It’s a sad fact of life that people will decide what they think of you within the first three seconds of meeting you. This all important first impression can set the tone of your relationship with someone, how they view you and the level of respect they will have for you. First impressions are difficult to reverse and can have far reaching effects.
Whilst I try not to make an immediate judgement about someone I have just met (because I have got it so wrong in the past), I am still guilty of it. Nothing irritates me more than being judged and found wanting by someone who I’ve only just met, so I try hard not to make that mistake myself.
Recently I went to a kitchen showroom inquiring after a new kitchen, the salesman obviously made a judgement about me when I came in the door. That judgement was clearly that I wasn’t the sort of person who could afford their kitchens. He was extremely offhand with me, telling me that until I was much further on with our renovations there was no point talking to him about price – until I came to leave when he asked for my name and address. For some reason after that his demeanour completely changed. The next day he rang me and was very contrite and offered to drop round some brochures and come and measure up – a sea-change from his original statements. But it was too late – I was too cross to consider buying a kitchen from someone who made judgements like that – so he lost a potential sale.
First impressions in business are vital. Unless you create a positive first impression, your potential customers will not turn into actual paying customers. In this day and age your potential customer’s first impression of your business is likely to come from your website – rather than walking into your shop or speaking on the phone. Your website does not need to be all singing, all dancing – but it does need to be quick to load, easy to navigate, state clearly what products and/or services you provide, and how to contact you. It is still amazing the amount of websites that do not have this basic information!
So your customer has found your website, likes the look of your products/services and decides to ring you. Is the phone answered quickly and in a professional friendly manner? Is the query answered fully? Again it is astounding the number of businesses that do not answer their phones at all, or return messages, or have anyone that knows what they’re talking about when you ring them! All this kind of thing is basic – but vital.
What about if you have a shop or an office where customers are likely to visit? Look carefully at the first impression you are creating. Don’t overlook the little things: I have walked out of shops that smell ‘funny’ and decided against using companies that can’t be bothered to clear the rubbish away from their office door.
And what about you? If you’re a sole trader, you and you alone represent your business. If you’re going out and about visiting clients then it is you yourself creating the first impression. They say a picture says a thousand words – and that is what you’re giving to your clients, a picture of your business. Your presentation and poise is everything – don’t forget they’re going to make their minds up about you and therefore your business in the first few seconds of meeting you. Clearly how you dress is very important – dressing appropriately for the situation. Think about what the person you are meeting is going to be wearing. Does the situation require you to look smarter? If so it doesn’t need to cost a fortune to invest in a smart but practical business outfit – keep a look out for voucher codes for high street clothes shops or check out the discounts at Very.co.uk. Remember a few pennies spent on a quality outfit could mean the difference between making a sale or not.
Also don’t forget about other details such as your hair – a tidy haircut or neatly tied ponytail can smarten you up no end. Judgments are quickly made about people from the little things – jewellery, watches, shoes, handbags – it all adds up to the bigger picture. When I was at school I was absolutely besotted with a boy I had only really seen from a distance. One day he came up to me and asked me out – I could hardly believe it as I’d admired him for so long. But as he asked me out I glanced down – and was horrified to realise he was wearing the most horrible shoes! All the attraction was gone – and I made up some excuse about washing my hair! His loss or my loss maybe but it proves how a little item of clothing can make or break!
Body language is also important, try and be confident and relaxed – even if this means rehearsing beforehand to improve your confidence. Make sure you’re punctual – being late is only going to irritate your customer and fluster you. Good manners cost nothing and if all else fails, smile – it’ll show you’re human!
A firm handshake can win business
You can never erase a first impression but there is a lot you can do to make sure that you and your business creates a good impression to all potential customers. Don’t leave it to chance – check every customer facing aspect of your business and make sure you’re painting the right picture.