Face-to-Face Communication: The Trust That Helps Build a Business

In every business, communication plays an important role. Whether it is between members of the company or buyers and suppliers, how a person communicates can help make or break a deal. Because the O&P industry is somewhat insulated, the right forms of communication, such as face-to-face or over the phone or computer, are especially important.

“[The O&P industry] is, in general, a very small industry,” C. Rudolf Becker, Jr, vice president of marketing and IT at Becker Orthopedic, told O&P Business News. “Everybody knows of each other and for that reason I think we just have a personal goal that requires a lot of personal face-to-face time and attention.”

Establish trust

In a study published in International Business Review, Sonia Ketkar, co-director of the Center for Emerging Market Policies and assistant professor of Global Business and Policy at George Mason University, and co-authors concluded that face-to-face communication plays a major role in establishing trust between buyers and suppliers.

According to the study, in a survey conducted by the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, one of the critical factors for buyer/supplier relations was mutual trust. A sense of security can be established through face-to-face communication, which then enables knowledge sharing with the belief that partners will not “exploit the knowledge beyond what is intended… and fosters a willingness to work things out through mutual problem-solving.”

“What’s nice about face-to-face meetings is it allows you to create trust much quicker and, by establishing the trust, it allows the individual the opportunity to ask questions,” Walter Governor, National Director of Sales at Ottobock, said. “Our customers can ask us questions about our business and our processes and we can do the same. When we get a good understanding of their business and how their business works, we can then provide the right solutions.”

Gerald Stark, vice president of education and product development at The Fillauer Companies Inc., said that face-to-face communication maximizes the effectiveness of professional communication and that focusing on relationships in the O&P business is just as important as focusing on tasks.

“Watering plants keeps them alive, but rain really makes them grow. I think face-to-face communication is like the rain. It really makes relationships flourish with its multiple forms of communication. Electronic communication focuses simply on the verbal message, which may keep relationships alive, but does not expand them,” he said.

“There aren’t too many studies that have examined the role of face-to-face communication — which are social exchanges — on economic exchanges,” Ketkar told O&P Business News. “Our study results show, overall, that face-to-face communication plays a significant role in strengthening the exchanges between buyers and suppliers.”

Face-to-face vs. email communication

Face-to-face communication can create a different effect and environment when talking business compared with using email for communication.

According to Becker, being able to associate a name with a face helps drive the connection home, and also helps to sell the product.

“I handle the marketing for the company and it’s never good enough for our customers to have just a picture of a joint or a brace,” Becker said. “They want to hold the products and see what they’re like and get an idea of how they’re going to use them in their practice. You can’t do that in an email, you have to go face-to-face.”

“There’s a lot we can do with phone and email, but so much of the message or meaning gets lost,” Stark said. “It’s important to meet the person in their own context because context really defines what they’re relating to. When you miss that with different kinds of communication instruments, you miss out on some of that meaningful communication.” — by Casey Murphy

For more information:

Ketkar S, Kock N, Parente R, et al. The impact of individualism on buyer-supplier relationship norms, trust and market performance: an analysis of data from Brazil and the USA. Int Bus Rev. 2012; 21:782-793.

Disclosure: Becker is employed by Becker Orthopedic. Governor is employed by Ottobock. Stark is employed by The Fillauer Companies Inc. Ketkar had no relevant financial disclosures.