular work hours

Go to work every morning, Monday to Friday. You may have the luxury of starting your work day in mid-morning, after a 5 mile run or a bike ride that gives you a burst of energy or ending work in late afternoon to do your workout after close of business.

Of course if you’re tied to an office – based team, you must align your work hours accordingly and that includes the time zone. At least some will be able to allow either their biorhythms or projects on their desk guide the work schedule. Resist the temptation to be either a workaholic or a slacker.

5. Stay connected

Working from home is by its very nature isolating, although some thrive on the independence. Still, maintaining and creating your professional ties is important.

At least every two weeks, schedule a video chat with a colleague so that you’ll stay in the loop with what’s happening at the office if you happen to be a remote team member. Furthermore, participate in your team’s group conference calls that allow you to check in and stay abreast of front burner projects as well as get advance word about what’s on the horizon. Write reports that document your contributions to reaching project milestones and goals achieved.yo

Enhance your professional skills and listen to a (sometimes free!) webinar. Promote your thought leader status, showcase your expertise and expand your network when you present a webinar or become a podcast guest.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Co-working office spaces are available at WeWork in the (adjacent) neighborhoods of Fort Point and the Financial District in Boston, MA.