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How to offer online services: A practical guide for businesses

It can be a challenge to shift traditional, in-person services to virtual services. But many small business owners will need to go digital while Americans practice social distancing because of the coronavirus.

Offering online services may help maintain your cash flow and pay the bills. They may also lessen the disruption to invaluable services, without which some could suffer physically, mentally, or professionally.

Mira Sternberg is one such service professional who’s learning how to help her clients in new ways because of the coronavirus. She and her colleagues at Express Professionals in Longmont, Colorado, recruit job candidates.

“Typically, I interview around 15 candidates in person and visit two to four client companies each week to conduct business reviews and facility tours,” Sternberg says.

But those services have changed since CDC and WHO recommendations went into effect. She and her co-workers are adapting to a world of social distancing in a field built on interpersonal relationships.

“We’re still open for business and committed to helping client companies and job seekers,” she says. “We’re conducting lots of phone interviews to keep our workforce full.”

Sternberg says her team is available to clients via phone, email, and even FaceTime or Microsoft Teams.

“Stay safe, but think outside the box. Just because you can’t do business the same way doesn’t mean you can’t be successful and provide the support and encouragement your clients need,” she says. “Make yourself available via phone, and don’t default to email. A conversation—just hearing another voice on the other end of the line—in this period of semi-isolation can mean a lot to a client who’s feeling the strain.”

7 tips for providing remote services

1. Stay flexible in your communication strategies

Offer to meet clients virtually in just about any space: on the phone, over email, or over a video conference. Consider services like FaceTime, Teams, Zoom, BlueJeans, Google Hangouts, and Skype.

2. Create a high-quality experience with the right technology

Make your virtual sessions successful by working somewhere with a reliable internet connection. Ensure privacy for your video-conferencing sessions by locking your meetings so that you don’t get any unwanted visitors.

3. Research virtual service options in your industry

Some counselors and therapists, for instance, are practicing teletherapy. Meanwhile, HIPPA-compliant apps can help healthcare professionals better communicate with patients via text. And when in doubt, many industries can use YouTube or Facebook Live or live Instagram videos to deliver client services.

4. Encourage group participation

Don’t limit yourself to one-on-one meetings—consider virtual meetings or group presentations as well. Some conferencing services have screen-sharing and whiteboard options, so you can write on your screen to demonstrate examples. Some video services and webinar platforms even have settings to mute attendees in a one-way presentation to avoid background chatter.

5. Tell your clients about your plans

If you’ve found a way to continue helping your customers in a virtual space, let them know . Your new style of doing business might even work better for some clients. Think of it as a learning experiment for future use. Share your new online services proactively with an email, social media posts, or even a personal phone call.

6. Increase transparency on projects

Create a secure, virtual workspace you and your client can share to reduce communication errors that you’d normally sort out in person. That way, you and your client are always looking at the same documents and deliverables when discussing your services online.

7. Communicate office hours to avoid overworking

It may be tempting to take client calls at all hours, especially if you’re worried about losing business. But setting boundaries is good for both you and your customers because it helps prevent burnout, ensuring that you’re doing your best work. It’s best to make a firm plan now and stick to it, especially if you decide to continue offering online services in the future.

Stay safe, stay positive

Many service workers, like plumbers and electricians, need to visit their customers’ homes . If you can’t avoid it, ask whether anyone in the house is ill, sanitize everything you touch, and avoid touching your face. Adhere to the CDC’s recommendation to stay 6 feet (2 meters) away from anyone else in the home at all times.

Like many others today, Sternberg knows how hard it is to stay positive in challenging times. She stays motivated by thinking about the people who depend on her and the difference she can make.

“The work we do—helping people be successful—is changing lives, one person at a time,” she says. “That doesn’t stop being important because of a virus. In fact, it might even be more important.”

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