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We are living in some very uncertain times; things are literally changing from minute to minute in our world due to the coronavirus pandemic. It can often feel as though you are not sure which way is up and which way is down. As a professional relationship builder, I have experienced this feeling nearly every single day in recent months.
Before the COVID-19 uncertainty began, the way we interacted with our partners was the way we always had; face-to-face meetings to include annual partnership reviews, product presentations, and business dinners. On March 13, 2020, the way I was able to visit with my partners changed, and I will never forget it. It was a Friday, and of course, we all know the myths surrounding Friday the 13th: don't walk under a ladder, stay away from black cats, etc., am I right? That should have been a sign for me that something was coming because it was shortly after when our state shut down and government officials released the Stay Home, Work Safe order. Little did I know that would be my last day in my physical office, and would have a drastic impact on how I interacted with my business partners going forward. I would be lying if I said I wasn't scared of the new normal, but I couldn't think about that. I needed to figure out how I could help.
Our financial institution business partners had to begin focusing 100% on how they were responding to the pandemic, including moving employees to home offices and learning how to take care of their account holders with closed lobbies and branches. Their plates were full, to say the least. So the question I had as a trusted business partner was, what could I do to help? How could I let them know they could count on me even if they did not know what that might mean at the moment?
The answer came during a conversation I had with one partner I have worked with for the last six years. I had been working with this individual on a project that was not only extremely important to their organization, and ours as well. When the pandemic hit and priorities were directed elsewhere, we had what was likely one of the most important and impactful conversations of my professional career. When I was able to speak with Carol, I could hear the struggle in her voice. She was undoubtedly overwhelmed. I knew her plate was full, but she was still willing to speak to me about the project and I appreciated that very much. When we started discussing the details and I could hear the angst building in her voice, I immediately said, "Carol, we don't have to do this now. I know your priorities are right where they need to be and that is making sure your employees and membership are taken care of.”
As soon as I said that, she took a deep breath and said “thank you so much; you are about to make me cry." I let her know I was requesting to place a delay on the project and would follow up with her in the coming weeks to see where things were. A few weeks later, I did just that, and she was ready! We were able to work out a plan to implement the project and today, even during the pandemic, that project is complete!
Have things changed with how we interact with our clients and business partners as a result of this pandemic? Yes, but change doesn't have to be a bad thing. Make lemonade out of lemons. We are all navigating uncharted waters these days, and it’s crucial that we learn to adapt and overcome. If you want to make a difference and strengthen a partnership, take an opportunity to recognize the challenge someone is going through, be relatable with a simple act of kindness, and you can create long-lasting, relationships based on trust.
Brenda Wickson is the Manager of SWBC’s Operations Account Management Team. Brenda is responsible for developing and implementing short- and long-term strategies for client retention and growth while ensuring the Team delivers cost-efficient, world-class customer service.
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