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Every customer has a point of first contact with an organization. It is important to manage that first impression of how the customer perceives the quality and credibility of the organization.

Customers have choices and successful organizations understand the importance of paying attention to the details that matter to customers. Organizations should strive to ensure their customers have the confidence that they have found the right place to meet their needs.

Examples of Customer First Impressions

Company Website
Having a professionally designed website is a critical first impression for customers. Customers are now internet savvy and use it to learn about prospective businesses and what products and services they offer. A well thought out and designed website can offer customers information on location, hours of operation, products and services provided, service guarantees and a feel for the culture of the business. It is important to stop and take a good look at the organization’s website and try to view it as a customer would. Things to look for are:

  1. Content of website should be error free, accurate and written professionally.
  2. Pay attention to ensure that the website is current and not outdated.
  3. The website should be easy to navigate and easy to find needed information.
  4. Try to use video or pictures to tell the story of the business.

The person who answers the telephone is often the first point of contact for a new customer calling a business. This is why it is so important that the person who answers the telephone, and how well they are trained, are critical to this first time opportunity. Some things to consider:

  1. Pay attention to how the phone is answered.
  2. The person answering the phone should be knowledgeable, friendly and equipped to answer any possible question a customer might have. Providing an answer manual with information about the organization for the person answering the telephone is a good way to equip them to answer questions.
  3. Think about whether it is important to have a liveĀ person answer the phone.
  4. How long does a customer stay on hold or wait for their call to be answered?
  5. Is there background music or information playing when someone is put on hold? Pay attention to what it sounds like to a visitor.
  6. Call in and find out how many times someone is transferred to another department before their question is answered or before they get the information they requested.
  7. Are there customer service standards that dictate how quickly calls are returned?

Customer first impressions can happen when someone enters the lobby of a business. Pay attention to the cleanliness of the lobby, entryways and parking lots. Some things to consider:

  1. Make sure the parking lot is free from blowing trash and debris.
  2. The entryway to the lobby should be free from blown leaves, trash or debris.
  3. Glass doors and windows should be clean and free from finger prints.
  4. Does the building smell fresh and inviting?
  5. The furniture and carpet should be clean, fresh smelling and not stained or worn.
  6. Public restrooms should be cleaned and fully stocked.

The person who greets a visitor can give a customer the first representation of an organization. Receptionists should be well trained for the job. Things to consider:

  1. How friendly is the receptionist?
  2. Is the receptionist knowledgeable about the business? A receptionist should be equipped and trained so they know everything about the business.
  3. Understanding and knowing basic information as well as having the ability to answer customer questions is important.
  4. The receptionist should be equipped to take care of customer issues and perform service recovery if needed.
  5. Receptionists should be discouraged from doing personal things when on duty. Things like polishing their nails, eating or reading. These kinds of activities can send a message to the customer about the level of professionalism the organization has.

When customers visit an organization they want to interact with employees who are helpful and happy. Employees who are not engaged can make for a negative first impression for a customer. Some questions to ask are:

  1. Are customers exposed to employees who vent or voice frustrations publically?
  2. Do employees not respond to customer needs because they feel like it is not their job? Or do employees go the extra mile to be helpful to customers?

Marketing Materials
The material an organization uses to promote their business tells a lot about the organization and their level of professionalism. Marketing materials should be created professionally and provide clear, error free information that represents the organization. Marketing materials should be able to answer any questions someone might have about the organization.

First impressions are often a one time shot at gaining a new customer so organizations should take advantage of the opportunity and make it as positive as possible. Having well trained employees and customer friendly processes can help make the first impression one that make customers want to come back.

This Business article was written by Kathy Clark on 8/10/2010

Kathy is an MBA and seasoned professional with over 25 years of business experience in both large and small non-profit organizations. Her expertise is strategic planning, business development, quality management, process improvement, service quality and human resource management. She has a passion to give back and to share her experience and expertise with those interested in learning.