Today’s commercial climate is vastly distant from the calm winds of business-as-usual before the storms of a pandemic caused profound hardship and disruption to daily life.

Uncertainty and existential circumstances have strained enterprises across the country, from corporate conglomerates to brick-and-mortar small businesses. This volatile environment warrants a new approach for surviving the challenges consumers and companies will encounter in the coming months. 

Updated sales strategies, a commitment to improved client service, and bolstering relationship development are an integral aspect of navigating the current socially distanced, remote landscape. 

Although we’ve outsourced the comfort of face-to-face interactions with clients to the sterile space of virtual platforms, there is a comforting reality to the process of adjusting to the new status quo; we’re all in this together.

My name is Bo Parfet; I’m an explorer, mountaineer, author, impact investor, and the co-founder & CEO Of Denali Venture Philanthropy. With my wife, Meredith Parfet, our credo at Denali Venture Philanthropy is that all of us are connected and therefore we all have a responsibility to make positive change: in our community, in our country, and around the world. Our investment organization finances entrepreneurs with a dedication to social change. Promoting inventive, sustainable, and positive improvements to vulnerable communities across the planet are at the center of our core values.

Hearing and empathizing with those you serve during times of crisis is imperative. In my mid-twenties, I set out to scale the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents with minimal experience in mountain climbing. Being in lockstep with my team was essential to survival. Every adventure offered uncertainty and obstacles; the threat of starvation, drowning in crocodile-infested waters, exhaustion, and death drops were par for the course. On those voyages, I recognized the importance of listening to, and elevating, my team. 

Similarly, understanding your clients is a shift from selling to listening. The best way to start this shift is by asking questions.  Asking questions affirms your customer’s position, acknowledges this period of heightened risk, and creates an environment of collaboration.

Below are principals and questions to ask yourself that will guide you in learning your client’s needs and wants in such pressing economic conditions. 

Be empathetic. If ever there was a time for empathy and business to be in concert, it’s now. Recognizing your customer’s position and using this insight to influence how you proceed is a display of compassion. Empathy in a commercial setting leads to better collaboration, and compromise is where both sides can find comfort. It can afford you their loyalty, referrals, and an increase in sales. Empathy is a sustainable competitive advantage.

Actively listen. Don’t wait for your opportunity to respond. Refrain from anticipating where the conversation is going to land. Abstain from guiding communication towards your objectives. Listening to your client’s wants and feelings will provide you with information that will increase your ability to satisfy their needs and fortify your dynamic. With stress and uncertainty dominating our current conditions, being heard can turn around someone’s day and revitalize their outlook.

Get perspective from your employees on the front lines of customer communications. Soliciting feedback from those who directly interact with your clientele provides nuanced insight from trusted sources. Derived from the problem-solving and reassurance they commit to your customers regularly, your team members’ expertise is an asset to cultivate. They advocate for both your clients and the company; utilize them to serve your customers better.

Follow up. Exceptional customer service is a year-round job. When there’s a disturbance in the status quo of a company’s earnings and projections, businesses inevitably focus on where they’re deficient and make appropriate changes. Despite being a foundational pillar of most enterprises, customer service is often more like a renovation project when expectations don’t meet reality. Circling back with sincerity regarding your client’s concerns during this precarious juncture will make them feel appreciated and heard. 

The principles mentioned above are essential in understanding your client. Internalize them and let them dictate the way you converse with your patrons as you navigate the “new normal.” 

In addition to these principles, here are some questions to guide you in comprehending your client’s wants and needs, your goal being to encourage them to directly communicate what’s most important to them:

How can we be a better partner in getting you what you need?

What is currently working well for you with our agreement?

How do you feel about your current situation (in business and at large)?

What is your most trying obstacle professionally?

What are your next steps in the coming months and next year?

What is preventing you from conducting business in the way you want to?

What are your best-case scenarios in moving forward with our partnership? 

Committing to understanding your client’s needs enriches your partnership and builds trust. While the severity of the moment calls for increased attention to pressing actions, we must not lose sight of the future. The disruption to our lives will end, but the relationships we have strengthened will not. We’re all in this together.

Follow Bo on his Website and Medium