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You Can’t Shake Hands In Cyberspace

Originally published on CUInsight.com

You’re expecting another, “back in the days before COVID-19” reminiscing post. Too bad. This topic came to me years ago. You know, BC…Before Coronavirus. Yes, that time really did exist. It’s not just a dream.

Why mention the time frame?

Because it helps you understand that some of today’s challenges aren’t new. For many, remote work is our normal. In fact, getting to meet people IRL (in real life) was a special treat! In case it’s not obvious, the “our” here is me. I work remotely.

Take a look at some of my event posts to feel the excitement of being around other people. Yes, even for this introvert.

What’s Changed?

Ha! What hasn’t changed? Amirite? There’s no minimizing the enormous impact that-virus-which-shall-not-be-named has on society and business. Many, if not all of us, had to adapt to rapidly-changing norms and precautions.

When in-person became “no way”, those who could and weren’t already took shelter online. You joined us on Zoom, a platform we’ve been accustomed to for years. It’s like we’re innovators. Ok, not the way to blaze new paths. You’re welcome here as long as you need.

What Hasn’t Changed?

People Working
Who’s craving this?

People want to interact with other people.

In fact, maybe that’s changed too, because in our physical isolation, the desire to connect is even higher. Either way, for some things, there’s no replacement for an in-person experience.

At the same time, the concepts of digital transformation charge onward. Sure, it meant moving faster than you ever thought possible, but you did that because you’re awesome. Now, it’s time to think about the why. “Why did we need to implement these digital solutions?”

Yes, an unprecedented global event happened. I suppose we can’t really ignore it. At the same time, it forced an acceptance of where things are moving. Tasks which can be made easier and more convenient by using an app or website…should.

This is a golden time to look at what parts of your operation should be driven by human interactions and which can improve with digital ones. Naturally, there will be overlap, but that awareness can help guide your planning strategy, no matter what crazy events transpire.

Digital transformation doesn’t mean making everything digital. It means evolving to provide the best service, experience, and human connection with the right tools in the right ways. At your core, you’re a bunch of people working to help lots more people.

How to Adapt?

Chameleon
Get it? Adapt?

To be honest, the hardest part is the human element. Sharing data or other forms of information (interactive charts, whiteboard, etc.) is actually easiest on a platform like Zoom. Cue that time your whole team struggled to load a file off a USB drive for the meeting.

Digital stuff works great on these services. Cloud-based sharing makes secure and simple transfers possible. No more wondering if that computer’s USB ports are disabled, or if this browser is allowed to load Dropbox. Or if your emails went to spam.

Where we struggle most, and I bet you also, are the casual interactions. For all the love I have for great Zoom happy hours, you know it’s not the same as actually meeting up. As of now, no tech can replace that experience (I’m looking at you, future Apple AR Glasses).

There’s real value to meeting in person, even if we’re wearing masks. Since that’s not a feasible or potentially safe option for many people, here’s some suggestions on comfortably embracing video chat (with qualifications).

Make Video Chat Awesome (Or at least better) For Your Team

Woman with Mask on Video Chat
Good thing…you don’t have to go to this extreme.
  • Help equip your team with good cameras, lighting, and mounts/stands for their cameras (Trust me, being well-angled and lit makes such a difference both for you and other’s confidence)
  • Recognize that you can’t look people in the eye while looking them in the eye (even if it looks that way)
  • Make it ok to mute or turn off video during conversations. It’s like casually looking away in-person; not a bad thing. If someone stares you in the eyes constantly in-person, it’s uncomfortable.
  • Don’t force video chats to be “casual”. It feels weird. Empower your team to set up one-on-one or group conversations in the same vein as they would just meet up in the kitchen or hallway. Business meetings match your culture now as before.
  • Of course, also…use it like kids in remote schooling; to let your team express themselves and show off (if they want) part of what makes them happy. (Every kid wants to share their toys, bedroom, and walk the class through their house.)
  • Sometimes, audio is enough. Just because you can use video doesn’t mean you must. Recognize the potential for personal intrusion it has over audio-only.

Staring Isn’t Caring

The bottom line on keeping team engagement going is to help it be as close to organic as it would be in an office. And you can carry this over to members as well!

For member interactions which previously happened in-person, provide the option for them to use a video chat. Offer a simple video guide on your app or website to get them going. Sure, this is a rip-off of your ITM video tellers, but members don’t have to go somewhere.

See? That you already have or are considering them means you’re on your digital transformation journey! We’ll make it all as good as in-person, you just watch!

Except for that shaking hands thing.

