Imagine having a loved one in prison and not being allowed to visit them in person. A recent article in The New York Times highlighted how correctional facilities in the District of Columbia had completely replaced in-person prisoner visits with “video visits”. Probably a pretty tough situation for both inmate and would be visitor. It will be interesting to assess the effect it has on inmate morale, behaviour and rehabilitation. I know that i would find it hard if my sole connection to family and friends was through an online video.
On the plus side, video visiting has saved the prison service 64% of their visiting costs, whilst allowing for twice the number of visits. And of course, there was no need for visitors to queue or have invasive security checks, and soon they would be able to contact inmates using a webcam from the comfort of their own homes.
How are we communicating differently in 2012?
This got me thinking about how much the way we communicate is changing, both in our personal and professional lives. My own interactions are radically different to how they looked even ten years ago. On a personal level, I use social networking sites to give friends varying levels of access to whatever I choose to share with them, which they can view on their own terms, whenever it suits them. I rarely use my home landline, except to speak with my parents, as this is how they usually want to communicate with me every couple of days. My mobile is predominantly for texting and web access, and I prefer to receive texts and emails rather than calls, except from my nearest and dearest. With family and friends based all over the world, I’m a regular skyper, especially as I have an ever-changing fourteen month old daughter with doting grandparents, uncles and aunts! In each instance, the way I communicate is tailored to the audience and situation.
Most people are multi-tasking when they are on the phone, or texting. Even when I am talking to someone in the same room as me, I am often doing something else at the same time. It tends to only be when skyping, that I give my full attention to the conversation.
Effective communication is critical to the success of any organisation, and yet so many get it very wrong. It all comes down to what it is you are saying and to whom. In business you have to consider what is most suitable in order to produce the desired outcome.
What about communication at work – is that becoming more effective?
I have worked in several companies which relied far too heavily on email and written communications. Internally, colleagues sitting next to each other rarely spoke, instead firing off emails constantly. Consequently misunderstandings were common and people felt alienated. Externally, suppliers and clients rarely actually spoke to or saw their contacts, which resulted in the loss of goodwill and business. In short, relationships weren’t nurtured.
On the other end of the spectrum, I know companies who give their sales reps sky high client visit quotas, imagining this is the best way to nurture good relationships, often wasting valuable resources – both the rep’s and client’s time, and the company’s money. With businesses that increasingly trade globally, client visits can be a huge drain on resources, and need to be made when necessary and appropriate.
If you get the communication right, you don’t need hundreds of emails and visits. Effective communication ideally should start from the outset.
Internally, if there is an important announcement to be made, and it isn’t practical to gather all employees together for a meeting, then I would suggest that a video presentation or online video conference would be an effective choice.
In terms of client acquisition, the first marketing messages prospects see should set the tone immediately. The best forms of communication engage with as many of the senses as possible. Online video is one of the most cost effective ways of achieving this, and yet so many marketing campaigns rely on text-heavy email shots and static websites, with no active prospect engagement.
Using video allows you to put across your company personality and identity straight away, in a way that written text never can. In a very short space of time you can demonstrate a product or service, leaving no room for misunderstanding. Coupled with an unmissable call to action or response mechanism, video can really drive sales. If you can include client video testimonials, you will have an extremely powerful marketing tool at your fingertips.
Professionally, I spend a lot of my time with colleagues and business contacts on Skype and using video conferencing. Of course, I use email, and yes, I certainly visit my clients too, but I am very selective.
I firmly believe the more of the human senses you can engage, the better. With video marketing, webinars and web conferencing you are only missing smell and touch, which, in the case of prison inmates is probably a significant deficiency as it affects the emotional bond between loved ones. But in business not touching or smelling your clients is probably a positive in most cases