How to Organize Virtual Consultations
In January this year, the thought of doing a medical, real estate, fitness, or even beauty consultation over video seemed pretty outlandish. Why video conference when you could meet in person?
That all changed with the arrival of the COVID 19 pandemic.
To keep many businesses operating, it's Zoom or bust (or whichever platform you prefer), and that's especially true for those who use consultations as a gateway to their services. Below is a guide to how some professionals are optimizing their virtual consultations to maximize success.
Who is Using Virtual Consultations?
From telemedicine to virtual fitness training, bridal shopping to construction services, small business owners are shifting their "first impressions" to remote consultation. How well they handle those digital introductions can mean the difference between earning a customer's business or not.
With the right organization, a virtual consultation can be a great new vertical for meeting clients where they are (safely in their homes) and providing them with valuable information while ensuring their health and safety.
What is a Virtual Consultation?
To clear up what virtual consultations are-these are any initial conversations with a client or patient via video conferencing prior to proceeding with the necessary work.
- For a doctor, a virtual consultation could be a discussion of a pain management plan, a meeting to discuss treatments for an ailment, or an informational meeting to discuss a surgical procedure with their new patient or prospective patient.
- For a real estate agent, it could be an initial consultation with a potential home buyer to walk through what the buyer is looking for.
- For a hairstylist, a virtual consultation could be about an upcoming haircut or a formal look for a wedding and the client's aesthetic goals.
- For a home services worker, a virtual consultation process can detail the scope of work and talk about the best safety methods to have work done on the home.
The idea is to take an important meeting that would traditionally happen in person and move it to a computer or mobile device where the business owner and client can see each other and discuss operations using a video conferencing app.
How to Get Started With Virtual Consultations
- Make sure your patients know you're going to start offering virtual appointment availability vs. in the office.
- Decide what kind of meetings can be completed over a video chat format and have the expectation set that only those meetings can be held in a virtual manner.
- Create an arsenal of FAQ's for popular video conference software to troubleshoot tech issues, and be prepared to offer a few options of platforms for clients to choose from
- Ensure the experience is as user friendly as possible.
Picking the Right Platform
One of the first things to do for a successful virtual consultation is to ensure the client has the capability and technological know-how to video conference. To organize this step of the virtual consultation, small business owners should:
- Offer a variety of apps to choose from (Facetime, Skype, Google Meets, Zoom etc)
- Send thorough instructions for the selected app, including information about how to download the app and create an account prior to your consult
- Be flexible if a tech issue comes up
- Troubleshoot any issues with the client; offer telephone consultation if required during troubleshooting
- Reassure the client should disruptions arise
Executing the Actual Virtual Consultation
It's hard to underestimate the importance of face-to-face communication. Technology may have made business hundreds of times more efficient, but ultimately, as Forbes reports, "You're dealing with people, not entities."
Just consider the importance of nonverbal cues alone. A UCLA study found that up to "93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues."
Being able to translate a client's nonverbal cues will lead to more effective communication and ultimately the chance to do business together. This only magnifies the importance of using virtual consultations during this challenging time, when in-person meetings are highly discouraged.
Here's how to make a virtual consultation count.
- Pick a time and be on time - No one wants their time wasted and that goes for virtual visits as much as in person ones. To ensure that everyone feels their time is being respected, pick a time you all can agree on for your virtual consultation and then be prompt for the meeting.
- Prep work - Before switching on Zoom or Google Meet, do your homework. This includes familiarizing yourself with the client, their concerns, and needs. They'll likely have questions that you can address along the way, but try to have a solid footing going into the talk.
- Find a quiet space - In this new normal when many people are working from home with all the distractions that come with it-crying babies, noisy dishwashers, loud street traffic-you'd be forgiven for having a few noise disruptions. As a best practice, try to isolate yourself in a relatively quiet space to avoid distractions.
- Double check your Wi-Fi - A bad internet connection can spell trouble for a business owner attempting to work using virtual consults. Triple check that yours is high speed before scheduling a week of video calls.
- Update your webcam - If you really want to pick up on those nonverbal cues and have your clients do the same for you, a high-quality webcam is worth the investment.