Earshakes vs. Handshakes

Hello, can you hear me? I’m currently flying back from LA after two days of meetings with partner companies and clients. Geek fascination: This iPad is online…while it’s magically floating over 30,000 feet above the western United States. Is the connection any good? Not particularly…no video and the streaming audio struggles. But, hey, Twitter and Facebook!

Of course, the travels got me thinking (oh no!). Much of our business is conducted over the phone and computer. It has proven an efficient and effective manner of communicating. We are able to include multiple participants spanning large geographic ranges in a single conversation. Often on short notice, something just not possible with face-to-face. Take a morning meeting with a partner in Texas, joined by others in California. Enjoy a break for lunch, then go to NYC for an operations update. Sure, since the advent of phones we could do such things, but adding the file and screen sharing really seals the deal. (Out of respect for all parties, we rarely ask for video-based meetings. If sweat pants are your thing, that’s quite alright.)

Simply put, we would be unable to build or support our client base without such technologies.

Yet there’s a value to being more than within earshot.

A partner summed it up perfectly yesterday as he explained, “we have been speaking for months; I know all of your voices and your names are a familiar sight in my inbox. But it really is great to put a person to those things!” He continued with an even more astute observation, “It was beneficial to see everyone’s faces as a question was asked, or to see their body language. On the phone, you can cover that up. In person, it’s all there.”

Could it be? Does our trust of others revolve around observing them directly? At least to some point, this is true. We make consciously-imperceptible movements when interacting with another person. You may not notice, but your brain does. Ever just “get a feeling” about someone, good or bad? Thank your brain for catching those subtle cues.

While we will always embrace the technology, efficiency, and convenience of online meetings, this will be a year of handshakes over earshakes. Are we working with you? Will you be reprinting this blog in the Metropolis Daily Bugle? (How did you get it past Jonah Jameson?)

Then grab your sonic screwdriver, open up your tricorder, draw your light saber, because you might just get a visit!

What’s Obvious for You…

…might be an unknown for others. Which isn’t so much an issue until you, oh yes, we’re going there…assume. Consider a meeting with a vendor or a prospect (sometimes you’re the salesperson, others, you’re the one buying), and they keep bringing up a term. It sounds important, and perhaps even central to their thesis, but it is never explained. Let’s be honest, you have no idea what they are talking about.

We’ve all been in that situation, where everyone seems to know something we don’t. How does that make you feel?

A natural response is, “why don’t you just ask?” And let others see your weakness? Never!

The more common reaction is to push away what makes you feel “not ok”. In this case, it would be the other party in the meeting. As you can imagine, chasing out potential partners isn’t a great way to expand, so how do we find a happy medium?

Let’s step into a new pair of shoes, this time, those of that person who made you feel inferior. Can we agree they were not aiming to insult you or give you overt rationale to send you away? They made a mistake; they assumed, and you know what happens when we assume. (If you see what I did there, fantastic, if not, that’s ok: I made an assumption of you knowing the oft-repeated line regarding assuming, “you make an ‘a**’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’!” This would be a great example of what you want to avoid.)

Back to the meeting. How could it have been handled to keep everyone “ok”? For starters, ensure everyone is on the same page, on everything. It is possible you have heard advice regarding use of industry jargon. Short answer? It’s all correct. A credit union which does no indirect lending may not know how the process works, what the terminology is with the dealers, or even the competition. Beginning a discussion on dealer fees, then referencing DealerTrack (a principal source dealers use to search loan options), may put the unknowing CU representative in an uncomfortable spot. Bottom line: If a random person doesn’t understand you, the person sitting across the desk or on the other end of the phone may not either.

Why am I writing a post on something which, in hindsight, seems so obvious? Because we did it, too. During a meeting with one of our credit union clients, we began a discussion of one of our services, mentioning another place members can get a loan. However, this alternative is a last-resort option, known for very high rates and challenging terms (there’s no question the credit union was a far better choice). We presented it directly, “as a credit union, you are in a perfect position to serve these members and truly improve their lives.” Sales strategies aside, this is entirely accurate. However, the credit union executive was not familiar with this other loan source, and, likely not wishing to feel silly, didn’t ask. Nor did we explain. It created a situation where they wanted to make any excuse to say no because it was uncomfortable.

In that scenario, it was our failure. We assumed, and were wrong. In the future, we are going to address these potential issues up-front. We will ask if they are familiar with any terminology before discussing. We might say, “I don’t suppose you are familiar with so-and-so products?” If they respond, “yes, we are”, then great, we move forward. But it gives them a moment to say, without showing any weakness, “actually, no, would you mind discussing that further?”

We’re all on the same page, and suddenly, what’s obvious for you…

…is obvious to them, too.

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