The majority of US employees (65%) said that clients have remained loyal since shifting meetings online, a Doodle study found. While client retention is a significant fear among organizations who were forced to move meetings virtual, customer loyalty ultimately prevailed.

SEE: Top 100+ tips for telecommuters and managers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Doodle’s Growing Client Loyalty Remotely study, released on Thursday, aimed to identify the concerns and challenges employees may be currently facing with shifting client meetings online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With the CDC continuing to encourage social distancing practices, companies are forced to resort to virtual gatherings in lieu of in-person meetings. This change has resulted in new strategies from organizations to keep online meetings more dynamic, engaging, and effective, the report found.

“Taking steps to prepare for online client meetings, both as an organizer and as a participant, will have profound impacts on customer relationships, engagements and loyalty,” said Renato Profico, CEO of Doodle, in a press release.

“Loyalty is a basic human trait that is hard won and the culmination of deliberate effort and wholehearted commitment. Yet, it hasn’t been given the attention it deserves in the current discussions of how COVID-19 is impacting businesses,” Profico said.

Fear of losing engagement

A Hubspot report recently found that 55% of customers now trust companies less than they used to, and customer trust and loyalty plays a huge role in the success of an organization. Loyalty can be earned through one-to-one meetings with clients, dedicating enough time to clients, and being highly focused on delivering quality results.

In-person meetings have historically been a significant connector between businesses and their clients, with employees using those meetings to check-in with clients, provide updates on projects, outline new strategies, and prioritize customer time, the report found.

Some 23% of employees said they feared shifting client meetings online would result in fewer interactions with clients and 21% said they worried it would be more difficult to focus. More than half (59%) of respondents said they find it more challenging to effectively engage with clients online.

To minimize the possible loss of clientele, the report recommended employees consider streamlining the meeting schedule process through an integrated, secure scheduling technology platform. This tool would prevent the inefficient and time consuming back and forth of emails and instead, automate the scheduling process.

The pressure of retaining clients

Pressure is a huge motivator when wanting to retain clients, driving employees to go above and beyond to keep customers happy. Some 34% of employees said they are making more of an effort to prepare for virtual client meetings than they normally would for an in-person one.

Employees are even willing to sacrifice their personal time to make themselves available for clients. Nearly half (46%) of respondents said they have conducted client meetings outside of normal working hours to accommodate their clients’ schedules, the report found.

More than half (55%) of employees said they find themselves going the extra mile to be more dynamic and engaged in online meetings as a way to overcompensate for the lack of physical interaction. If online meetings end up being dull or ineffective, pressure only mounts, according to the report.

The research suggested employees keep clients satisfied by treating them as individuals instead of entities. It recommended customizing every interaction to match the clients’ needs and priorities.

Dealing with outside disruptions

One of the most underestimated distractions during an online meeting is background noise, such as outside talking (55%) and email notification alerts (20%). The report also recommended finding a quiet space and muting notifications to ensure the clients feel prioritized.

However, certain disruptions are unavoidable, especially for employees with kids at home. This factor doesn’t seem to be an issue for clients: Some 32% of respondents said the funniest moments in their online meetings involve kid bloopers.

Tips for improving your meetings

Being on camera may feel intimidating for some users, especially those who suffer from performance anxiety. The majority (63%) of respondents said they would be willing to record and re-watch their virtual meetings. The report confirmed this practice could be effective in improving meetings and creating more highly engaging gatherings for clients.

The report found that 43% of respondents do their own preparation and practice ahead of virtual meetings. Some 27% said they plan free time in meetings to allow for interactions, 21% said they visually reinforce key points, and 18% said they share anecdotes and examples.

To adequately prepare, respondents indicated they most often set an agenda ahead of time (31%), conduct research (12%), read relevant materials (12%), and designate a “meeting leader” (10%).

While these tips are useful and effective, the report ultimately found that client loyalty isn’t as fragile as people may think.

Some 30% of respondents said the shift to remote work hasn’t made a huge impact on meeting attendance, with clients actually cancelling meetings less frequently since going into quarantine. Almost half (44%) of respondents said attendance has pretty much stayed the same since moving remote.

At the end of the day, however, humans still want personal interaction. Some 40% of respondents said they are less likely to meet clients virtually once social distancing has ended. Until then, conducting engaging virtual meetings is the way to operate.

For more, check out Working from home: Five ways to make remote workers feel supported on TechRepublic.

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