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First impressions count

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As much as we say we like to be fair, as consumers we can make judgements based on even the slightest negatives. Is your brand consistently making the right first impressions?

You’re allowed an off-day, but you have to build up an awful lot of good impressions for customers to allow you a bad one. Whether it be a grumpy interaction, a typo in an email, or an ad that takes your brand message off piste, we’re none of us perfect.

We all work continuously to make sure that our product, service or advice is strong enough to maintain a customer’s long-term trust and loyalty, but we have but an instant to make a bad impression.

After battling unruly hair all my life, I recently decided to embrace the curls. I sensibly started this new crusade in the Christmas holidays, when few clients would see me. I’m gradually getting to grips with an armoury of products to marshal the random chaos on top of my head (as opposed to in it).

As I meet with new potential clients, I wonder if they judge the craziness of frizz as representative of a troubled soul, of having just fallen out of bed, or of not caring. (One of these may be true, but never the not caring one.)

Will I fail to win the contract because of my hair? I doubt it very much. But there are niggles that consciously or sub-consciously stick in our minds when we decide on our future relationship with a brand.

Sometimes, New Zealand, you surprise and disappoint me with an ever-so-slightly casual attitude. As endearing as it is to be laid back and chilled, there are times to sit up, straighten your collar, polish your shoes and show how much it matters.

Retail environments in particular are often overloaded with my pet hates in terms of slack first impressions. Staff paying more attention to their phone than the customers. Vacuuming while the store is open. Months of old scraps of Sellotape around posters on windows. Dusty shelves. Crooked signs. Signs with bad spelling or grammar. (Sign printers, how dare you let these things out of your studios.) You get the picture.

Does a pristine and high spec fit-out mean that your products are better? Not necessarily, of course. But if the experience is more pleasurable at your competition, either your products, prices or customer service have got to knock it out of the park to keep the customers coming back.

I accidentally caught five minutes of Fair Go last year, with a segment offering advice on how to spot a cowboy tradesman. The boss of a successful plumbing company, I think it was, pointed out that if a tradie comes to your door to price up a job in a beat-up old van, looking scruffy and writing your quote on the back of an envelope, it should ring obvious alarm bells.

The guy with the tidy and branded vehicle, clean branded shirt and who sends you a formal quote, as the spokesman said, is not 100 percent guaranteed to do a better job but, given that he cares about the impression he’s making, it’s probably safe to say he cares about his reputation and is less likely to let you down.

Today, a poor first impression can be shared in seconds with others online, with people predisposed to jump to a conclusion based on the brave words of an angry keyboard warrior.

Look at your business through the literal and metaphorical lens of your customers’ smartphones. Can you picture a potential snapshot that could go viral on Snapchat, or could a visitor’s post on Instagram make you instantly infamous? You don’t even need your own social media pages to get bad reviews or comments, the damage can be done quite independently.

I know. Sad but true, isn’t it.

You don’t have to go overboard to unnecessarily elevate the first impression you think customers would appreciate. Depending on the business, of course, it can be a risky strategy to create an impression so high spec and luxurious, or with a smothering-style customer service, that your clients feel like they’re paying disproportionately for the experience.

Sometimes it’s those nice touches that keep customers coming back but beware of the trap of all design and no delivery.

In reality, we should treat every interaction as if it is the first. Define a position for your brand that will not only impress your customers, but that is genuine and sustainable for you.

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About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz