April 24, 2020 10 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Over the last few years, our work and personal lives have been slowly evolving to exist within a growing digital society. There have been dramatic changes to our access to information, entertainment, and work processes.
Although these changes have added convenience and new opportunities, they have also altered how we communicate, interact and behave. With more people studying and working remotely, the digital era has made it difficult to form and maintain relationships with others. If you have children, you may havey noticed the difference even more profoundly.
Now, it may seem even more challenging to create and nurture relationships. But a movement labeled “the relationship economy” focused on driving a greater sense of community, inclusion and purpose despite the decrease in face-to-face interaction. Now more than ever, the relationship economy is on the rise to maintain human connections.
Defining the relationship economy
How do certain brands move ahead of other brands? Why are some companies and brands more successful than others? When examined with a discerning eye, we see that success in almost all business comes down to relationships. The connections that have been built with your customers and audience.
Good brands establish trust and gain loyalty. Companies that personalize their interactions and experiences retain customers and win new ones. All of those actions depend on relationship-building efforts.
The relationship economy uses connections, trust and human interaction as its currency. In the relationship economy, individual contributions are valued as essential to building that community. In the process of building a community, letting individuals know they are valued helps them feel cared for and connected, provides them with a purpose, and makes them feel part of this community.
While many aspects of work and life may now be uncertain due to the coronavirus, one thing is certain: the relationship economy is thriving.
Right now, people everywhere are struggling to understand and cope with world events. All of us are anxious. Many feel isolated. We must reach out and help each other by finding ways to improve all relationships.
Here are ten things you can do to improve relationships with your family and stakeholders — including prospects, customers and employees:
1. Connect with those in your contact list or database.
With the hectic day-to-day pace, it’s easy to lose track of the last time we checked on our network. It may have been a while since we asked our remote team how they are doing outside of the projects and deadlines that define current conversations. Or, maybe your customer base hasn’t heard from you since the holiday promotion rush.
You don’t have to make contact with everyone at once. Thoughtfully plan communication outreaches to each group and the individuals within that segment.
Be sure to spread out message distribution so you can respond to any messages you receive in a timely way.
2. Be consistent in words and actions to stay top of mind.
With mixed messages hitting your contact list from all channels, it can be confusing to see what’s real and who is genuine. Ask yourself if you are genuine? Show these “life” stakeholders that they can trust you. You can show your trustworthiness by always being consistent in word and action in your private life, as well as in business.
Right now, people are vulnerable and wounded, and it’s during times of stress when relationships need the most attention. If there are specific clients, partners, or other meaningful relationships that are struggling — think about what small gift would cheer them up at a rough time.
3. Keep messages simple and personal.
Remember that you don’t need to ask all the questions right now. You don’t need to share all the information you want to get out there in the first message. Make a touch-point connection so your people know you are thinking of them. The connection you’re making need only be a few words, but it lets someone know you are there.
Although most people are seeking more content and messages to feel connected, your contacts may also be getting inundated. This is not that.
Rather than overwhelming and bombarding your friends and contacts, keep the message simple with one thought in mind: I care about you as a person. Preferably, you can express something that shows you had them personally in mind when you wrote the note.
For example, if it’s an employee, ask them about their family. If your contact is with a valued customer, inquire about conditions in their city. Find out how their community is handling the extended disruption.
4. Respond and acknowledge.
Moving so much of our communication to the digital world has created a strange behavior and the attitudes keep emerging. Many of the messages sent out get no response or acknowledgment. The deafening silence on the other end of the communication leaves the person who reached out first wondering if the recipient even got the message.
Have you wondered if the recipient didn’t think the message was important enough to acknowledge? I have. In an age when people are focused on connecting, receiving a zero-contact reply (meaning zero, zip, nada) can send a very disconnected message. Especially true when we have tools that report the message has been read.
You can strengthen your relationship with others by letting them know you received their message. If you don’t have time to write a full response, save the message, and then write back. You can answer questions or send a positive response to show your appreciation for the communication.
Heck, if you’re busy, just send a smiley, letting the sender know you “got it and get it.” Responding creates the sensation of connection — plus, it’s an excellent way to maintain dialogue over time.
5. Deliver valuable information across all channels.
Many companies have restarted Intranets and added portals to offer their remote workers a place to get information and training for the new work environment. Other businesses use tools like Slack to create channels for conversations and collaboration. More video conferencing is also helping drive the need for face-to-face conversations to sustain and nurture relationships.
Social media and websites are essential to continually add valuable information that can help customers and prospects during the coronavirus pandemic. The social channels can include content that explains how you can help them, or media can be quick-tips on dealing with the new way of living and working.
Show you care about your people by doing what you can to make their life easier, despite the circumstances.
6. Get to know your stakeholders better.
Relationships get better as you learn about the other person. Companies and most people spend the bulk of their time talking about themselves. The association then feels one-sided. Customers and employees may not see the point of a relationship that has yet to include their opinion or perspective.
Have you taken the time to ask your stakeholders questions? What have you learned about them? What unique viewpoint or conclusions can you use in your own life?
Use existing channels to automate your posting questions to create a discussion group or produce a survey with incentives to respond. Once you get responses, return to your stakeholders with additional questions that show your interest and desire to get to know them on a deeper level.
When your contacts recognize that you, as a person and company, care for them, a quality relationship can begin to develop. Your contacts need to know that you want a deeper connection with them. Some will respond — others may not.
The work here is not merely to get information. The point is to make yourself available to build, serve, and support each other, especially during these strange times.
7. Act on the insights you gain.
Relationships thrive on communication. Your contacts will undoubtedly notice that what they said had an impact on you. As you continue in your personal growth, you can point out where you have incorporated a change in your behavior and how you have acted on the information they shared with you.
Companies can deploy this same mechanism of sustained relationship-growth with their employees and customers. Once you have insights from surveys and online discussion groups, find a way to make changes and take action on what’s been requested. When stakeholders see you “walking the talk,” they have a more significant reason to buy into your brand or strategy.
8. Show empathy.
A company doesn’t have to take specific action all the time to prove their commitment to a stakeholder relationship. Instead, showing empathy during a difficult time is often enough to strengthen the bonds.
Be sure to share your understanding of what this current situation feels like for them. Have you humanized your brand? Have you shown your genuine concern for people and their well-being?
9. Be flexible.
Options are more critical than ever to stakeholders who most likely feel a loss of control over how much their lives are changing. Currently, it’s an opportunity to provide various solutions for others. When you can offer insights into actionable choices that help, you’re building the other person and the relationship. The ability to have choices serves as a stabilizing force for all people. Everyone has been accustomed to having many choices, and those alternatives are diminished at present.
Determine how you can be flexible in your business model, including offering more payment terms, deferring payments, and providing at-home deliveries. To assist your employees, see how you can offer new ways of working, more benefits or other perks to show your appreciation.
10. Show optimism and encouragement.
While you don’t want to deliver false hope, relationships are bolstered through positivity, including optimism and words of encouragement. Everyone needs some degree of support, especially with the isolation and anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Let your stakeholders know you are there, and share positive news when it happens. Remind others of their own resiliency and their inner strength. Even after the pandemic is over, we will most likely continue to work and live within a more physically and emotionally distant digital world. The need for encouragement may not be as strong when things around the globe appear brighter, but continuing to be positive will advance your improving relationships.
Use your currency for a valuable return in the relationship economy
Enacting these ten actions will leverage your currency of time and energy that you have available. We are in an extraordinary situation at this time in the world’s history. It’s an opportunity to invest in the relationship-currency that surrounds us. The return on this investment is sure to be like no other. Let’s invest in a vital relationship economy together.