We’ve all heard about the importance of first impressions, but do you know just how important they are when it comes to your customers? The reality is that the first interaction a customer has with your brand is a moment that heavily informs their future actions, whether that happens in a store, on your website, or in your help center.
Make a great first impression, and 72% of your customers are likely to spread the word to six or more people. Solid first impressions also create the foundation for long-term loyalty. If things don’t go well right from the start, you’ll have to work hard to correct a negative first impression. But don’t worry, you can take steps to make a great first impression.
Start customer relationships by making great first impressions, and you’ll see the rewards well into the future. Here’s how:
The Importance of First Impressions
Making a great first impression means accounting for many factors—and fast. Research has shown it can take as little as a tenth of a second up to 30 seconds to cement a first impression. That means it’s critical to plan for those initial moments and do your best to make a great first impression. This is how to make a good first impression when you meet someone face-to-face:
- Speak slowly and clearly
- Be courteous
- Avoid interruptions
- Listen actively
- Make eye contact
These tips go a long way toward reliably winning over customers in person. But there’s a lot of other ground to cover that can make a stronger and even longer lasting first impression, whether you’re meeting in-person or in a digital landscape.
After all, a customer’s first impression of a company might form when they visit the company’s website. In industries like healthcare, for example, many consumers do online searches before settling on a provider. Online shoppers search for better deals, free shipping, or the look and feel of a brand that resonates with their values. They use websites, ads, and other customer reviews to inform their decisions.
Your customer might already have exposure to the competition, too. This means you need to give the same level of attention to every element of your company that is customer-facing, just like you would with a customer who is interacting with you in-person.
Here are a few psychological reasons that being so thorough is necessary.
The Halo Effect
In a nutshell, people tend to make generalizations based on their first impression, so a positive first impression is a fundamental step in making the halo effect work in your favor. In short, the halo effect is a cognitive bias in which people see one good trait in another person and 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 often generalize other positive traits in your company as a result of that first interaction.
But, there is a negative companion to the halo effect, too—the fundamental attribution error.
The Fundamental Attribution Error
The fundamental attribution error describes the phenomenon in which people attribute intent to the actions of another and use that attribution to make generalizations about the other person’s personality.
For example, if a customer visits a store on a day when the customer service desk happens to be very busy, and they have to wait for a while, they might assume that they’re not a priority for your business.
And they can easily extend their fundamental attribution error to your entire company just because they assume having long wait times means your company doesn’t care about its customers. They have the evidence through their own experience to support their assumption.
The Dale Carnegie Playbook for Making a Great First Impression
As you probably know, Dale Carnegie was a legendary people-skills guru and the author of the internationally acclaimed book, How To Win Friends And Influence People.
The importance of first impressions was obvious to Carnegie, so he spent a lot of time experimenting with the best way to reliably make a good one. Carnegie had lots of ideas about how to make a first impression in the business context, but he held six rules above all others, which include:
- Become genuinely interested in other people
- Remember that a person’s name is to them the sweetest and most important sound in any language
- Be a good listener and encourage other people to talk about themselves
- Talk in terms of the other person’s interests
- Make the other person feel important, and do it sincerely
His rules might seem simple to put into practice, but in reality, they’re actually quite 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 like the ones you might be having with new customers.
For example, if you’re trying to improve the first impressions your customer service representatives make on your customers, tread with caution when it comes to rule four. Rather than encouraging customers to talk about themselves, a sales rep could ask a series of narrow questions designed to prompt the customer to describe their needs in greater detail.
If You Fail to Make that Ideal Impression
Sometimes we make mistakes when we communicate 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. After all, we’ve probably all made a bad first impression by mistake.
Luckily, it’s possible to change a negative first impression over time. It might sound obvious, but one surefire way to correct a bad first impression is by consistently doing things that meet or exceed the customer’s expectation. Again, easier said than done, but if you strive to go the extra mile, you’ll probably see progress when it comes to how much the customer trusts you.
A bad first impression makes customers expect that you will underdeliver, so over-deliver and then over-deliver some more. Turn the (genuine) charm up to 11 every time you interact with them.
Keep it up, and eventually you’ll have an impressed—and loyal—customer.
Learn how Solvvy can help you create great impressions with your customers.