How to Make a Great First Impression on Customers

Lee Polevoi by Lee Polevoi on August 6, 2013
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People who feel welcome at your place of business are far more likely to return than those who don’t. Beyond that, both satisfied and dissatisfied customers are bound to share their experiences with others, so you always want to strive for the former — and encourage word of mouth that will lead to long-term customers vs. drive them away.

Here are a few suggestions for leaving that all-important, positive first impression.

1. Make sure everything looks nice. Your customers’ experience starts before they ever set foot inside your business. Maintain an uncluttered, easy-to-access parking area. Invest in a well-crafted sign. Keep the entire premises neat and clean, including the restrooms, which should always be in shipshape condition.

2. Smile, even if you don’t feel like it. You may be having a lousy day, but when customers arrive, you must smile. This simple act instantly sets an upbeat tone. The same principle applies to customer interactions over the phone, during which you should “smile with your voice.”

3. Train employees to welcome customers. Simply leading by example may not be enough. Explain to your employees why customer service should be their top priority at all times. Make it clear that their personal appearance and behavior need to reflect your high standards. Just like a messy store, poorly groomed employees can send customers the wrong message.

Along the same lines, designate a private area for employee breaks. Do not allow them to huddle near the entrance, smoking cigarettes and sharing gossip.

4. Focus on your customers. There’s an art to acknowledging a customer’s presence in your store. If someone declines your initial offer of assistance, it’s critical to still be available when that customer decides he or she does want help. Being unable to locate anyone on staff is a frequent sore point for customers.

When you engage in conversation with a customer, avoid distractions. People know when they have your full attention and when they don’t.

5. Anticipate people’s needs. It can be immensely helpful to meet customers’ needs before they themselves know what those needs are. If they’re torn between two similar items, guide them toward the best choice — and not just the most expensive one. This may mean less profit in the short-term, but the trust you’ll build by offering genuine assistance will prove far more valuable in the long run.

6. Say “thank you.” At the end of a transaction — or even a pleasant conversation — thank customers for their purchase or their visit. This demonstrates that you value their business and want to see them again.

A final tip: Get to know your customers and, when they do come back, don’t hesitate to greet them by name. “Good morning, Mr. Scott! How can I help you today?” Try to remember your conversations and draw on the information during people’s subsequent visits. Paying attention to details — one customer’s dog just won best in show, another customer visits her mother on Tuesdays, etc. — helps to build rapport.

Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.

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