“The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.” Jerry Gregoire, former CIO, Dell

“The customer’s perception is your reality.”  Kate Zabriskie, President, Business Training Works

 It’s truly amazing how dependent our brands and businesses are on first impressions.  A careless action or thoughtless word can change a perception in a few seconds. Maybe this is unfair, but it is what it is!

Recently I had the opportunity to make several decisions about hiring service providers. After finally deciding on some options, I was reminded about how seemingly small things affect the process. Here’s an example of what I am talking about. We are having our roof replaced. The contractor who is doing the job is awesome- local, great reputation, and just produced exceptional work on a neighbor’s house.  Despite some not so great experiences with contractors, we felt confident with these guys. Feeling positive, until one of the workers made a comment that gave me the impression they may have been using the wrong shingles! This person\’s comment gave me the following messages: all of the workers were not on the same page, and as a result I must second guess and micromanage the job. What else could go wrong???

Another neighbor, who is also looking for a contractor, was turned off by some debris that had blown into his yard and left there by the crew. Despite his acknowledgement that the roof is impressive, he now has the idea they may be \”difficult to work with\”. With the business owner in the dark, the reputation of the entire company is being affected by a careless, seemingly insignificant comment and action by an employee.

Another example. What about the office that has a receptionist who is making and taking personal calls while clients wait to be acknowledged? These customers are forming opinions and making judgements about the quality of the services they are going to receive based on these first impressions. The seeds of doubt have been sown!

With the advent of social media, think about how many times you made a decision about a business based on an online review. The company can have 90% positive feedback but all it takes is one poor experience, specifically detailed, to cause you to doubt them.

The opposite also holds true.  I am working with another small business with good reviews. Are they as advertised? The gentleman returned my phone call promptly. He made an appointment to look at the job and arrived on time, as promised. Based on these initial impressions, my “good vibes” about this contractor gave me the confidence to take a chance on HIM vs more well- known businesses. He performed the work as agreed. In addition, he maintained professional boundaries- friendly and courteous, but circumspect with his comments! As a result, I have hired him for another job.

To further bolster my point that decisions to buy services are based on first impressions and intangibles, I pulled some online reviews from a variety of businesses. Many of the reviewers judged the business based on their first impressions- how they felt about the experience, not about the quality of the work or service performed.

  • “Drove 30 mins to get there only to find out they were closed when the hours they have posted said they should be open. Terrible service.”
  • “Called this company several times. Their sales rep came out to give an estimate, but never followed through.  Left messages for him to call but he never responded.  Two weeks later and no estimate!  Avoid this company.”
  • “It doesn\’t matter when I call or what the problem is- the competent people who answer the phone take down my issue and promptly send a repairman to the rescue….are the guys I have called for over 15 years to solve all my heating and cooling issues. “
  • “He does a great job. He is caring, thorough, efficient, and professional.  He takes the time to listen and to respond to all your questions.  The staff are organized and very caring.  My husband and I will continue to use him.  I would also recommend their services to others.”
  • “While I find Dr. ______ pleasant the front office poorly organized, hectic and unpleasant. Reception is poorly trained and lacks supervision. They are unkempt looking. The office looks like they grabbed the furniture off the curb. “

The devil is surely in the details! So how can we minimize the chances for negative first impressions? In “Selling the Invisible”, Harry Beckwith writes “ It begins with an understanding of the distinctive characteristics of services – their invisibility and intangibility- and of the unique nature of service prospects and users – their fear , their limited time , and their most important drives and needs .”

  • Are your customers greeted when they walk in the door or at least within 30-40 seconds upon entering? Is it possible they could come in, look around, and go out without ever having their presence acknowledged? Are they already getting a negative impression about the quality of the services they are looking for?
  • Realize that employees will treat your customer the way they are treated.Employees take their cue from management.
  • Do you know who your customers are?If a regular customer came in to your facility, would you recognize them? Could you call them by name? All of us like to feel valued, that our business is appreciated. Recently I decided not to renew an advertising contract. I had advertised faithfully for 3 years but felt the services and benefits were not delivered as promised. After receiving this feedback, no one at the company bothered to contact me to inquire as to why an established customer was failing to renew or if there was a way to make it right.

In closing, these quotes really embody a philosophy to live by when striving to create and maintain a positive first impression!

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.” Mahatma Gandhi

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” Jeff Bezos, founder, CEO, Amazon



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