In the 21st century, everything is being automated. Computerized processes are assuming many aspects of business. But what about meetings? While they can take place within technological systems, should they? Does the human touch matter these days?
We all have meetings that are conducted over the phone, via video or teleconferencing, and using cloud-based software. Virtual meetings save time and money. No one has to fly in, get a hotel room, or even leave their desk. Only time zones have to be considered when it comes to scheduling. More people can participate because a virtual meeting takes up less time and space. Some companies use virtual meetings to facilitate energy-use policies, as they cancel the carbon footprint of air and car travel.
Virtual meetings save money. A good internet connection is critical, especially as the number of participants grows. Virtual meetings can be captured on video, with no cost for renting a venue or special equipment.
Virtual meetings are often the best way to contain costs around presenting proposals before a relationship has been established. They can also be a good way to launch a relationship with a new, out-of-town customer.
But people can also be distracted in virtual meetings, and technical glitches can be a problem. Those who depend on having a screen between them and the world will also favor virtual meetings. But that screen habit can lead to an actual aversion to eye contact, and depersonalization in communication. You don’t want to lose the ability to look customers and colleagues in the eye, and the opportunity for the trust that comes from personal interaction.
More and more often, face-to-face meetings are being reserved for more important touches, such as closing the deal. Is that a good idea?
Face-to-face meetings yield benefits of different dimensions. When you’re in the same room with someone, the conversation is often deeper and more personal. People often feel freer to discuss the full width of their concerns and ideas. You can observe body language and gestures that provide instant feedback on the points you’re making.
Communication is described as better in face-to-face meetings because misunderstandings are less likely, and follow-up questions are easier. Distractions like phones must be handled; the tone and setting of the environment can have a great effect on the conversation and its result. Ever been intimidated at a meeting across someone’s big, important desk? Or used that advantage for yourself? You get why face-to-face meetings can be powerful.
Face-to-face meetings can also be expensive and time-consuming. A lot of planning by a lot of people can be involved. But most agree there are some meetings that can and/or should be conducted only face to face. The personal touch, however, is time-consuming and expensive, demonstrates a higher level of dedication and care for your customer, building a better bond and mutual respect. In the rush of everyday business, devoting time to travel is an enormous commitment.
Bottom line, there are pros and cons to both types of meetings. Try not to be rigid when creating meeting policies. The best approach for each customer is to do your homework. Meetings can be intensely personal transactions. Identify customers’ preferred means of communication by asking. Some of your customers may be located outside the U.S., and have different meeting protocols of their own. And don’t assume everyone in the same company operates the same way. Sounds simple, but far too many businesses take this aspect for granted.
The decision isn’t black and white. Get to know your customers, and establish the kind of trust that works for both parties. If you come prepared to share and listen, every meeting can be valuable.