The Other Side of Digital Communications - Should You Get Personal? 


July 21, 2022

To say that customer service is the core value of an association is an understatement — especially for your vendor and member relationships. According to studies, 96% of consumers see customer service as a priority when to begin or continue doing business with a company. And though trade associations and non-profits don’t have direct customers, they do have members and vendors that are relied on for revenue, sponsorships, volunteers and more. No matter who you're communicating with, customer service is key.  


We saw an influx of digital communications whether it was via emails or video calls during the pandemic. In fact, Zoom fatigue became a real deal and the standard conference calls went out the window. But during those communications we became more in tune to whom we were speaking with — it wasn’t about the 9-5 job anymore. We cared about the person on the other side of that email, we wanted to know how they were doing and coping with everything at hand. We had successful, personal relationships.  


"Mastering the art of writing effective emails to build business relationships is critical to getting your message through the noise generated by technology and to interrupt the hypnotic trance of someone staring at their computer or phone screen," Bob Ramsey, CAE, said. 


So, how do you do it and what's it worth? To answer those questions, we got with some tenured association professionals to share their thoughts. 

What do you expect from a vendor relationship that's maintained through email? 

Answered by Marisa Raso, Director of Member Services at MITRE Engenuity 

If you had asked me this question a decade ago my answer would have been, a limited relationship. In this current business climate, though, electronic communication has become the conduit that bridges the gap between time zones, language barriers and short deadlines. Email allows us to communicate anywhere and at any time.  


Communicating electronically, whether its through a video call or email, no longer has that sterile stigma that used to be associated with it. With various devices available to access our emails, we have become more available, responsive, and quicker with deliverables. This leads to a stronger relationship with open lines of communications and trust. 

Is discussing more than business acceptable?  
Answered by Chris Mazzon, VP of Partnerships at Multiview 

Absolutely. Adding a personal side to your emails (and phone calls) helps humanize the conversation while promoting a better working relationship.


That said, there are some barriers that should be watched. You want to be respectful of the other person's time. Writing a novel or spending 25 minutes out of a 30-minute scheduled call to talk about your weekend shouldn't happen. It's all about finding and understanding the balance. If anything, start on the shorter side of things first before elaborating. If you've already created a connection, or identified mutual interests, that helps further strengthen the relationship.


During the pandemic, I personally found out more about those I engaged with than I ever had before, resulting in newly formed friendships which have extended beyond the 9-5. 

How do you break down the barrier between business and casual emails?  

Answered by Bob Ramsey, CAE 


I like to be remembered by my emails, so I work at making my emails to be different and unique. To do that, I'll often respond with a piece of free clip art to make a person laugh. Repeating these seemingly small facts often builds a lasting relationship because of making the effort to learn about them.


To break the digital space even more, I include a photo of myself in my signature, because I want people to remember me as a person not just an electronic signature. 


How do you know when you've hit the level to discuss more than business?  

Answered by Wendy Knefelkamp, Director of Operations at Arizona Nurses Association 


You have to start small. Sign your email with something innocuous, but that might elicit a response like “Have a great holiday weekend” or “Hope your Monday is going well.” If the person on the other end responds kindly or with something similar, you know that person will be receptive, and you've found someone who you can usually get more personal with. Some contacts, though, will never go beyond the basics of “Have a good vacation,” which could be followed by “Thanks, I will!” But if the person responds with “Thanks! I can't wait to go! I'm so excited!” it feels much more open to taking the next step in the next email asking where they went or what they did.

What are the benefits of having a more personal relationship with a member or vendor?  

Answered by Marisa Raso, Director of Member Services at MITRE Engenuity and Wendy Knefelkamp, Director of Operations at Arizona Nurses Association 


"Trust and respect," Raso said. "As a former staff member at a small member-based association, I needed my vendors to be extensions of myself. I relied on them to understand my member or prospective audience just as I did. Having a partner that gets me and my needs is priceless — they actually make my job easier.” 


"It develops a connection that benefits both your business relationship as well as your networking opportunities," Knefelkamp said. "You will be remembered when an opportunity arises because of the relationship you have. It could be something as simple as passing your name along when someone needs an assist to something as big as job promotions. The personal connections you build with people allow for your own professional growth in ways you can never expect."  


No matter where you are in the communication journey, know that there is a human on the other side of that email or call. The more you connect with them, the better your experience could be down the road. Don’t be afraid to go beyond the typical 9-5 speak — talk about yourself! 

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