First impressions count

We’ve all heard (and maybe dreaded) the phrase from a disgruntled customer, “I want to speak to your manager.” But if you’re the manager in question, what next? And what’s your wider role in customer service beyond ‘gruntling’ the disgruntled? The following pointers are focused on line managers, team leaders, maybe even department heads – any managerial role that may have to engage with a customer personally. The more strategic customer service role that senior managers have – standards and policy creation, culture setting, employee empowerment, processes and procedures – is for another article; this is about managers getting hands-on.

First impressions count

Do you believe in love at first sight? How about customer service at first sight? No, I’m not exactly sure what that might mean either but that “first sight” is crucial all the same. I hate to break it to you but people can be judgemental. It’s how we’re wired. We make assumptions based on very little information. And we form opinions almost instantly. Yes, we can change those opinions but it’s harder to change something than it is to fill a void, and that’s why first impressions are so powerful.

Knowing that, and from a customer service perspective, what does that mean?

Why are first impressions important?

You might have the best customer service skills in the world – communication, listening, rapport-building, etc. – and that’s all good but your customer service begins before you even have the chance to use those skills. First impressions are about visuals and physical behaviour: what you look like and what you’re doing or saying when the customer first claps eyes on you.

Smile and connect

In essence, the customer is asking themselves one (evolutionary) question when they first meet you: Can I trust you? And your customer service is going to be a lot easier to deliver if their answer is, yes. So, how do you achieve that ‘yes’?

  • Smile – Not a big, clown grin, nor a creepy serial killer smirk, just a genuine, friendly, nice-to-see-you-how-can-I-help smile
  • Clothes – Maybe you have a choice here, maybe you don’t. If you’re complying with a dress code then at least the customer can be confident that you do actually work here. If not, then you need to dress appropriately and that means considering the kinds of goods or services you’re selling, the attire of your average customer, and what makes you feel comfortable and at your best. Above all, you want to appear professional (but that’s “professional” in the context of what you’re doing and that usually means complying with customer preconceptions to some extent (lawyers wear suits, plumbers wear overalls, etc.)
  • Posture – Attentive body language, upright but not rigid, leaning forward a little (not too much!), that smile… all go towards giving the impression that you’re interested in the customer and wanting to hear what they have to say.
  • Voice – When you do speak, keep the volume appropriate to the surroundings and background noise, you want to be heard and understood but not be off-putting. Keep the vocal ‘temperature’ at warm, i.e. encouraging but not over-excited or emotional; think ‘calm but interested’.

Making a connection

Ultimately, you’re aiming to create rapport between you and the customer. What is rapport? It’s the feeling of being able to relate to each other, of being understood by somebody sympathetic (or empathetic) to your situation, of being at ease with each other.

To build rapport face to face, try out the following:

  • Make eye contact – don’t stare fixedly at them but do make regular and attentive eye contact.
  • Look at their face – it shows you’re paying attention to them.
  • Tilt your head a little – classic ‘I’m listening’ body language.
  • Use your active listening skills to acknowledge their issue and show you understand what they want.

You can also consider the mirroring technique, in which you adopt a similar posture, expression, and/or tone of voice to the customer. In other words, giving the impression of being the same, together, similar. But essentially, whether you mirror or not, you’re looking for some common ground between you; something you can then build on as you deal with their query or complaint.

One final question… How long do you think you have to make this all-important first impression? According to some, including businessinsider.com, just 7 seconds – a small but possibly all-important window of customer service opportunity.

To explore further the question of how to make a good first impression, check out our one-day workshop ‘Successful Customer Service‘ or give us a call on 01582 463464.  We’re here to help!

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