Who Makes the First Impression for Your Business?

Welcome!First impressions for your business are made by people that open doors, make cold calls, attend networking meetings and answer your phone.  They are delivered by your marketing communications like social media and websites.  How confident are you that your potential clients are greeted warmly and with a direct invitation to do business?

Years ago businesses paid someone to sit at a front lobby desk and answer every inbound call and greet every walk-in appointment.  The receptionist qualifications were measured by friendliness, service-orientation and attentive disposition.  The standard phone greeting of this time was “Thank you for calling, how can I help you?”

When is the last time were greeted this way?  Today we are often met with automated attendants and empty lobbies.  Some businesses have completely eliminated any dedicated space to a welcome station and filled it with another cubical. My impression is that first impressions are not a priority for this business.  The decision that customer experience may be too costly to employ a dedicated person, may be costing you business.

It is not difficult to think back to a bad first impression.  I recall three in the past weeks.  One top restaurant asked me to wait outside in 110 degrees because they did not open for four minutes, yet the door was unlocked.  Another restaurant hostess asked me to stand until my party arrived even though every table was empty.  A technology company, which had a sitting place upon entry, left me for 20 minutes while employees stared at me.  Not one person asked why I was there or if I needed help.  I remember all of these first impressions, vividly.

Noted in a recent New York Times article Praise Is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall, “Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.” Sited from Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University in a journal article he co-authored in 2001, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good.”

How your employees are greeting the public, networking, making introductions, and opening doors for others is a direct reflection of hiring skills, company culture and leadership.  Business owners, CEOs and managers own the customer experience.  Every employee is responsible for making a positive first impression.  How are you reinforcing how positive first impressions are made in your business?

Customer experience is a financial decision in business, unless revenues are low on the priority list.  Reputation management is critical and costly.  A bad review is hard to overcome.  You can’t erase the Internet or someone’s memory.  People use others professional and personal experiences as a reason to buy or not buy. Bad experiences are viral, whether online, through social media, on sites that track reputations or by word-of-mouth.  Once word is out, it is permanent.  You own it!

Every experience starts with the greeting.  Take time to review how your potential and existing customers are greeted today.  This applies whether you are selling B2B or B2C, for every industry, in a building or online.  Use “secret shoppers” and have them rate how inviting, caring, and enthusiastic they were welcomed to do business with you.

Customer service is a pillar to good business.  Customer experience starts when the phone is picked up, the door is unlocked or a web site is visited.  We may not all have the luxury of hanging up a flashing “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign to greet everyone.  We do have the luxury to manage and train our messengers to provide an outstanding first impression.

Invest in your greeting.  Define, train, test and continually reinforce how you want to insure a positive first impression.  It your opportunity to create a long-term valuable relationship with your customer.

Jamie Glass, CMO and President of Artful Thinkers, a sales and marketing consulting company. Follow http://twitter.com/jglass8

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