The Power of the Personal Touch

Technological convenience may cost more than you think.

The rise of technology has blown open the door of opportunity for everyone—including the competition. Though leveraging the benefits of the digital age is important to succeed in the accounting world, it’s possible to take things too far.

Shifting away from face-to-face client interaction in favor of the more convenient alternative of communicating through emails, texts, or other digital means is becoming increasingly common. But in a society that’s always marching toward the newest trends, keeping it old school may end up giving you an unlikely competitive advantage.

The Persuasion Equation

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking email is now the most client-friendly form of communication. After all, it allows the client to absorb and respond to the messages you send on their own time.

But the convenience comes at the cost of persuasion.

A 2017 edition of the Journal of Experimental Psychology published a study that found face-to-face requests are 34 times more effective than email requests. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • It’s easier to say no to someone when you’re on the other side of a screen many miles away.
  • Email accounts can be phished, hacked, and otherwise compromised. These security vulnerabilities can make people uncomfortable in discussing sensitive topics (like finances).
  • Emails are more likely to be put on the backburner and forgotten about than face-to-face conversations.

But in-person communication is still king, and here’s why:

  • Face-to-face client meetings have a closing rate hovering around 40%.
  • Over 70% of people use personal appearance and handshake quality to inform their impressions of a person.
  • Most people agree that face-to-face interactions are critical for long-term business relationships.

Imagine you need people to donate to a cause you care about. How do you get as many people as possible to donate? You could send an email to 200 of your friends, family members, and acquaintances. Or you could ask a few of the people you encounter in a typical day—face-to-face—to donate. Which method would mobilize more people for your cause?

There are many factors that go into persuasion, and the specific words you use are just a small piece of the puzzle. If you remove live meetings from the equation, you’re unnecessarily eliminating effective tools in your business arsenal.

When you’re meeting with someone in person, little gestures like smiling, showing attentiveness when the other person is speaking, or offering a refreshment can make the client feel secure and comfortable.

Communication Breakdown

Persuasion isn’t the only aspect of communication that degrades when traveling through the digital realm; accuracy takes a hit too.

There’s an oft-cited study conducted by Albert Mehrabian in 1971 that says the meaning of a message is comprised of the following ingredients:

  • 55% body language
  • 38% vocal tone and inflection
  • 7% words

Over the years, this study has been misconstrued as a definitive assessment of all types of communications, which is not the case (Mehrabian himself even said the numbers in this equation were only meant to apply to conversations involving feelings and attitudes).

But even though the percentages aren’t always the same, it’s undeniable that facial expressions, vocal inflections, speech patterns, and more are critical elements in how your message is understood. Without having the full breadth of communication techniques at your disposal, misunderstandings can become much more commonplace—which can ultimately lead to losing your client’s trust.

Accuracy is essential in accounting. The more clarity you can provide your clients when communicating with them, the better off your reputation will be.

Bridging the Digital Gap

For all of the benefits face-to-face meetings bring, sometimes digital communication is necessary. When circumstances prevent you from meeting with a client in person, there are still steps you can take to make the interaction successful.

First and foremost, use video chat! Though it’s still not an exact substitution for in-person conversations, it removes a lot of the obstacles inherent to communicating over email or the phone.

Also make sure you’re laser-focused on the meeting itself. Don’t succumb to distractions like checking your texts, stepping away to grab a drink, or looking up something on the Internet with the client on the line. They need to know they’re your top priority.

Be personable. Though it’s more difficult to do when you’re in a separate room, building rapport is still possible through technology. Engaging in friendly banter and showing an interest in your client’s personal wellbeing can go a long way.

Finally, once the meeting is over, send the client a thank you note via traditional mail. Giving them something tangible creates a physical touchstone that links back to your digital conversation, which can build trust and strengthen the business relationship.

Keeping It Real

As technology continues to dominate our world, digital communication will continue growing and becoming more prevalent. And many people in the business world will keep chasing the high-tech options without considering the associated perils.

Technology provides wonderful benefits to the accounting field, but the ability to make all of your client interactions digital isn’t one of them. Though it’s not always the most convenient option, serving your clients in-person can provide a competitive edge that’s more than worth the extra effort.

This article is for informational purposes only.

CITATIONS

Bohns, Vanessa K. “A Face-to-Face Request Is 34 Times More Successful Than an Email.” Harvard Business Review, 11 April 2017.

Brenner, Dean. “The True Cost Of Poor Communication.” Forbes, 15 November 2017.

Debenham, Lucy. “Communication – What Percentage Is Body Language?” Body Language Expert, 15 May 2018.

Frost, Aja. “15 Surprising Stats on Networking and Face-to-Face Communication.” HubSpot, 14 November 2017.

Leonard, Lois. “4 Reasons Face-to-Face Meetings Are Still Important in the Digital Age.” Intuit QuickBooks, 9 March 2018.

Meyer, Cheryl. “8 Tips for Conducting a Great Virtual Meeting.” Journal of Accountancy, 25 June 2018.

Roghanizad, M. Mahdi, and Vanessa K. Bohns. “Ask in Person: You’re Less Persuasive than You Think over Email.” ScienceDirect, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, March 2017.

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