Every beep, buzz, or ping acknowledges that society is engrossed in technology. It dominates much of the communication between human beings on a day-to-day—often minute-to-minute—basis. Technology has revolutionized the workplace, exponentially increasing profits and proficiency. However, while learning to work with technology is vital, mastering the art of human interaction remains key to success in business. Below are 12 reasons why face-to-face interactions still matter.
1. First impressions. “The first is always the hardest” is a common phrase used to describe love, interviews, and many other challenges. The same can be said for impressions. Socially, it is almost impossible to change someone’s first impression. The same holds true in the business world.
“Face-to-face interaction is especially important when beginning a new business relationship,” says Anthony Trombetta,vice president of Michael J. Hawkins, Inc., an Illinois-based executive recruiter servicing the jansan industry. “In many cases, you do not know the other person, and a face-to-face first impression can go a long way toward creating better understanding, and improved credibility.”
2. Building relationships. Perks of an in-person interaction is the ability to read body language and facial expressions, hear the tone of voice, and put a face to a name. This helps create a sense of trust and transparency, which, in turn, helps forge a returning brand-loyal customer. Consider car mechanics: People find a good mechanic who is up-front about costs, and they remain a customer until that trust is broken. This relationship-based customer loyalty can be applied to any market. Building strong in-person relationships can be equally effective with co-workers. The more employees trust one another, the better they will work together.
“I believe trust and transparency are keys to any successful business,” says Trombetta. “People want to do business with people they know and trust. Face-to-face encounters provide a superb platform for building this trust.”
3. Personal touch. A return to in-person interaction is spreading throughout the business world. Banks, insurance companies, grocery stores, and other entities are re-thinking “self-service,” removing automated machines in favor of hiring additional people to interact with customers on a more personal level. Today’s commercials assure tech-weary customers they will be able to talk to a “real person” while one of the most successful companies in history, Apple, always has more than enough employees in its stores ready to assist shoppers. Even the creators of Skype—one of the most popular web-based communication tools—realized that the ability to address people face to face is still relevant and necessary.
“I had a young man working for me who needed to contact a customer to finalize a sale,” says Keith Angel, president of Angel/ Cotton Associates Inc., a California-based manufacturer representative firm. “Unable to reach the customer, the employee’s initial solution was to send an email. I suggested he go visit the customer in person. He looked at me in shock and said that he had never thought of doing that. He followed my advice and made the sale. The reality is customers respond better to face-to-face interactions.”
4. Innovation. When faced with a task or project, people often turn to brainstorming. Gathering in a room and tossing around ideas helps jump start the mind and is key to innovation. Good ideas can also come at unexpected times. For example, people can stumble upon a stellar idea during a casual water cooler conversation. This type of innovation cannot always be accomplished through online messaging, which makes it easy to send and receive information, but hard to convey in-depth ideas or needs. In-person conversations and interactions allow people to elaborate, explain things differently, and ask questions, all of which define the path to innovation, productivity, and success.
5. Networking. Professional networking sites do an incredible job of bringing people together and working to improve business interactions. But this does not diminish the importance of face to face. The natural progression of in-person conversations allows people to build off the responses of others, leading to more memorable and meaningful connections.
“Taking professional relationships to the next level works best when you spend time with people in a real-world setting,” says ISSA Vice President of Marketing, Communications, Research, and Analytics Lisa Richter “Those deeper connections are the real career and business boosters. This is why meet-and-greets, dinner parties, and trade shows are still relevant.”
6. Better hiring. Applicants who apply for jobs online struggle to illustrate their abilities and differentiate themselves from other candidates. Conversely, while online applications can help employers narrow the list of candidates, the process can miss people who would be a perfect fit.
Face to face for hiring is critical,” says Jerry Land, of JPLand, a recruiting firm specializing in the cleaning industry. “In addition to figuring out personal chemistry, consider that only 7 percent of communication is through what is actually said; 38 percent is through vocal tone, and 55 percent is through body language. While you can definitely prequalify or prescreen candidates over the phone or online, a final hiring decision is best made after meeting a candidate in person.”
7. Enhanced learning. Virtual education can be more convenient and the best method for some individuals. However, for many people learning in a real-world setting is better.
“In the world of training, face-to-face interactions play an important role in the adult learning process,” says ISSA Director of Education, Training, Certification, and Standards Brant Insero. “Many employees do not retain information by simply reading a book or logging into an online platform.” In person also allows instructors to demonstrate new ways of doing things, go more in depth, and answer questions in real-time.
8. Worker retention. In-person interactions allow customers, co-workers, and superiors to offer compliments and say thank you more often and in real-world time. Studies show that face-to-face praise—even more than compensation—is the top employee motivator. In fact, in one survey of 1,200 U.S. workers published in Psychology Today, 83 percent of respondents said recognition for contributions was more fulfilling than any rewards or gifts; 88 percent found praise from managers “very or extremely motivating,” and 90 percent said a fun work environment was “very or extremely motivating.” These things are easier to do in person, leading to better job satisfaction, which translate into greater worker retention.
9. Increased sales. More business is being conducted on the Internet today than ever. Yet many online shoppers are on a mission: They log in, make their purchase, and log out. In-person interactions allow salespeople to give live demonstrations, expert advice, and more relevant product-bundling suggestions. This is another reason trade shows and exhibitions remain relevant; they give people exposure to many new, often unknown products while allowing salespeople to highlight the features of their products and services and the buyer’s need for them.
10. Differentiation. As the world becomes more automated, many believe the companies that capitalize on human interaction will see less competition and increased revenue.
“Moving forward, the importance of face-to-face interactions will become more valued by both buyers and employees as they will experience fewer opportunities for this type of interaction,” says Insero. “No matter the direction that an organization takes with technology, to set themselves apart, they need to provide value through proper in-person interaction.”
11. Technical incompatibility. Staying up-to-date on—and compatible with—technology can be challenging. For example, Mac Pages and Microsoft Word work similarly, but Pages can’t be opened on all computers, and Word has many different versions. These technical problems can lead to project delays and other issues.
“We sometimes lose whole days when preparing an issue,” says ISSA Media Communications & Publications Directory Lisa Veeck, editor of ISSA Today. “It can be frustrating having the information you need right there but being unable to access it.”
12. Fewer misunderstandings. Email is extremely useful, especially when connecting in person is not feasible. However, void of facial expressions, body language, and tone, electronic messages can be misinterpreted, causing problems between co-workers, superiors, and customers. Long email chains with a large number of recipients and “ccs” also can lead to confusion and often frustration. In person there is more clarity and less chance for misinterpretation.
“If intent is nine-tenths of the law, no one would ever be convicted through email as it can be difficult to discern the tone of electronic communications,” says Richter. “Of course, you can include an emoticon, but even then it can be difficult and, personally, I have a hard time correlating smiley faces with business communications.”