First Impressions Count: You don't always get a second chance

Oct. 1, 2001

First Impressions Count!

You don’t always get a second chance

By Bill de Decker October 2001

There’s a radio advertisement playing in my area that raises an interesting thought. The ad features a young guy who says something like, "I have been raised in an age where nobody knows what service is. Bigger, yes. Cheaper, maybe. And warehouses with shelves to the ceiling. But nobody who understands what I need—" He then goes on to extol the virtues of a local hardware store chain where they focus on understanding their customers’ needs and provide individual service. It’s a good ad for a hardware store that is successfully fighting the mega-store onslaught — and doing it the only way that works well — with superior service.

Define service
Which raises a question: What is this thing called service? And, what distinguishes good service from bad service? Strange as it may sound, it is more than just delivering a good job on time and on budget. Much more. A really important part is finding out what your customers and prospects are looking for and then figuring out a way to give it to them. When you approach it from this angle, one of the things you’ll find is the importance of the first impressions that your organization and you make on the prospect or customer. And, this is one area where some otherwise great organizations fall flat.

Visitor parking
A major aerospace company that I visit on a regular basis where the first six parking spots in front of the main entrance are marked "Reserved." No, they are not reserved for visitors; they are reserved for senior management of that company. What kind of message does this send to your prospects and customers? It fairly shouts that the people that are really important at this company are the CEO, VPs, etc. Much better to move these parking spots to the back of the building (like they do at restaurants) and let the folks that really count, your customers, use these spots. Remember, your visitors, whether vendors, prospects, customers or job applicants are some of the most important people you will see at work. They bring you business, information, supplies and new skills.

Answering the telephone
More than one major organization that I deal with uses a computerized telephone system to answer their main number. You know, the one where a computerized voice answers and tells you "If you know your party’s extension, you can dial it now." That’s fine if you know the extension. But what if you don’t? Some will then send you to an operator who will help you. Other systems ask you to punch in the first three letters of the person’s name. What if you don’t know the exact spelling and you are told that person doesn’t work there? Or, what if you just want to talk to "someone in marketing"? It’s true, these systems do save money by eliminating the need for a receptionist. It is also true that I know of no person who enjoys dealing with these computerized versions of purgatory. So the question is: How much business are you losing because prospects give up and call your competitor who uses a real, live receptionist that is geared to help get the caller connected with the folks that can help them?

Clean shops and comfortable lobbies
How would you rate the cleanliness and orderliness of the shop floor at your facility? Enter the shop as a customer would and really look at the organization and personnel. Even with the best equipment and the brightest, most knowledgeable technicians, a customer may turn and walk if the shop appears in disarray and personnel look disheveled. If you expect to have customers feel comfortable bringing expensive aircraft into your shop, you need to have that same assurance of receiving quality service.
The lobby of your building often is the first look your visitors have of the inside of the building. In most businesses, the lobby sets the tone for the rest of the building and the esteem in which that organization holds its visitors. One of the best lobbies I know is large, has comfortable chairs, several courtesy phones, racks with the company’s literature, some up-to-date magazines, a large case that displays the company’s products and all is presided over by an efficient and cheerful receptionist who makes sure that you get connected with the person you came to see. It is clean, comfortable and efficient and makes an excellent first impression. At the same time, their major competitor has a lobby that is much smaller, a courtesy phone that can only be used while standing and only to call inside the plant. There is also no receptionist and you have to hope that someone from the adjacent office will see you if you need some help. It is interesting to note that the company with the attractive lobby has steadily moved up in their market share at the expense of the organization with the lobby without a receptionist.
I realize that there is no way to prove a direct connection between the quality of the lobby and your market success, but, I am convinced that there is a direct connection between your lobby and the impact you have on your customers, prospects and other who use that area. Ask yourself, how do you enjoy doing business with an organization where the lobby is dingy or just downright dirty, has uncomfortable chairs, out of date magazines, dying plants and no one to look after the needs of their customers? Will you do business there? Or, will you go to the competition?

Attractive, functional signs
If yours is a large organization, take a cold, hard look at the signage, from the ones in the parking lot to the ones in the building, the shop floor and the ramp. How do they look? Are they clean and legible? Are they current or outdated? Are they informative or confusing? Are they helpful or indicative of a command-and-control mindset? You may say, So what? Strange as it may sound, visitors notice these things. Actually, it is not strange at all, because the original purpose of the signs was to help them navigate into and around your place. If the signs are confusing, your visitors will be confused. If the signs are old and tired, your visitors will think your organization is old and tired. The best organizations make sure their signs are up to date, have a uniform, attractive look are easy to read and provide the required guidance. Remember, signs are there to help your visitors and customers.
When you start digging into what it takes to provide superior service, you will find that first impressions are near the top the list in turning a prospect into a customer. And, if you have any doubts about this, ask your visitors and be ready for some surprising, maybe very uncomfortable answers.