You and your clients know that as a VA, you work remotely; sometimes thousands of miles away across many time zones. Seldom, however, do your clients want to give that impression to their clients. No matter how popular outsourcing and use of remote assistants has become in the past 5-10 years, your clients may not want to give air to their clients, colleagues, and customers that they are using remote or offshore talent; to avoid any possible stigma or misperceptions.
How do you engender trust among those people that your client serves and make them feel you are right there, ready to serve, and working side by side with your manager?
As a virtual assistant, you probably already work on a schedule of hours that closely matches the time zone where your client’s firm is based. The element of working “on grid” helps to lessen the feeling or suspicion that you may not be in the cubicle nearby.
Be conscientious when you send emails, shoot out texts, or place a phone call. Be aware of the time zones you are contacting. While it may be 3 PM for you, it’s 5 AM in sunny California – and the sun certainly has not woken up there yet! Likewise, though you may be hitting the ground running at 8 AM on project-based work, your client is likely fast asleep. That SMS is going to have to wait several hours for you to get that information you need.
Be responsive. Check your emails frequently and be at the ready. Depending on the field, some industries have a baseline expectation of executive and administrative assistants to be quick on the uptake and ready to handle those last-minute requests, appointment bookings, or cancellation communications. The more present you are, if that is an expectation, the more calm and confidence you imbue.
Remember you are an extension of your client – their second voice. Again, depending on the industry, people do expect executive assistants to be busy with many concurrent tasks. However, they are also accustomed to indefatigable service and accessibility. Case in point, back in my temp days, I was working for a high net worth private banking firm as a long-term temporary receptionist. I was expected to prepare 15 sets, 20 pages each, double-sided, collated and stapled in the copy room in the back, plus make the coffee (cup by cup in the pod machine) and serve it with arranged cookies on china dishware in the front conference room to our multi-million dollar clients for their ten o’clock meeting with our principal while never once letting the phone ring more than three times. That phone was on my desk 300 feet away. And if one of the five priority lines rang, it could ring only twice! Keep in mind, this was long before the advent of Bluetooth headsets! I kept that ringer volume up and made sure I could run FAST in those heels!
As a remote employee, you don’t have quite that level of expectation from your immediate client, but their clients may become irritated if they get slow responses. Be mindful of how you use your breaks, time manage all of your clients, and rotate tasks.
Never tell your clients’ constituents that you work remotely. You must give the impression at all times that you are a unified front. You are part of their brand. You belong to them. This requires a lot of skill and ability to do abrupt “costume changes”. For one client, you are in New York. For another, in London. For another, in California.
Adding to that, try to get “inside” the local culture a bit of where your clients’ customers and colleagues are located. This may not work for everyone, but if you happen to be good with accents, and genuinely so (never put a fake accent on!) psychologically speaking, that customer is going to feel a whole lot more connected to you if you sound a bit like them. Barring the skill for actual accents, at least try to stay abreast of some regional and local basics. Even knowing the local weather for the day, or learning something about the area restaurants to suggest meetings can go a long way. Listen for patterns. If one of the people you interact with consistently recommends meetings at ABC Coffee House, the next time you are booking, ask, “ABC Coffee will work well for you?” or “I heard ABC is closed for renovations this week. Does Coffee Nut work instead?”
Finally, learn your client and those in his or her purview well. Build rapport. Take the extra time to make everyone feel valued. You need to forget you are a VA, too. You have to place yourself in your mind’s eye sitting right down the hall from your boss. A client could walk in at any moment and need your attention or help. You may need to make that small-talk while your manager ties up that phone call and needs a few minutes before the meeting can start. This is the kind of mindset that will help people completely forget that you are far away at all.
Submitted by Darcie