Cultivating virtual relationships

Submitted by john.warren on June 18, 2020


Hi, I'm Nikolee Turner with Schwab Advisor Services Business Consulting. In this time of crisis I want you to know Advisor Services is here to support you and your firm. Our goal is to bring you important and timely topics to navigate this new normal.


Right now, it is critical to lead with intention. Your clients and employees are looking to you for support, inspiration, and confidence. But without that face-to-face interaction, there's an added layer of complexity and maybe even uncertainty embedded into our relationships. In fact, the number one question the Business Consulting team has been getting is, 'How do I create and nurture virtual relationships?' I'll answer that question and share the top four ideas, along with what that looks like in a virtual setting. As we wrap up, I'll even share how to access more information.

So the first idea is to nurture relationships.  Walt Bettinger recently reminded us that we are all humans first and foremost. Secondarily, we are business people. I love this because it's a reminder to be there for clients and colleagues as people first. If you haven't already, you'll want to do regular, quick virtual check-ins, your individuals and teams. This may sound simple, but it sets a strong foundation. You'll also want to plan to nurture through thoughtful gestures. For an employee, I might send them a card to let them know I'm thinking about them and what's going on in their lives. For clients, I like to start business meetings by just taking a few minutes to find out how they're really doing. By now, you're doing all of these meetings through video, and that's definitely a best practice. Video allows us to see each other and deepen that conversation and that connection. But don't force video if you have frequent meetings, because video fatigue is a real thing.

The second idea is to build trust. We all know that building trust is key to success, and it's important as you may be starting new relationships where previously you were able to rely on face-to-face interaction. Most people don't spend any time thinking about how to build trust, but in a virtual situation, you need to be intentional. Take time to get to know that person, find out a little bit more about them and who they are, and share a personal side of who you are. For example, I was trading emails with a client a few days ago and she asked me how things were going. I wouldn't normally share this, but I was telling her that I was turning into that crazy mom because every time I would come out of the home office, I'd find my kids playing video games instead of doing their schoolwork. I asked her how it was going with her kids, and it was definitely a moment for us to bond as parents. I know that virtual happy hours are also popular, and one advisor even set up a virtual water cooler, a place for employees to drop in, say hi and chit chat. All of these ideas deepen the relationship through connection.

A third idea is to proactively communicate. The keyword there is 'proactive.' As a leader, people are looking to you for timely information. It could be as simple as telling your team 'There's a meeting next week to discuss and finalize those two outstanding items.' With that approach, instead of waiting until next week when, theoretically, you have all the answers, you're letting people know that they can count on you to keep them in the loop. And the same thing goes for clients, too. I imagine they're wondering how you're thinking about future meetings. Will they be in your office, and what might that look like? The idea here is to be mindful, and that will demonstrate how important the relationship is to you. This reminds me of what David Ulrich says. He's a professor, author, and an HR guru. He says that the most important conversation you'll ever have is no conversation. So if you're not proactively communicating, you might consider what your silence could be saying.

So the fourth and final idea is to be a coach for your staff and your clients. Coaches help us discover new things like new ways to work together. So beyond reaching out to your clients for a check in, or to reiterate your investment philosophy, how else might you be helpful to them? What about recording a video showing how to use one of those food ordering apps that maybe your clients don't know how to use, or sending your clients with kids a video where you demonstrate how the kids can do a craft while the parents are working. I know I would love that. For your team, coaching them on how to do familiar tasks in a new way, such as keeping data secure at home, or the best way to do a task that they haven't had to do before, maybe like a virtual presentation, all of these examples are coaching opportunities. And in this virtual setting, you can be valuable, supportive, and innovative.

Hopefully, you found these ideas helpful as we embrace new ways of conducting business and building relationships. In fact, we've created two handouts with even more details and guidance. I think you'll find them handy. You can download them on our Talent Resource Center, where you'll find even more resources and videos. Thank you for joining me today.

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