Editor’s note: As we ended a difficult and unique year and entered a new one, the Training Industry editorial team asked learning leaders to write in with their reflections on 2020 and predictions for 2021. This series, “What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?: Taking Stock of 2020 and Planning for 2021,” is the result. Plus, don’t miss our infographic, “5 Tips for Turning 2020 Disarray Into 2021 Direction: Insights From Learning Leaders,” which shares insights from the series.

When Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that “change is the only constant in life,” he seems to have predicted life in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we work, interact and communicate. In the corporate setting, these changes range from the way we market to, sell to and serve our customers to how we train and engage with our employees. Zoom meetings, remote sales calls and virtual happy hours are the new normal. According to Forester Research, 80% of the business-to-business (B2B) sales cycle will be digital in the foreseeable future.

But the more distant we are, the more connection we crave. According to Forrester analyst Mary Shea, despite the move to virtual interactions, buyers “crave deep, human connections.” Human resources (HR) and training professionals must find new ways to put the human element back in our remote workplace and reskill and upskill our employees to work in this new reality. How can we train them to be more compassionate and responsive to customers in this environment?

Align Around Customer Needs

We need to redesign business operations and processes with the customer at the center, aligning organizations around the customer experience. This change requires collaboration among the cross-functional teams that work together throughout the customer life cycle. An organization needs to train employees, from marketing and sales to services and support, to build team effectiveness and collaboration.

Customer-centric operations require a 360-degree view of the customer, which requires sharing data across all teams that interact with customers. Employees, then, must receive training on how to access, navigate and leverage this data to improve the customer experience.

Make It Relevant

Employees need to understand that when it comes to customer interactions, quality, not quantity, is key. Buyers want to have conversations that are relevant and insightful. According to LinkedIn’s 2020 “State of Sales” report, 88% of buyers “agree that the salespeople they ultimately do business with are ‘trusted advisors.’” Salespeople need to identify and sell to customer needs — and, maybe more importantly, be a reliable partner who follows through, as well.

Promote Active Listening

Salespeople also must learn how to practice active listening: to fully concentrate, understand, respond to and then remember what their customers tell them. After all, organizations can only meet customer needs if we listen to and understand what they are telling us.

Leverage Video

Email volume increased an average of 19% between Feb. and March 2020, with open rates increasing at about the same rate. The challenge for salespeople is making their message memorable and standing out from the others on email and social media. To do so, employees need access to, and training on, easy video tools that enable them to record and distribute short videos. Messages with videos have better response rates.

Avoid Zoom Fatigue

Customers and salespeople alike who are working from home are battling “Zoom fatigue” — a term that describes the tiredness, worry or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication. How can we have virtual meetings and training sessions without worsening the fatigue? We need to find ways to be creative and make things fun.

When designing a virtual meeting or training program, facilitators should consider the following questions:

  • Can I accomplish my objectives without holding a virtual meeting?
  • How can I include games and activities that engage the audience?
  • Where can I include a story within my presentation to help capture the listener and improve retention?
  • Am I engaging the audience — through chat, polls or discussion — every couple of minutes?

Embrace the Personal Touch

One advantage of working from home is that we have an inside look into our colleagues’ lives. People used to cringe when pets or children interrupted a conference call, but now, these types of interactions are common and accepted. This new work environment allows us to share a more intimate, personal perspective of our lives.

The changes we’ve experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic have made life challenging. But it is possible to find hope amid these challenges. 2020 reaffirmed the importance of human connection, creativity and novelty. While the challenges of last year brought new challenges to the training profession, they also brought new opportunities to introduce creativity and fun into our work.