Customer loyalty is not what it once was. There was a time when people were very loyal to businesses and brands, and while still true to an extent, it is less true today than it used to be. There are all sorts of reasons for this of course, but a main one is that there is simply a lot of competition out there for people’s dollars, and attention. Online or off, with social media, mobile marketing, and more small businesses than ever, getting people to stay loyal to a business is no easy feat.
The upshot of this is that most folks are happy to try out a new business. If you offer something they need or want, and do so at a fair price, or make it more convenient for them to do business with you, you can get people in the door.
But will they come back? That’s the real question.
They will, but only if you make a great first impression.
Let’s say that you own a restaurant and run a 2-for-1 special. As a result, you actually get flooded with new people willing to try out your restaurant. One lady in particular comes in. She loves your food. She loves the service. But it turns out that because of the rush, her table is sticky and her plates aren’t clean. Will she come back? Would you?
It is almost impossible to overstate just how important a first impression is to your business; it is, in fact, the lens people will view your business through forever more. You can just imagine what the restaurant patron might say to a friend when the subject of your business comes up: “Oh, I tried that place, the food was great, but it was dirty!”
Even if you normally keep your establishment spotless and this night was an aberration because you weren’t ready for the rush, the fact that her impression of your business was a negative one means that you lost at least two customers (her and her friend), and a lot more if she tweets it.
So how do you make sure that you create that all important great first impression? Here are a few ways:
1. Make it personal: No, you can’t be everywhere at once, but to the extent possible, if you remember how important first impressions are, then you know it will behoove you to make every initial encounter with a customer a memorable one – for the right reasons.
2. Have your training reinforce your values: Whatever it is that your business needs to do to make a great impression – whether it is friendliness or whatever – be sure to make that part of the training for all new hires.
3. Pass it on: Every business should have some basic policies that are incorporated into an employee handbook. Again, think about how your business can best make a positive impression with new customers, distill it into a policy, put it in your employee handbook, and make sure everyone on your team reads it.
After that, keep these values and policies alive via your staff meetings, in your company e-newsletter, and in evaluations.
4. Foster an exceptional culture: The culture of your business is simply its way of doing things when you are not around. If you reinforce, by words and deeds, that yours is a great business where people do things the right way, that will carry through.
Nordstrom’s is known to offer great customer service because they do. When someone is hired to work there, taking care of customers is part of the training from Day One, and it is ingrained in the culture of the business. That’s the idea.
Think again about our friend the restaurant customer. What if, instead of seeing a greasy plate, she was met by a smiling hostess, great service, tasty food, affordable prices, a spotless restaurant, and a thank you when she left?
She would be back, again and again. Why? Because that is the power of the first impression.
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