How Just 1 Negative First Impression Can Leave a Lasting Impression

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What kind of first impression is your team making?

More than 10 years ago, I worked at the front desk of a storage and distribution warehouse. It was a very small satellite of a Canadian company with about 10 employees. One day, I received a call from a large postage meter company. Since part of my job was to thoroughly filter incoming calls and only put through a very limited number to my manager, I had to prevent him from having to take any unnecessary calls.

I allowed the salesperson to make his initial spiel, but being a small company and mailing very little, we didn’t have a need for such a service and I informed of that. He continued to try to sell me on the idea, and I continued to let him know we only mailed maybe a dozen items a month. I’m not a pushy person and probably much more polite than I should be, especially since that was one of my first desk jobs. The salesperson was not pleased with my answer, so he hung up on me.

Yes, the salesperson hung up on me.

To this day, every time I hear that company name – and it’s a big company – I think of that incident and the horrible first impression I have of that company. And even though he was just one person there (who hopefully didn’t work there much longer after that incident), he was a representative of the company providing a very negative lasting impression. So lasting that I saw a competitor’s product at work yesterday and told that story to my coworker, and this is more than 10 years later!

Maybe some don’t think this is a big deal, but what if down the road, I decided to give them a second chance? And what if I had an issue with my account or their product which is bound to happen? Would they be willing to help me or would they hang up on me?

Conversely, had the salesperson been understanding and helpful, perhaps providing his contact information for me to have on hand if perhaps some day our needs changed, I would have remembered that. And if I had needed their services, I would remember that and probably would be much more forgiving if any account or product issues arose. I would also be much more likely to pass that information on to those I knew as a recommendation.

That wasn’t the only time I have been hung up on, but another experience goes to show how a negative situation can be turned around. I took a sales job at my next company selling uniforms to law enforcement. I received a call one day from a police chief and although I was being as helpful as possible (and polite), he hung up on me. That’s fine, I get people have bad days, especially in the law enforcement field. But what turned the situation around was that he called me back moments later and apologized. Yes, he was having a bad day, and no, I hadn’t done or said anything wrong.

While it’s important to provide everyone with excellent customer service, it is imperative to provide a good first impression because as my example shows, bad first impressions can last for decades. And negative experiences spread like wildfire, especially with social media and review sites. Too many negative reviews about a business can quickly kill future business or even put a company out of business.

So make sure if you talk to customers, you are always as helpful and polite as possible and instill this in your team members who talk to customers, because just one negative impression can leave a lasting impression and lose a potential customer, possibly forever. If a negative situation does arise, be sure to quickly respond to try to mend the situation. People can be very understanding and forgiving if you’re sincere. In fact, reaching out to a customer and repairing a negative situation can change their impression and make them a customer for life.

Building positive relationships in and outside of your company will make it a much more pleasant place,  and will also grow your business.

Tell me about your good, bad or redeeming first impressions of a company in the comments – I’d love to hear your experiences!

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