“Zoom fatigue” is real. But don’t shut off the camera entirely.
If you’re tired of online meetings, there’s good reason for it. Dr. Jeremy Bailenson at Stanford wrote an article earlier this year that examined the exhausting effects of daily video conferencing (1).
He describes the greater physical and psychological effort required for virtual meetings: more strain maintaining eye gaze at close distance; increased cognitive load managing the technical, verbal, and non-verbal aspects of the call; greater stress seeing yourself in a video mirror; and reduced mobility, which prevents blood circulation and may even limit creativity. In a day full of meetings, these factors make remote work particularly grueling.
Like many people, your response may be to turn off your camera. But are there downsides for not showing your face?
It turns out the answer is yes, especially when meeting customers for the first time.
The Book and its Cover
We humans are hardwired to recognize faces. Babies as young as three months do it, well before they can talk (2). We also derive social cues from facial expressions. In as little as 1/10 of a second, the brain interprets them and makes an evaluation of someone’s approachability and trustworthiness (3). Subconsciously, we associate facial cues (a smile) with stable dispositions (being friendly), meaning that if people look trustworthy to us, we assume they are. So scientifically speaking, the adage is true: we do judge a book by its cover.
Our perceptions, in turn, influence our behaviors. Scientists have found that when people see trusting faces, they cooperate more (4), wager more in poker games (5), and vote for trustworthy faces in elections(6). Incredibly, just glancing at face-like objects has the same effect. When subjects were presented with two dots above a middle dot (a minimal “face” image of eyes and a mouth) they were three times more likely to donate money to other players of an economics game (7).
First impressions also matter. Scientists have shown that viewing an unfamiliar, but friendly face increases initial cooperation by about 20% (8). People reflexively compare behaviors to this biased starting point, and if the person meets or exceeds the expectation, then trust is automatically reinforced. Over time, beliefs calcify, leading to confirmation bias—we notice information that supports our beliefs, and we ignore information that contradicts them. As a result, our very first encounter with a person disproportionately weights what we think of them over the long term.
Dollars and Senses
Showing your face at the first meeting is not only good for the new relationship, it’s good for business. Studies show that trust moderates customer loyalty, particularly when the purchase involves risk (9). Indeed, product performance, the nature of the relationship, and market factors all affect repurchasing decisions, but the level of trust determines how much customers rely on their hearts instead of their heads when making their choices.
When trust is low, customers base their decisions mostly on analysis of costs and benefits, but when it’s high, they tend to continue the relationship because they want to. So in theory, there’s a direct line between seeing a friendly face at the outset and a customer’s loyalty behavior at the end.
The lesson? By all means, turn off your camera when you need a break. But if you’re interacting with someone in the early stages, be sure to turn it on. Doing so ‘nudges’ the customer towards what ultimately keeps you in business—their loyalty.
About the Author
Ed Powers is a consultant known for helping teams make breakthroughs in customer loyalty by addressing why customers leave—and why they stay. His approach combines neuroscience with data analytics and enterprise-wide improvement to deliver dramatic results. Follow him on Linkedin.
1 Bailenson, J. N. (2021). Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue. Technology,
Mind, and Behavior, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.1037/tmb0000030
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