First impressions are everything.
We have all seen examples of this in our personal lives. When we meet someone new their appearance, tone of voice, manners (or lack of!) all have a very big effect on us.
When a customer calls or goes into an office, business or agency the first person they talk to represents the entire company. This goes even further with people who are traveling to new places: just ONE rotten experience with a rude “customer service person” can ever after sour the person’s attitude to the entire city, region, or country!!!
To the customer YOU are the company. A good first impression starts a positive relationship with your customers. On the other hand a poor first impression can sometime end the relationship right there. And when you factor in word of mouth and how many other people the customer may talk to about their bad experience with your company you can see how important first impressions can be.
A bad first impression is not impossible to undo, but it sure takes a lot of effort. The point is if you make a great first impression things are a LOT easier.
Let’s look at things from the customer’s point of view:
When a customer calls or walks into a business for the first time they may be: happy, anxious, worried, lost, angry, frustrated, excited, or possibly all of the above! When you, as a customer, are new to a business you don’t know anyone, you’re not familiar with how things work. You don’t know if you’re going to like it there, if they will provide good service, if they will be friendly or helpful. There are a lot of doubts and questions! Many customers go in to a business for the first time actually expecting things to go badly. Some even “get ready for battle” before heading off to a new restaurant, hotel, doctor or auto mechanic.
When you meet anyone new “little things” can affect your attitude towards the person very fast. If you already have a relationship with someone, and that person has a bad day or is in a bad mood it probably won’t ruin or end your relationship. But if the person is new to you just one or two small negative points could end your relationship with the person right there.
Speaking of first impressions, it is vital that you, as the customer service professional, do not make any assumptions about customers. Judging a customer by their appearance or how they speak is a huge mistake.
So, anyone working on the front lines is supposed to do everything to make sure that they give all customers a great first impression and at the same time be sure to NOT let your first impressions of the customer in any way prevent you from delivering the best possible service. This can be a tall order sometimes.
Greeting a customer
Always make eye contact with the customer the first second they come in. Even if you are with another customer or on the phone, make eye contact and acknowledge that they are there immediately. A simple gesture tells the new person that you see them and will be right with them.
Smile! Smile! Smile! Smile! Smile! Smile!
Your greeting should tell the customer, “I am glad you’re here!”
Greetings such as:
- “Good morning! How can I help you today?”
- “Hello, how is your day going so far?” What can I help you with today?”
- “Hi, we haven’t seen you in a while!”
- “Welcome, what can I do for you today?”
- “Good afternoon! What can we do for you today?”
A friendly greeting immediately disarms the person and sets them at ease. It sets the tone for the rest of the interaction. No matter what the customer’s emotional state this will make things better. This is probably the single most important point for anyone working in any position where they greet customers.
Every person who walks in the door
Every person who comes in MUST be greeted in the most friendly way possible: new customers, old customers, customers who come in all the time, all of them. Repair people, delivery people, people who are lost and need directions, everyone. Remember, even if the person who comes is not and never will be a customer they still will relay their experiences with your company, good or bad, to everyone they talk to.
If there is going to be a wait, tell the customer about it. Explain why, offer coffee, tea, etc. then every 10 to 15 minutes give the customer an update. Have gift cards from a local store, restaurant or espresso stand available for customers who have to wait too long. Always tell the truth about how long the wait will be. Saying it will be “just a few more minutes” when you know it will half an hour only makes things worse!
Things you should never do:
- If the customer is early for their appointment NEVER communicate in any way that this is bad or creates a problem. The point is that the person arrived! That’s great! Go give the customer a hug! Don’t berate them for the “crime” of being early. In fact you should not use the word “early”. If the customer comes early the first thing to do is to tell them how happy you are to see them. You can say something like, “Just have a seat and I will go (or call) and see if they are ready for you.” Or something positive, just work it out so that what you are saying is not “You’re early and you’re RUINING my schedule!!!”
- Carry on a personal conversation with another employee, or phone call, while servicing a customer. This is particularly important when the customer first comes in. If you are at the front desk with another co-worker and a customer walks in you need to end any conversations you are having and look up at the customer with a smile BEFORE they reach the counter. Other wise the customer will get the impression that they are distracting you from your more “important” duties.
- Carry on ANY negative type of conversation ABOUT ANYTHING if there is a customer with earshot. This includes conversations about: other staff, other customers, other competitors.
- Convey the idea, feeling or attitude of being “way too busy”, “overworked” frantic or ANYTHING ELSE which would tell the customer that their being there is a problem. Generally customers don’t want to hear about your problems at work or in your personal life. Just be positive, friendly, cheerful and happy to help them NO MATTER HOW SWAMPED YOU ARE.