Making good first impressions is key to small business success

Image by Werner Heiber from Pixabay

By Mark G. Auerbach

In psychological terms, a first impression is the moment when a person meets another person, and a mental image is formed. A good first impression paints a positive picture, which we all know is worth 1,000 words. A good business strategy, and an important public relations tool, is making sure that you make a good first impression on every new potential customer.

So, when a customer reaches out to you for the first time, what kind of first impression are you giving?

If they’re calling by phone, does the person answering sound cheerful and natural or scripted? And, if they reach your phone answering system, is it easy to use, and easy on the ear? Be upfront about wait times. And, if you’re providing “music”, try to avoid that techno sound that most phone systems use. My primary care physician’s phone service and our local Registry of Motor Vehicles service use the same bland music. It makes the wait time (both extraordinary) feel like forever. Another local business broadcasts the public radio’s classical music service (far better on the ears).

If your first-time customer is leaving a voicemail, how quickly is their call returned? If your message says “as soon as possible,” can that be within a business day? If you’re away for the day, can your message direct them to someone who can help them quickly?

When email is the first contact

Suppose they reach out via email? Or via Messenger? Most people agree that a same day response is appropriate, unless you’re handling a time-sensitive subject, i.e., an event that starts at 5PM. If you’re out of the office, do you have an auto-reply message on your email?

Every email deserves a response. It can be as simple as “Thank you for sharing your interest / thoughts / concerns.” That response shows that you’re listening and you care.

And, when people leave comments on your social media, do you respond? You don’t have to actually like what they say, but when you hit “like,” it shows them that you read their comment. You can take a moment to write “thank you for sharing your thoughts”, which shows that you’re listening.

In-person first impressions

First impressions go beyond the phone, email, and social media. If people come to your place of business, is it open during the hours you say it’s open? Will someone greet them at the door? Will your staff be gracious?

And, if you or your staff is representing your business at an event or social gathering, are they looking presentable? Do they have business cards to share? Did they follow-up with the people they meet with an email, or social message post saying something like “It was nice to meet you yesterday at the ABC event. Thanks for reaching out.”

When my team is working an event (most often a performance, where they are in charge of tickets and reservations), we meet to go over potential problems and issues that might occur, specific to the event, before the box-office opens, so they can be efficient, gracious, and good representatives of both the client and us. They are given the empowerment to make certain decisions, so they can resolve issues on the sport (Nothing turns someone off as quickly as the words, “Let me call a supervisor.”) They remember their “pleases and thank yous.” Your front-line staff members are your first impressions.

Now, what if your CEO or you, as a small business owner, are shy, uncomfortable in public, or not great with the communications skills? Make sure that someone on your team is. We always advise a client to have the CEO announce the good news, and a spokesperson announce the bad news, so the CEO’s appearance, which follows, is the best it can be.

You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn. Mark also produces ArtsBeat on radio for Pioneer Valley Radio and on TV and radio on WCPC15 and 89.5fm/WSKB. He also produces the TV and radio series On The Mark and Athenaeum Spotlight with Guy McLain.

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