First Impression Crucial in Customer Service

“First impressions are important. While a book should not be judged by its cover, many people are unlikely to read it if the cover is not inviting.” – Anonymous

Anyone running a company and most definitely those working in the customer service realm know the quote to be true. Everyone hopes that they can make a great first impression on their customers but also know that if they cannot, it is highly unlikely that a customer will make the effort to try again. With so many options, wouldn’t a customer much rather choose from the ones who know that a first impression is crucial and make every effort to make it astounding. Some thought leaders and trainers specializing in this field have been known to repeatedly assert that a first impression is formed within the first two minutes of meeting and interacting. Others say that this first impression happens in about 30-35 seconds! Incredibly short period of time to impress a rather tough set of people – customers! However, these estimates are the good news!

The bad news is that the minutes and seconds mentioned are probably too high – the decision of good or bad is formed almost instantly – probably two seconds. It should not surprise you to know that customers pick up on and form a first impression based on punctuality, physical grooming, poor body language and low confidence. While these outward expressions could just be a result of a bad day, the first impression that a customers forms based on them tend to linger on and will be associated in the future to any situation that is even slightly similar. A bad first impression makes it even more difficult to attract the kind of customers your company seeks to have thereby slowing down its progress. A good first impression, especially in the customer service realm, means that your customer or prospective one will be more open to the idea of doing business with you and will associate good service with your company – this is great news for the company’s bottom-line.

For customers, taking the decision to do business with a company is a complicated one and involves dealing with loads of information and taking into account their own beliefs, values, needs, emotions, experiences and other such factors. The reason that people make split decisions and form the proverbial first impression is so that they can apply all these factors quickly and be done with the decision making process. Keeping a decision lingering causes stress and is unfinished work. This ability to take on the spur-of-the-moment decisions about companies and people has become even more pronounced as people find themselves constantly battling the clock and trying to fit in more in a day. The competition is too fierce to waste time on anything and hence the rise of first impression.

It seems unfair and it is actually but at the same time it is true and companies must make peace with it and strive to ensure that each first impression – first point of contact and first customer experience – leaves an indelible and positive impact. This positive impact will be the most crucial stepping stone in their relationship with customers.  Whether a customer connects over the phone, in person, via social media or email, the first impression will set the pace and tone for the kind of experience the customer has. It is upto the company and its representatives to ensure that customer’s see you as a class apart in those first two seconds!

Let us look at the different touch-points for a customer with a company. Over the phone, the first thing the customer hears is the greeting. From experience, I remember grimacing and forming a poor impression of the company if the greeting over the phone is messed up. Unfair – probably, true – yes! The fact is that most companies have not got a grip on how important this first greeting is in forming that vital positive first impression. An appropriate – cheery and genuine – greeting would set you apart from what ‘everyone out there’ is doing. It will instill confidence in customers, making them believe that they are doing business with the right people. Study proves that a massive 86% of the impact results from the tone of voice and the remaining 14% is from the words used. The customer cannot see the customer service person over the phone, but can detect genuiness and willingness to serve from the tone used. If your customer service staff is overworked or upset, they will sound hurried and discourteous even if they don’t mean to be and all the customer will pick up is the negative tone. A pleasant voice is good to have but a pleasant demeanour and tone are must-haves and it these that will create a great first impression and keep your customers engaged and happy with your company and also be willing to spread a positive word about your company.

Consistency in great service is also required to ensure that the great first impression does not get diluted – a first impression if good does not necessarily last but a bad first impression lingers on. Again not fair you would say – but that is how humans behave. It is crucial that post the first impression the company maintains it and actually aims at raising the bar. Your company’s reputation must be such that customers know that they would receive great service and that the first impression created by your company was not a fluke or customer service gimmick.

Apart from the phone, your company’s representatives also meet customers in person. This is very crucial since the customer gets to see and meet an actual person – so not just the greeting but the handshake, personal grooming and overall confidence of the person will make that crucial good first impression. This first impression will set the tone not just for the current meeting but will also determine whether the customer or prospective one will make the next move to strike a deal with your company and even speak highly of their experience with your company.

The other way that a customer will form a first impression is when they visit the physical location of your store. If the premises is clean, spik and span and has happy looking employees, the customer is pleased and carries the impression of a professional company that understands the needs of its customers and also ensures that their employees are happy. It is upto the customer service personnel at the premises or store to create a pleasant and memorable experience for the customers. Study shows that customers expect to be greeted within the first 3 seconds of arrival. A lapse here will leave your customer feeling ignored and carry that first impression with them.

The other place where first impressions are made is the office premises. The person at the front desk must be pleasant, well-dressed and genuinely courteous. The person must make eye contact and smile at the person that approaches the desk. Often it has been observed that the person at the front desk seems to busy and or uninterested in the visitors of the office. The impression that leaves is that the company supports this behaviour. Would you like to stay on at an office where you are not greeted and politely offered a glass of water and or hot beverage?

Customers and potential ones, deserve proper attention and must be made to feel welcome. When you treat them badly, you are actually causing more harm to yourself and the company you represent. No customers means no business – no business translates to no jobs and money! Think about it – especially because the decision to do business or not is almost a split second one based on the first impression.

Making a good first impression may seem simple and therefore is undermined. However, a great first impression can and does make a huge impact. It puts the customer relationship on the fast track to success and makes it easier for your company to please its customers enough such that they not only decide to do business but provide repeat business and great testimonials and referrals.

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