Balancing Act: Face-to-face meetings build connections

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Frustrated business owners and senior executives say they are turned off by being the customers of a service provider who communicates mostly by email.

More often, executives complain, they have never even met face to face the actual person on their account -- a lawyer, accountant, account executive -- leaving them asking: Is this the new way of doing business?

Alejandro Fernandez, a senior executive at a Florida industrial parts company, says he hasn't seen a few of his service providers all year and won't let that happen again in 2013. "I'm not saying I need to go to lunch with you every day, but if I'm dealing with you for a year, come out and meet me," he said. "How do they know all the issues they could be addressing if they are just answering the question I ask?"

Of course, business owners and high level managers are busy, and many even will say they prefer texting to emails or calls.

Michelle Eisner, chief human resources and talent officer with Hollander Home Fashions in Boca Raton, Fla., says she knows and trusts the initial contact at the law firm she uses, but spends much of her time working with attorneys there she has never met -- and that's OK with her as long as they are "responsive" and their email communication is "short and to the point."

But workplace experts say don't mistake an interest in efficiency for lack of interest in face-to-face interaction.

Jeff Connally is president and CEO of CMIT Solutions, which provides information technology services to small business and has 135 offices. Mr. Connally visits his customers a minimum of once a quarter and requires his franchisees do the same. He attributes the company's high retention of customers to the on-site visits. "We think it's vital because people do business with people they know and trust."

Mr. Connally says the visits allow him to understand a company's culture, management style and business needs.

Consultant Jerry Wilson, a recently retired board-elected senior vice president of the Coca-Cola company, recommends knowing how and why to ask a senior executive for face time. "You need to understand the valid business reason. If you're just asking someone to lunch to plug your company, that can be seen as a time waster and that hurts relations."

Also, meeting with a client to ask "how are we doing?" will be seen as a time waster, he says. Instead, do some homework first and bring ideas for how you can help them grow their business or tackle a concern. "That shows a CEO you care about the relationship."

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Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC; balancegal@gmail.com


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