I want to tell you three stories about first impressions that happened in one recent week.
First, my friend Freddy was mad. Freddy took his wife’s car into a dealer and had a terrible experience.
The worst thing for the dealer was that it was Freddy’s first time dealing with them. If they were trying to make a good impression on a new customer, they failed badly.
Not only did they forget to pick up Freddy at the promised time, Freddy had to call them three times over the next two hours before he made arrangements to use another car to pick up his kids.
He eventually brought the car home. But backing it up the next day, he found oil on his garage floor that had leaked out of the car. And the windshield washer fluid was low even though the shop supplies on the bill included washer fluid.
Secondly, I walked into a new client’s business and thought he was closing. There were empty spaces on the shelves, product looked dated and the walls were badly in need of paint.
I wasn’t surprised that his sales were declining, but I was surprised that he was confused about why it was happening.
Third, I was giving a presentation on DISC (dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness) where I asked participants to tell the people around them what their impressions of them were. The people in the groups had known each other for six months.
One woman was shocked because her colleagues thought she was scary. They had this impression because in the first week after meeting, she had done a skit where she was apparently very realistic in her depiction of someone who was terrifying.
First impressions are hard to overcome.
When we first meet someone or first come in contact with a business, what we experience can bias our expectations of the relationship. That first encounter can sour us to further experiences or have us longing for more of the same.
Unfortunately, after a bad first impression in business, all the money we spent on marketing to lure that customer has been wasted.
It can be very expensive for a company that messes up with a customer the way the car dealer messed up with Freddy. Not only did Freddy have to go back to the dealer to get the issue dealt with, but they had to send someone to clean up the oil in his garage. And they had to offer him a number of expensive incentives to ensure that he didn’t file a bad survey score.
Getting things right the first time is often more complex than it seems. When we have lots of moving parts in our companies, plenty of things can go wrong. Having checks and balances in place to ensure that when people come in contact with us they get the customer service that they expect takes considerable thought and energy.
After years of building up a business, if you fall short on your hiring practices and employee training, you can ruin your business in months.
So how do you ensure that first impressions are lasting and positive?
Successful companies start by asking some serious questions:
- What are all the things that need to happen to get the result from our clients or customers that we desire?
- What are the steps we need to implement to ensure that things get done?
- What policies do we need to initiate and enforce to ensure that our employees are accountable and consistent?
- Who’s going to be responsible for tracking the end results and how are we going to measure that success?
Unfortunately, many companies spend more fixing their mistakes than setting up the systems that could prevent them. This mistake not only hurts the bottom line every time errors and poor first impressions are made, it further reduces the long-term value of the company by raising costs and reducing profits.
We’ve all made bad first impressions in our personal and professional lives. Businesses do the same.
Freddy was impressed by the effort of the dealer to repair their initial impression but we don’t all get that second chance.
It’s so much easier to do things right the first time than to pick up the pieces later.
Troy Media columnist David Fuller, MBA, is a certified professional business coach and author who helps business leaders ensure that their companies are successful. David is author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org