- Share an agenda - There's a reason every city council meeting, school board meeting, and all-hands meeting typically uses an agenda. They're reassuring and they keep everyone on the same page. To help your customers navigate the virtual appointment, prepare an agenda in advance and share it with them prior to your conference call. That way everyone will know what to expect and what questions to ask.
- Ask for feedback - The only way to improve your virtual consult format and style is to seek feedback and then adjust as necessary.
Small Businesses Making Virtual Consultations Work
Many industries have embraced virtual consultations since the pandemic began. Let's look at a few that have managed to shift in-person meetings online and how they're navigating and organizing them to make them work for their businesses.
Very early into the pandemic inflicted lockdowns, people began to realize their hair roots might not be addressed for months. With salons closed, people began to turn to boxed hair dye while others called their stylists in a panic. One New York City-based colorist Rachel Bodt told Allure that rather than let her clients stress, she turned to FaceTime consultations to help them get their color back.
Meanwhile, others took the online consultation a step farther by then providing clients with Quarantine Color Kits made up of their personalized formulas with detailed instructions for them to use at home.
Telehealth has exploded during the pandemic. Telemedicine, as it's also called, comprised nearly 30% of outpatient visits in April, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. From screening potential COVID-19 cases to helping elderly high-risk patients get diagnoses from home, the shift to virtual visits and virtual consultations have provided healthcare professionals a way to see more patients who were homebound.
For real estate agents, using video has become critical during the pandemic. With home owners wary of letting people into their houses, many agents turned to virtual open houses and even closing consultations as a way to connect with clients. In fact, the number of 3-D home tours created on Zillow went up 326%, reports the Washington Post.
Buyers are even signing contracts virtually. Market Watch reports, "Nearly half the people who bought a home in the past year hadn't seen the property in person beforehand."
Making It Fit
For the fashion industry, virtual fittings may seem impossible-but even this has evolved in these unprecedented times. Thanks to the pandemic, shoppers can now try clothes on virtually, then discuss their choices with a virtual stylist, according to the Washington Post.
For small business retailers, a video consultation might be better suited, for example, for the bridal gown industry, allowing a bride to discuss her gown preferences prior to coming in for a social distanced fitting.
Promoting Virtual Consultations
Right now, shoppers are looking for companies that can meet them where they are and that includes offering virtual services that allow them to put their health and safety first. But you can't begin to have virtual consultations unless potential customers know you're offering them. To do that, you need to spread the word, and to spread the word, you need the latest tools:
- Email subscribers list - Use your company newsletter to alert customers that you've changed the way you communicate with people and can now consult virtually.
- Updated social media - Post on your channels that you're doing virtual meetings so that your followers can like and share the news.
- Nextdoor Business Page to spread the message locally - Let the members of the neighbor-based platform know that you're in their community, and you're ready to assist from afar.
Far Away, But Actually Nextdoor
Pandemic precautions can feel isolating. In an effort to avoid health risks, people may put off what were once considered necessary services. To bring those clients through your doors, a virtual consultation is a must. And one of the best ways to start the conversation is through Nextdoor.
Nextdoor is made up of a hyperlocal audience, ensuring you get your message out to the people who will actually find it relevant-those who live and work close to you.
To get started, simply create a free Business Page. From there, customize your page, run promotions using Local Deals, and engage with customers directly using free Business Posts. It's that simple.
Forbes.Why Face-To-Face Meetings Are So Important. www.forbes.com/sites/ellevate/2015/02/20/why-face-to-face-meetings-are-so-important/#57c4c775aee9
The Balance Careers.How to Understand Your Coworkers' Nonverbal Communication. https://www.thebalancecareers.com/tips-for-understanding-nonverbal-communication-1918459
Allure. Hair Colorists Are Offering Virtual Consultations, Sending Custom Hair Dye Kits to Clients in the Mail. https://www.allure.com/story/hair-colorists-virtual-consultations-hair-dye-mail-quarantine-coronavirus/
Washington Post. With hand sanitizer and elbow bumps, real estate agents are still selling during pandemic. https://www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/with-hand-sanitizer-and-elbow-bumps-realty-agents-are-still-selling-during-pandemic/2020/03/30/50bae962-7074-11ea-b148-e4ce3fbd85b5_story.html
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