In the professional world, if you are working for a company, you have lots of time to adapt to the culture, get to know your colleagues, understand your customers and clients, and find your place in the mix. As a virtual assistant, you must adapt very quickly in somewhat of a vacuum. There are no office parties, no coffee meetings, no informal lunches with coworkers, and no water cooler. You are far removed from the day-to-day interactions that create the office vibe.
In addition, a VA is working from home, sometimes thousands of miles away on odd hours, with a next-to-invisible cast of clients and those they serve and interact with. Armed only with a computer, video calling, SMS, and telephone, how is it possible to create an “atmosphere” and make your clients feel like you only work for them?
Clients who hire VAs often want to hit the ground running because they have goals to accomplish yesterday. They have mapped out agendas and workflow in their mind and may have a very established way of doing business. You as a VA don’t have the luxury of asking coworkers for insider tips for getting the job done while appearing on top of your game. As you start with a new client, express the need for an onboarding period. After you have assessed the general workflow and expectations, regularly email a list of questions for your client and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification of processes often. Encourage your client that you may need some ramp-up time only in the interest of serving them seamlessly. This will make them feel like you value their work and are invested in their success.
The late bank marketing executive Paul Diesel once said, “It’s not the mistake but how you fix it.” If you make an error, apologize and ask for clarification. Approaching mistakes with humility without defensiveness helps your client to feel comfortable with you. It also ensures a quick identification for error correction if you briefly outline for them the steps you took, so your client can reverse engineer and retrain you on anything you may have missed or misunderstood in the flurry of adapting to new processes in record time.
It’s not enough to simply do the tasks that are assigned to you. To make your clients feel like you really are serving them well, invest some of your time researching the client. You may not be able to bill for this, but it only gives you more footing to do the job well and increase your chances of being retained. Get to know your client. Watch their YouTube videos; visit their LinkedIn; Google them and read the articles they’ve written. This will give you insight into how they tick and what matters most to them. Understanding how they communicate makes you a wonderful extension of them and creates a seamless experience for the clients’ customers and colleagues. If you can get inside their language, they will relate to you better and potentially entrust you with more responsibility.
Being a fantastic taskmaster is a common and necessary skill for all VAs. But what if you really believe in what each of your clients is trying to accomplish? Imagine how your clients feel when their constituents call them up and say, “Your assistant really took care of me.” When your clients’ customers feel like you are partnering in their success in a genuine intention, it carries far. Rather than engaging a static, task-based approach, consider a mission-based approach. Seeking to understand and become excited about the goals of your clients makes you part of the team as opposed to just some hired hand.
Many clients that hire a VA are really well-established and sometimes high profile people who engage in business and the executive assistants of others on a very regular basis. These clients know what is expected of an ace executive assistant. The way they speak. The confidence they exude. The research they get done. The speed and accuracy in which they work. Their attention to nuance and detail. You need to be aware of this and be in a constant state of professional development in order to be perceived in line with these attributes. Imagine your client has a colleague who works at another firm. Your client wants to present an executive assistant who can keep up with the status quo of his or her colleague’s EAs. Just because you are remote does not mean you should lose grip of best practices and common denominator expectations of skill, deliverables, timelines, and execution.
If you are having trouble meeting a deadline or being available because of conflicting time, don’t say, “Oh, I can’t talk then because I have another client that needs my attention.” This is a kiss of death. Instead, keep it vague. “I will be available today between 9 and 2 and 4 to 6 your time.” There is an unwritten understanding that you may have other commitments, but you communicate it in a way that shows loyalty. If you have a longstanding regular commitment that the clients know about from when you first started, you can say, “Just a reminder I will be in at 1 PM your time, because I will be at my regular Monday meeting,” but be mindful of presentation. You want your clients to feel like you work for them.
Sounds a little counterintuitive because you know you’re a VA. Your client knows you’re a VA. But stop seeing yourself as a VA and see yourself as an absolute member of the team. Keep in mind, in today’s global workforce, many executives work in satellite offices while their direct assistant may be based in a home office hundreds of miles away. It’s not just VAs who work remotely. If you can frame in your mind that you are representing the work of those you serve, regardless if you are outward-facing for their company or not, you will create a mindset for yourself that makes you feel part of something. As you do this, your clients will feel that you really are there for them, and will build increasing trust.
When your clients feel that you belong to them, they will do more to make you feel like you belong.
Submitted by Darcie