We live in a time when the term “value-added” has become a buzzword in many professional sectors. Add the adjective “value-added” to any proposal, and it’s supposed to instantly demonstrate return on investment. The question I wish to pose, and hopefully shed light upon, is how value can be added to the professional relationship between a Virtual Assistant and a client: Value in a Virtual World.
The marketplace for professions, industries, and products is now global. Most transactions today occur online. We know that “it” is out there, and we fume at “it” when an email or file mysteriously disappears, but “it” is still difficult to define. How does one add value to that which is intangible?
I believe the key factor is found in how a Virtual Assistant builds and maintains the client relationship. At Virtual Assistant Israel, relationships are tangible building blocks of our success, both with our clients and as an internal team of professionals offering a multitude of services in a virtual environment. We are not just “Virtual Assistants”; we are Executive Assistants, Marketing and Communications Assistants, Copywriters, Ghost Bloggers, Event Planners, Personal Assistants and Social Media Strategists. The art of a “value-added” client-Virtual Assistant relationship is in the fine balance between professionalism and personal touch — the added measures the Virtual Assistant takes to ensure the quality of her work and the satisfaction of her client. These elements create a Virtual Assistant’s professional signature.
The underpinning of any successful relationship, personal or professional, is communication. Clear, timely communication shortens project turnaround time, improves accuracy, enhances public relations and marketing endeavors, and can avert potential problems. Communication between a Virtual Assistant and her client must be sensitive to each client’s work environment, style, preferences and hours. Some clients prefer to stay “all business” and the Virtual Assistant not only needs to recognize that, but mirror it – part of the job is to make the client comfortable and work within his or her preferred style. Some clients are night owls and want to speak very late – they feel most creative at those hours for brainstorming sessions. There are still other clients who are children of the dot-com age and are most comfortable calling their Virtual Assistant “dude.” We need to go with that. Good communication, adaptation and planning have the power to build bridges of trust between individuals — a definite added value when you consider that a client and his Virtual Assistant are often on separate continents, not just in different cities. Conscientious cyber-communication can dissolve distance.
Time zones are another matter. In the cyber-office of the Virtual Assistant and her client, the VA’s clear awareness of time zone differences is crucial. A Virtual Assistant may have several clients, each in a different time zone. Deadlines and conference times are important. If they are not carefully recorded and flagged, frustrating and embarrassing oversights are possible. Competent Virtual Assistants don’t just multi-task, they multi-time, and they are adept at keeping track of their clients’ appointments and commitments. The timely completion of a task or delivery of a service is of great value to a client. Likewise, when a client knows he can depend on his Virtual Assistant calling in on time or being available for contact during specified hours, it is a professional courtesy of tremendous value.
Tying all of the above together — relationship, communication, adaptation, timeliness — are the cords of forthrightness and flexibility.
Candor lends itself to productive communication, including straightforward, frank assessments of what is possible and within what timeframe; honest, timely advice based on professional expertise; empathy for those inevitable times when a client is having “a hell of a week”, and advance notice of potential interruptions in normal routine.
Some find it astounding that virtual work environments are as effective and popular as they are, given the many factors inherent in these long-distance relationships. It’s not as if one can walk down the hall, knock on an office door, and ask to have a few moments of another’s time to clarify a misunderstanding. Notwithstanding the potential pitfalls, the Virtual Assistant profession is hugely successful, rewarding, and growing rapidly due to the quality of the assistants available and resulting satisfaction of the clients. Flexibility is one of the cardinal values a talented professional Virtual Assistant will champion. Given time zones, distance, and close-yet-far communication channels, it is imperative to strive for both flexibility and patience as Murphy plays his inevitable hand from time to time.
What defines value varies from product to product and service to service, but the conscious development and maintenance of honest, flexible, and caring client relationships undergirded with regular and clear communication, time sensitivity, culture and style adaptation, forthrightness, and flexibility can be unequivocally deemed “excellent value” 99% of the time. As a former Service Excellence Consultant prior to my relocation to Israel, I was delighted to find that such ideals are core values at Virtual Assistant Israel, and I feel privileged to be on their team of professional Virtual Assistants.
Submission by Ashirah