Guest Column | May 13, 2021

3 Winning Strategies Service Leaders Are Adopting To Help Their People Succeed In Virtual Work Environments

By Paul Hesselschwerdt, Global Partners Training

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Much has been written in the past year about the profound changes, both positive and negative for people working in technical service. The Covid crisis, for example, has accelerated the adoption of new digital service technologies, resulting in significant savings in travel time and costs. However, these gains also have contributed to the reduction of live interactions and the weakening of relationships between people. The routine meetings, on-site discussions and casual conversations that enable us to build and maintain relationships as well as to understand and resolve problems changed profoundly when Covid shutdowns were implemented.

After struggling for more than a year with how to adapt to new ways of working, leaders in technical service organizations have hit upon some winning strategies. Here are three that every technical service organization should adopt to make their people more successful in virtual working environments.

#1: Recognize That New Skills Are Required And Train Up Those Skills

Recent studies by Salesforce and others indicate that service leaders believe that so-called soft skills are as essential for successfully operating in new digital and virtual environments as technical skills. Two skills, in particular, have been identified as priorities for enabling people to work effectively in new service environments. In a Salesforce survey, collaboration was the top vote-getter, cited by 73% of survey participants as an essential skill for service people, while communication was number two, cited by 67% of participants.

Similar research from leading European business universities has determined that because of the increasing adoption of digital and virtual technologies, service environments will be less technical and more relationship driven. As a result, non-cognitive skills such as the ability to collaborate, engage people, and inspire trust will become new service differentiators.

As a consequence, we are seeing service leaders place increasing emphasis on training their technical service people on the people and relationship skills needed to support the implementation of new digital and virtual service technologies. These companies recognize that people and relationship skills will ensure better, faster implementation of new technologies and at the same time promote trusted partner relationships.  

#2: Enable ‘Human’ Connections

Research in Neuroscience has shown that when people communicate, they experience multiple levels of understanding. Think of it like an iceberg where people can clearly ‘see’ the technical issues being discussed in a conversation or described in written communication. But in many situations, there are layers of issues that are hidden below the waterline. These tend to be non-technical, more personal, and often emotional issues such as stress, uncertainties, lack of trust, even personal fears.

In many cases, understanding and addressing these hidden issues are more important for solving a customer’s problem than addressing the technical elements. And the best way to do that, according to the science, is via human-to-human interactions where a person has the opportunity to connect, literally, with another person. Since Covid, of course, many of the human interactions that we take for granted have become difficult.

At several user forums, we recently held we asked service leaders from telecom, hi-tech, and healthcare equipment providers how they were helping their people compensate for these ‘lost connections’, not only with customers but internally as well. The emphasis for most companies was on proactively creating an environment that fosters the relationship-building and interpersonal elements of meetings and everyday discussions. Specific ‘virtual relationship-building strategies included:

  • Encouraging people to create an informal, more relaxed atmosphere by using personal stories in meetings and avoiding talking exclusively about business topics. This also includes allowing extra time during meetings for an informal discussion.
  • Training people in questioning and listening techniques and encouraging people to have a small group and one-on-one discussions that enable people to ‘get below the waterline’ safely.
  • Raising awareness of how to create empathy by being aware of what’s happening in someone else’s world, i.e., current pressures, recent challenges, etc., understanding how these might be affecting their interactions with you and others, and saying or doing something to acknowledge and deal with those pressures and challenges.
  • Lastly, encouraging people to watch out for sudden changes in behavior, i.e., a talkative person suddenly goes quiet, and asking if the person needs help.

In short, service managers are advising their people to constantly look for opportunities to connect and show empathy in virtual situations.

#3: Anticipate And Address Customers’ New Challenges

Service providers know that anticipating challenges that customers will have and proactively addressing them is a great way to differentiate themselves and be viewed as a trusted partner.

In one case a supplier of industrial lasers was supporting the implementation of new technology with a U.S. customer by providing technical experts from the supplier’s headquarters in Europe. Unfortunately, the new equipment arrived in the U.S. and was installed just before the pandemic froze all travel from Europe. Although the U.S. service organization was not fully versed in the new technology, they did have a deep knowledge of the customer in the U.S. and high trust relationships with the European team responsible for implementing the new technology. As a result, the U.S. service people were able to prioritize the biggest challenges to a smooth implementation and address them by working seamlessly in a virtual mode with their colleagues in Europe as well as with the local customer team.


It seems evident from research as well as observed success stories from the field that service leaders who have treated the impact from Covid more as an opportunity than a threat are strengthening their relationships with customers as well as their people. The question for all service organizations is, ‘How will you capitalize on the opportunities presented by this “New Normal”?’.

For more on the topic of working in the New Normal, check out this article from our website,

About The Author

Paul Hesselschwerdt has been a senior executive in training and consulting firms for more than 30 years. He has designed and implemented programs in customer service, sales and marketing, leadership, and project management across a range of industries, including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and high technology. For additional insights, please visit