By TOM WOODCOCK
The pressure to give in is immense.
Do everything electronically and save time. You’ll also cut costs. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Communicating by social media, email or text. Getting plans off FTP sites. Researching suppliers through their websites. Electronic deposits for payment (though for some reason, few “modernize” to this technique).
All of these make the need to meet face to face, or even voice to voice, obsolete. Nobody comes by the plan room anymore. iPads manage project information onsite and appointments are held via Skype. Attendance begins to drop at construction events and association meetings. Pretty soon, everything in construction will have an app.
I’m not an old fuddy-duddy, but I just don’t quite buy into the totality of complete, non-human communication. I’m the farthest thing from a computer geek and I still enjoy face-to-face contact with customers. I regularly speak to general contractors, subcontractors and their suppliers about getting personal again. They communicate a longing for the old days when you looked into someone’s eyes in a live situation, not through a computer screen. I find it interesting that purchasing products online during the holiday season has flatlined a bit. Isn’t it remarkable that so many people waited in line for a ridiculous amount of time to be first for Black Friday? Hmmm, seems people still like to physically go out and shop.
This really doesn’t surprise me in the least. It may sound simplistic, but people still prefer to do business with other people. Yes. Face to face, in meetings, working together. When you reduce your customer interaction to solely electronic sources, you lessen your own personal role in securing a project.
It’s easy to simply work through electronic communication and sit comfortably in our posture- supporting desk chair. This techno-generation finds avoiding personal contact preferable, not to mention do all our social interaction on Facebook or LinkedIn. Sheesh. Soon, we’ll just order our food online and have it delivered to our desk. Oh, you already do that? At least you won’t have to worry about sun poisoning.
The last time I looked, construction took place outside and around people. It amazes me how many contractors skip walk-throughs, client meetings or doing follow-up meetings on project completion. The more you eliminate customer contact, the more you make yourself exactly like your competitors. Why would anyone choose you or your firm over another if all the data came from each company electronically? You may think, “That’s what my customers want.” Well, my son wants cake for dinner every night, but I know it’s not the best thing for his health. How can you educate your customers on innovations, competitive differences or negative market practices if you’re not getting in front of them?
Accepting every electronic innovation that comes along is a bit irresponsible. Evaluate how effective the innovation is: Does it move you closer to the customer or further away? The closer you are to the customer, the more you’ll learn his/her needs, tendencies or preferences. Tweeting, posting or friending does not count as developing customer relationships. Tried and true sales tools such as the handshake, the smile and the thank-you are still alive and well. You cannot do any of these without being with the client.
I know you’re busy; having all this technology at your fingertips buys you more time. But that time is worthless if it comes at the cost of a lesser connection to your customer base. If no one visits plan rooms anymore, then I want to be the only one who does. If nobody delivers bids personally anymore, call me FTD. If you live by the price, you’ll die by the price. If Electrician A looks just like Electrician B, my choice will be made according to price. If GC A looks like GC B, who can build my building cheaper? It’s not very complex. For those of you who feel all of this is a waste of time and are convinced that 100 percent electronic communication is the wave of the future, please compete against my clients.
Once again, I’m not anti-technology. You should be getting email and project information on your phone, being active on business social networks and leveraging electronic marketing vehicles. These are simply no-brainers. However, they are merely support mechanisms, not primary communication tools. You are your primary communication tool. It’s much tougher for anyone to tell you “no” when looking into your eyes.
The one thing that this all takes is courage. So many people hide behind their keyboards and attack from cyberspace. I challenge you to buck the trends and keep the tradition of personal contact in your repertoire. It will truly make a significant difference if you stick with it. There are no quick fixes to a slow, fast or highly competitive economy. Yet by combining effective electronic tools with traditional human contact, you’ll have a greater level of success. As a matter of fact, I don’t just think it. I know it.
Tom Woodcock, president of seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer for the construction industry nationwide. He can be reached via his website, www.tomwoodcocksealthedeal.com, or at (314) 775-9217.