The Case for Face Time with Clients

Embassy Suites Hotels has released a survey that focuses on the importance of business travel. Of course, a company whose business involves having people pay to spend the night is likely to come to that conclusion. But unified communications professionals shouldn't make the mistake of letting that "coincidence" keep them from considering the survey's results. 

 By Carl Weinschenk
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Clearly, the sponsors of this survey — Embassy Suites Hotels — has a rooting interest in the results. That of course provides good reason to take the results with a grain of salt and even outright skepticism.

But it doesn't mean that you should dismiss the findings outright. In the broader view, it is prudent to consider what the survey is saying. The unified communications industry — vendors, service providers and bloggers — extol its virtues. The elegance of the technology enables meetings to be held remotely without, it seems, missing a beat. This ability is growing more seamless and elegant as technology evolves. Unified communications can drastically reduce the need for business trips and saves organizations money and time. 

That's the common wisdom. The survey, conducted on the hospitality chain's behalf by Wakefield Research, doesn't say outright that unified communications doesn't work. But it does maintain that being in the same room and shaking hands with conversation partners still is the winner. 

The survey, which queried 709 business travelers over 21 years of age via email in late March, found that 97 percent think that “face time” is vital in developing and maintaining strong client relationships. Fifty-three percent said that they are traveling more than in previous years. Further, 76 percent who do travel less say that staying home is having a negative impact. Eighteen percent reported losing a project because they didn't visit the client and 17 percent lost the client overall. 

Again, it is important to note that the question is being posed by a hotel company. It also is important to recognize that it is legitimate nonetheless, and the findings should throw at least a bit of cold water on anyone who thinks that unified communications is a replacement for travel. According to the news release:

In this digital age where professionals rely on technology for just about everything, the question remains — can apps, emails and video chats replace old fashioned face time with clients? According to Embassy Suites' survey, the answer is no. Respondents indicated it would take an average of five video conferences, 10 phone calls or 20 emails to replace one hour of face-to-face contact with a client.

Clearly, a survey finding from a hotel chain shouldn't put too much of a damper on the general buzz that unified communications is growing. But it should provide food for thought.

This article was originally published on May 24, 2011
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