Whether you sell million-dollar software implementations or you’re a local restaurant making your debut, first and last impressions matter! Let’s face it: in today’s market, competition is fierce, brand loyalty is down, and consumer attention spans are short, making it harder to win and retain business—even if you execute flawlessly… This is a primary reason why giants of yesterday are crumbling around us daily, as they have all but forgotten the fundamentals of sales and customer excellence. There used to be a time where a brand could and would hold its own, even if the sales and marketing teams “didn’t give it their all”. As an example, there was an old popular saying that “No one ever gets fired for buying IBM”. Pretty bold statement there, right? Well, there was a time when IBM was pretty much the only game in town if you wanted top notch commercial grade IT equipment. They had put together a world-class team, delivering world-class service and systems, and no one even came close to the delivery of IBM. This was how they developed the reputation of “No one ever gets fired for buying IBM,” and it held up for decades. Until slowly, but surely, they began to make changes; prices gradually increased, product quality dropped, teams became more complex, and they became a more expensive, lower quality, harder to work with organization. Had they still been the only game in town, their numbers would have held up, but they weren’t. Other world-class organizations entered into the market, and the tech world became the Wild West for startups, creating more competitive pressure for IBM…. However, IBM ignored the changing marketing dynamics and became the company that was too expensive and complicated to deal with, and they started to lose business in droves. Recent estimates put IBM down 21 straight quarters in a row, and have even gone as far as to recall all remote employees to physical local hubs to realign themselves. IBM is just one example of how the economic environment is putting a squeeze on just about every industry for retaining and winning new business. This gets us back to our point earlier: first and last impressions matter. The reason being when a customer has a bad experience with your organization in today’s market, your competition is all too eager to swoop in and take that business for their own. So, it becomes extremely important to never give a prospect or customer a reason to look for another solution, and always give them the best customer experience you possibly can.
Whether you are a B2C or a B2B business, if you want to stay in business for the foreseeable future, you need to ensure you are delivering a world class customer experience, and at the surface, it all starts with the impression your business leaves with them. Impressions mean everything, and the latest research shows that customers make a decision to purchase within seconds of walking into a business… This essentially says, regardless of how great your product or service is, they’ve already made up their mind before you even had a chance! This isn’t just a business thing, as it falls within human nature. In this article, we’ll cover some basic strategies for creating a first and lasting impression that will make customers want to buy and get them to keep coming back.
Digital and online collateral – Anything from your website, social media profiles, and other digital collateral needs to have a smooth look and feel, along with a design that fits in with the times, as 81 percent of all purchase decisions start with an online search…. Meaning, if your website looks like it was designed in 1999 in someone’s basement, you can essentially guarantee that potential customers are just skipping over your business and moving on to the next. Going back to an earlier statement: regardless of how good your product or service is, you never even had a chance.
Store fronts and dining rooms – Small businesses have a bit of a disadvantage here as the big businesses have millions of dollars to invest into research around what drives customer interest and design, but that’s not an excuse. When you really boil down all that expensive research and design know how, it comes down to having a clean front of house, and the same goes for dining rooms… Your store front is literally the face of the business, and you must make sure you do whatever you can to make it clean and welcoming. Anything beyond clean and welcoming is just causing paying customers to walk right past your business.
First point of contact – Beyond the digital look of your business or the look of the store front, what is the first possible human interaction with your business? Whether it is a hostess, receptionist, or a business development rep, ensure that they are always properly trained on edict and the business. Chick-Fli-A built a billion-dollar business, growing leaps and bounds over their competition, and one the key factors they contribute it to is their front of house and their ability to say please and thank you! Really, a billion-dollar business is contributing its success to simple human interaction. This is confirmed by looking at reviews on sites such as Yelp and Facebook, where you’ll find that most good or bad reviews mention their first interaction with the team.
Timeliness matters – In such a competitive environment, I still cannot comprehend why small businesses take forever to respond to voicemails, emails, or even at all. Quite honestly, this is a huge personal pet peeve, but also for the general consumer market as a whole… Taking it into context, if a business takes a long time to respond to an inquiry of a prospect, how do they treat their customers? There is an old-time adage that says if the shoes hurt in the store, they are still going to hurt when you take them home.
