Is your first impression also your last impression?

It takes only three to five seconds for someone to form a first impression, so it should go without saying that people who feel welcome at a place of business are far more likely to return than those who don’t. However, regardless of whether they return, both satisfied and unsatisfied customers alike are going to share their experiences with others. What will they say about your business?

Almost everyone has had at least one experience with the checker from “H-E-Double-Toothpicks” — the employee who would rather be anyplace else but work, or the worker who acts as though it’s an effort to be your server, or even the team member who dresses like it doesn’t matter what they wear.

Recently, several business friends and I were discussing first impressions and how the relationship between a company’s image and how it’s perceived all begin with a first encounter in person or by phone, email, or other means. We all agreed that a first impression goes a long way toward influencing not only the quality of the business relationship but also whether the relationship will even continue beyond that first interaction.

An image consultant friend gave these suggestions for creating an all-important, positive first impression:

  • A customer’s first impression begins before they even enter your place of business. Maintain an uncluttered, easy-to-access parking area. See through the eyes of a client by walking from the parking lot to inside the business. Keep the premises clean and neat, especially including the restrooms.
  • Train team members to welcome clients with a smile. It doesn’t matter if the client is an old friend or a perfect stranger, saying “Welcome to …” opens a friendly dialogue and starts the experience in a good way. And smile with your face and voice.
  • Appearance is very important. Whether or not a company uniform is required, neat, clean clothing is as important as a neat, clean store. Poorly groomed employees send the wrong message.
  • Keep attention on the customer. Even if an offer of help is declined, be available. A recent experience at a big-box store, where I had to go in search of someone to help me and I found two workers just chatting, leads me to think they haven’t been trained to serve customers properly. I think we all prefer to work with someone who gives us his or her complete attention.
  • Get to know repeat clients. Greet them by name whenever possible. Paying attention to these details lets the client know how important they are to you and your business.
  • Say “thank you.” Let customers know how important their business is to your company. Saying thank you can be the difference between a customer returning or shopping elsewhere.

According to customer service experts, body language and non-verbal communication help create a lasting first impression. Kathleen Ricker, statistician at Educational Testing Service in Princeton, NJ, describes it as the “Halo Effect” — when we know positive things about a person we have a generally positive impression about that person. That’s why a positive first visual impression is so important to creating a feeling of confidence in your employees’ abilities. It also adds a feeling of confidence about the ability of your company to serve the customer’s needs.

From welcome to thank you, is it time to polish your halo?

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