Your First Impression Is More Important Than You Think

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The first interaction that your company has with a customer is a chance to make a great and lasting impression.

24% of customers who have a good first impression are likely to remain loyal for up to two years, and 87% of customers will tell others about good experiences that they had.

In contrast, 95% of customers will talk about a bad experience.

If things don’t go well, it’s a lot of work to correct a bad first impression, but it’s still possible.

Making a great first impression means accounting for many factors. Appearances alone are enough to cement a rosy first impression within the first five seconds of your interaction.

This means that it’s critical to plan ahead for these first five seconds in every possible dimension.

If executed successfully, a good first impression leads to a strong customer relationship. The basics of making good first impressions are widely known:

  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Be courteous
  • Avoid interruptions
  • Use active listening

These tips go a long way towards reliably winning customers over. But there’s a lot of other groundwork that you can do in addition to following these tips to make stronger and lasting first impression.

A company’s first impression with a customer might be when the customer visits the company’s website or uses one of its products. For services like healthcare, 77% of consumers perform a search before settling on a provider.

Your customer might already have exposure to the competition. This means that you need to give the same attention to detail to every facet of your company that faces customers as you would with a customer in person.   

Below, we’ll share a few psychological behaviors that explains why taking this approach is necessary.

The Halo Effect

In a nutshell, people love to make generalizations based off of their first impression.

Establishing a good first impression is a fundamental step in making the halo effect work in your favor.

In short, the halo effect is a cognitive trope in which people see one good trait in another person then make additional positive judgments about the person as a result.

The halo effect’s existence means that making a good first impression can help you maintain your relationship from that point onward. Customers will generalize other positive traits in your company as a result of that first interaction.

The negative companion to the halo effect is the fundamental attribution error.

The Fundamental Attribution Error

Closely related to the halo effect is another cognitive trope called the fundamental attribution error.

The fundamental attribution error describes the phenomenon wherein people attribute intent to the actions of another and use that attribution to make generalizations about the other person’s personality.

If a customer visits on a day when customer service happens to be very busy and they have to wait for a while, this impression can mistakenly cause them to believe that they are not a priority for your business.

They can easily extend their fundamental attribution error to your entire company using the evidence of having long wait times to support the idea that your company doesn’t care about its customers.

The Dale Carnegie Playbook For Making A Great First Impression

Dale Carnegie was a legendary people-skills guru and the author of the internationally acclaimed book, How To Win Friends And Influence People.

The power of a good first impression was obvious to Carnegie, and so he spent a lot of time experimenting with the best way to reliably make a good one. Carnegie had many ideas about how to make a first impression in a business context, but he held six rules above all others.

His six rules for making a great first impression are:

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people
  2. Smile
  3. Remember that a person’s name is to them the sweetest and most important sound in any language
  4. Be a good listener and encourage other people to talk about themselves
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests
  6. Make the other person feel important, and do it sincerely

Each rule is very simple to implement, but difficult to master. To help bridge the gap between theory and practice, Carnegie recommended that his readers practice abiding by the six rules in private rehearsals before trying to use them in high stakes conversations such as with new customers.

Using these rules to make a good first impression in the modern business context requires a bit of refining, however.

Especially if you’re trying to improve the first impressions that your customer service representatives make on your customers, exercising discretion with respect to rule four is advisable. Rather than encouraging customers to talk about themselves, it’s recommended to offer narrow questions which prompt them to discuss their needs in greater detail.

The phrase “within the context of the specific business issue that the customer has” should be added to the end of each of the rules for making the most out of them in a business context.  

If All Else Fails

Sometimes we make a mistake with customers despite our best efforts. Rather than expecting perfection, it’s best to have a plan in place for when things don’t go exactly how you imagined when it comes to making a good impression.

Luckily, it’s eminently possible to repair first impressions with time and attention.

A good Plan B following a lackluster first impression needs to make up for the difference between the subpar initial impression and the impression that the customer expects.

The common-sense consensus as published in the Harvard Business Review and Forbes is to correct a bad first impression by taking a consistent series of actions that meet or exceed the expectations of the customer.

A bad first impression made the customer expect that you will underdeliver, so over-deliver. Turn the charm up to 11 every time that you interact with them.

Keep it up, and eventually you’ll make an impressed and loyal customer.