Furthermore, when most consumers are looking to make a purchase, they typically have a list of vendors they have cobbled together. This usually means that when they are reaching out to you, they are calling down a list. The vendor that actually picks up the phone and makes the first contact, has an exponentially higher chance of winning that business. Sometimes, increasing your odds of winning business simply comes down to picking up the phone or answering that inquiry email as fast as humanly possible.
Service excellence – Just because someone decided to do business with your company or walk into your restaurant, it doesn’t mean you’ve won their business for the long term. The success of any business is reliant on not just winning the business once, but the amount of times you can keep them coming back. So, when you win someone’s business, service the heck out of them, and do everything you can to make them a happy customer.
Also, let’s not forget that people love to talk about their experiences. Serve up a bad experience, and you can all but guarantee they will tell their friends and co-workers
Priority #1 – This goes in line with service delivery, but it is important enough to call out on its own. We are all busy these days, but no one wants to hear about how busy you are or your problems! It is a turn-off, and depending on your business, prospects may begin to worry how much of a priority they will be when it comes to servicing them. Instead, treat each and every customer as if they were your one and only client. It does take a bit of a fine art, but if done properly, it will ensure that customers come back time and time again!
Second chances – Ok, so first impressions matter, but not everyone can bat 1,000; mistakes can, and will, happen. Yes, there are going to be times when a mistake is so bad that you cannot recover, and the business is lost for good. However, that is not true for all situations. How you react when mistakes happen can, and will, have an impact on your business. Some might actually give you a second chance. When a mistake happens, ensure you do what you can to rectify the issue and go above and beyond to ensure they leave happy.
Review Feedback – This is a big one as your business reviews can easily make or break your business, and the same can be said for how you respond. These reviews are online and do truly give a lasting impression about your business. Positive reviews should be acknowledged, however negative reviews need to be treated with the highest amount of professionalism as possible… As an example, and from a personal experience, a few weeks back, I took my family to a restaurant that had opened up a few weeks prior but was owned by a local couple that has a series of other restaurants in the area (so not new to the game). We ended up having a very bad experience that we chalked up to “they’re still working the kinks out of the system”. With that said, I pulled up the internet and noticed that there’s a slew of reviews making very similar comments to the experience we had. Furthermore, I noticed the owners commenting on the feedback apologizing, but also combating reviews with the typical “that’s not how we typically do things”. Again, we had noticed that multiple people were having the exact same issue, so what does that have to say for the business? Additionally, in almost all the comments they made, they asked for contact information for a “gift card” to be issued in hopes of winning business back. Great, right? Well, again, we learned that these comments were really made in vain and they in fact were not reaching back out to these unhappy customers… In this situation, it would have been better for them to not respond at all, as they are doing more harm to their business than good. We see this happen all too often as small businesses are typically owner-operated and they take things personally, but how you react in these situations has an impact on your business. Again, 81% of people make decisions by starting with online searches (in 2014).
Always be thankful – This should go without saying, but there is—believe it or not—a large amount of arrogance in businesses today. Some businesses walk around as if “you,” the customer, should feel privileged to do business with them… That’s right, the “customer” should feel privileged to do business with a company because they are the best at what they do. Sound familiar? Almost everyone has dealt with a business like this. Sure, business is good for them right now, and they might even have the luxury of turning away business today, but that does not hold true for the long term. Almost every business with this type of strategy eventually starts to struggle or fail over time. Why? Because eventually all these jaded prospects and customers will find another organization for their needs that treats them properly. Eventually, they are left with a struggling business, trying to find out why they are not closing business like the used too.
Again, when it comes to first impressions, they mean everything in today’s business. Whether you’re a multi-million dollar software firm, mom-and-pop general store, or a restaurant opening its doors for the first time, always put your best foot forward… Competition is fierce in today’s market, and your competition is all too eager to scoop up your missed opportunities. So, do whatever you can to ensure customers have a happy, welcoming, and warm experience with your business… We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: when it comes to having a truly successful business, it is the little things that matter!