The Power of First Impressions

This article was originally published on July 14, 2017 on Manta – Small business marketing solutions helping millions of businesses get found by more customers. Original article.

Don’t miss your chance to build trust with new customers. Make sure your first interaction is a prompt, positive introduction to your small business.

First impressions are one of your most powerful resources—or one of your biggest pitfalls. Those initial experiences a customer has with your small business are literally laying the groundwork for a foundation of trust. And that foundation of trust? It’s vital to ensuring a long-lasting customer relationship.

What happens in those first moments, for better or worse—from a phone call that goes to voicemail to a not-so-tidy lobby—gives your newest customers insight into their future experience with your business.

During those first moments, there are three questions your customers are asking themselves:

  1. Does this business care about its customers?
  2. Will I enjoy working with these people?
  3. Are they going to respond to my needs?

It’s critical that you answer these questions in those initial interactions because if you don’t, the customer is going to answer for themselves. You want a resounding, “Yes, absolutely!” for every one of these questions! That means thinking long and hard about where those first impressions occur, and examining these touchpoints closely. Is there room for improvement? Are you leaving any opportunities to surprise and delight on the table?

Most importantly, do customers experience confusion or discomfort at any point in the process? If so, immediately focus on those areas until that is no longer the case. After all, 78% of consumers have literally bailed on a transaction solely because of their initial experience!

And remember, we want our first impressions to form a foundation of trust and answer those three important questions. Confusion and discomfort are antithetical to trust (and certainly won’t make customers feel cared for), so don’t let those feelings creep in to those first interactions. Think of yourself as the guardian of trust in those first moments. Defend it with all of your might!

OK, so we know those first impressions are really important. That’s all well and good, but let’s get down to brass tacks here: What can you do now to ensure that your customers are experiencing a delightful first impression of your business?

Answer the Phone

Don’t let your phone go to voicemail during business hours—that causes confusion and frustration for customers trying to reach you. And avoid obnoxious phone trees at all costs. Keep in mind that 67% of customers have actually hung up the phone out of frustration with an automated system, likely moving on to a competitor who did answer their call.

Be Prompt

When responding to emails or messages, always do so as quickly as possible. If you’re not typically able to respond to emails or messages throughout the day, be sure to include an auto-reply or other communication so that customers know exactly what to expect (and, again, help avoid any confusion). A friendly “I’m busy at the shop until 3 p.m., but I’ll happily respond to your email as soon as I’ve closed up for the day!” goes a long way to reassure customers.

Use Positive Language

Can something as simple as word choice have a dramatic impact on a customer’s first impression of a business? It seems silly, but it’s true! The words you choose can significantly affect a customer’s experience. If you want a customer to walk away smiling after their initial interaction, replace negative phrases such as, “I can’t do that,” or “I don’t know,” with something a little more positive such as, “While I’m not able to do that, I would be happy to…” or “Great question! I’d be delighted to find out for you,” and see what happens. You just might be surprised at the results!

Be Human!

Wait, what? Yeah, I said it: Don’t rely on robots to take care of your customers. Chatbots, interactive voice response (IVR), and other forms of artificial intelligence software are fine, but they’re not delightful.

Humans crave connection and interaction—even if they swear they’d rather send a text—so be sure to satisfy that craving wherever you can. Bots are limited in their capacity to assist, and even as far as they’ve come, it’s always painfully obvious when you’re interacting with one. Don’t cut corners where it matters most: Ensure that your customers are getting an opportunity to interact with a warm, friendly human, and you will be well ahead of the game.

Masterfully crafting these initial interactions will set you up for long-term success with your customers. If you want customers to trust you—and ultimately to feel loyalty for your business—don’t let those first impressions slip by!

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