First Impressions Really Count

Many of our clients ask me to share with them the one most important thing that they can tell their teams and their colleagues that will make the biggest impact on improving customer care. This is not easy, because there is no simple quick fix for problem service, nor is there a miracle potion that by magic will transform your company into a first class customer delighting business. A customer-driven company is a combination of many, many things put together.

But if I had to choose only one thing, just one change to make immediately, it would relate to the original idea of managing the moments of truth in your business, and to create “Moments of Magic.” To make it even easier for you, I would suggest that managing the first impression that your customers have in any interaction is the essence of this.

I am not talking about meeting someone for the first time, although that is obviously a first impression. I am talking about the first impression we make every time we meet with or talk to or interact with a customer, because that may set the tone for everything that follows.

Here is a simple example. When you walk into work in the morning, how do you greet the other people in your team? How do you feel about the way they greet you? Are you one of those people who regularly bends over backwards to be cheerful and positive early in the morning – even though inside you may be feeling grumpy or tired? When people ask you how you are doing, do you have a standard response like, “Fantastic! In fact, if I was any better I’d be halfway to the moon right now.”

Or, maybe you claim not to be an “early morning” person – at least not until you have had your third cup of coffee? Maybe you prefer to be straightforward and honest and tell people exactly how bad you feel right now. Maybe you don’t care if they would just leave you alone and avoid you for the rest of the day.

To the bottom of my heart, I believe we need to go out of our way to make the people we work with want to be around us for the rest of the day. Your early-morning greeting is simply setting the tone for any interaction that is to follow – and you may need to repeat it a couple of hundred times every day if you deal with customers. Your job is to shine your light into the dark corners of other people’s hearts, in the same way that a little child would use a mirror to reflect the sun into dark places.

But it goes beyond that first greeting: How about the way you dress when you go to work? No, I don’t mean wearing a business suit, and a tie, and putting on all your make-up just to impress everyone. I mean dressing to make yourself feel good and attractive and important. I have a colleague and friend Hilary who worked from home for many months after she had her baby, and she once told me: “If I wake up and just thrown on a tracksuit, put my hair up and start working, I just don’t feel professional. And that comes through in my calls and in my work.” So even on those days when she was not seeing clients, she’d make the effort, because she knew it made a difference – to her.

And what do your facial expressions and your body language say about you? Body language, eye contact, and all other non-verbal behaviours are observed, sensed and interpreted by everyone around us. I recently went to one of those exhibitions where there were dozens of stands, and by far the majority of people working in those stands had a look that said: “Don’t you dare come in here and make me get up to talk to you.”

Who were the ones that got the best response? Those that came into the walkways, looked you straight in the eye, and said, “Good Morning!”

And don’t forget that even the very way we answer telephone calls makes a difference, probably in the first two to four seconds. Do you think that the people calling you feel that you welcome their call, or do they feel as if they are an interruption of your day?

I’ll never forget a story that was told to me by one of our clients. He was really experiencing some pressure at work, what with deadlines and people demanding lots of his time. His company had just been cited in a great report in the newspaper, and, while proud of their achievement, he didn’t really have the time to savour the success. A couple of days later, he told me, he got a telephone call from one of the sales representatives who called on him quite often. The call went something like this:

“Hi Roger, this is Hennie from LovelyCompany.” Roger answered Hennie’s phone call curtly, and Hennie immediately knew he was busy and started to feel uncomfortable. So, he just said, "Are you okay?”

Roger said in a sharp, almost angry tone of voice, “Hennie, I’m really busy and I can’t talk right now.”

Hennie said, rather sheepishly, almost guiltily, “I can tell. All I wanted to do was congratulate you on the great mention in the newspaper. I can hear you’re busy though. Good-bye.” There was a moment of silence as Roger realised that all Hennie wanted to do was pay him a compliment. He awkwardly said, “Good-bye.”

He stopped everything for a few minutes, and realised what a negative first impression he had given with his curt greeting, but he also caused himself a lot of embarrassment. What if the person calling Roger hadn’t been Hennie, but an important customer instead? Would they have been as forgiving as Hennie? Imagine the excuses and “back-peddaling” he would have had to make to make that client feel comfortable with having called him?

He immediately picked up the telephone and called back to apologise. He learned a big lesson that day, and realised that if he was too busy to answer the phone he should someone else or his voice mail pick it up.

These first impressions come in many forms beyond greetings. Pay attention to what your non-verbal actions are saying: the way you stand, the look in your eye, the energy that you exude. Managing the first impression simply lets you start off on a positive note. Why should you start a conversation or a meeting at a psychological deficit?

You know that to make up for one single bad thing in business you need to do many, many good things. Most of the research tells us that you have to do eight to twelve good things to make up for a Moment of Hell. One good thing does not fix a bad thing or make things even. You have to go much further to renew the confidence in a customer that thinks your company is really dumb.

Managing first impressions is so simple, so why make it so difficult on yourself? Set a positive tone for any interaction that is to follow. It all helps toward creating those MOMENTS OF MAGIC for your customers.

One thing is for sure: A candle loses nothing when it passes its light to another. The same is true for all of us.

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