Make Your First Impression Count

Whether over the phone or in person, how your employees greet customers can have a significant effect on business.

How you and your employees greet customers has a significant effect on your business.
How you and your employees greet customers has a significant effect on your business.

You've heard the saying, "You only have one opportunity to make a first impression." While it may be a cliché, it is true. A positive first impression is an important start to building a relationship with your customers. Whether the interaction is over the phone or in-person, the initial impression can set the tone for the entire customer experience.

First impressions delivered by phone

Your greeting is a simple step, but it is too often overlooked. It is your first opportunity to make a positive impact on the customer. Consider these two phone interactions:

Example 1

Inside sales coordinator:

"ABC Rentals, how can I help you?"

Customer: "I need to rent a backhoe for a week."

Inside sales coordinator: "OK, what size backhoe?"

Example 2

Inside sales coordinator: "Thank you for calling ABC Rentals, this is Barry. How can I help you?"

Customer: "I need to rent a backhoe for a week."

Inside sales coordinator: "Great, I will be happy to help you with that. May I get your name please?"

The differences might seem slight, but are actually significant. The personalization in the second example takes almost no additional time, but it can leave a significant impact on your customer. Use a greeting that will make a difference and set you apart from your competition, making certain your customers know they called the right place.

Read next: How to make a great first impression

A phone greeting should contain the following:

  • A "thank you" for calling
  • Your company's name
  • Your name
  • An offer of assistance

If the call is transferred to you, you do not need to repeat the company name. For example, you can say, "Thank you for holding. This is Barry in rental, how may I help you?"

The tone of voice also is important when answering the phone. I am sure you've heard the saying, "It's not what you say, but how you say it." When communicating over the phone, 86 percent of the impact is in your tone, and 14 percent of the impact is based on your words.

When you or your employees are upset and hurried, that comes through over the phone. When you are indifferent and distracted, that also comes across. You don't need to have a great phone voice to show the customer you are engaged, focused, concerned and happy to serve them. Your greeting communicates a lot to the caller.

Consistency is important, so develop a greeting for your rental organization, and share it with your entire team. Set the bar high. You want to build an organization where your customers expect a great first impression every time.

Read next: First Impressions that Last a Lifetime

First impressions delivered in person

View your store as a customer would view it. What type of impression are they taking away? Even before you greet your customers they will have already developed an opinion about your business, simply based on environment. In the assessment of your physical business, consider the following:

  • Appearance of your store: Is the floor clean; shelves orderly and maintained; counter free of clutter?
  • Condition of your parking lot: Is it free of trash, well landscaped and maintained?
  • Signage: Is it easy to read and follow?

Do everything you can to create a welcoming and pleasant experience. Your store's appearance and curb appeal is another way to stand out from your competition. It's all part of the customer's impression.

Once your customer enters the store, they should be greeted immediately - within three seconds. If you or your employee is with another customer, the initial greeting may need to be, "I will be with you in a moment," but you should still immediately acknowledge the customer and make him/her feel welcome. When you enter a store, you probably feel disappointed if you are ignored. Your customers have the same emotions. Make sure your staff immediately engages them.

When you speak with the customer, your conversation should be sincere, confident and personal. For example, "Welcome to ABC Rentals, my name is Barry. How can I help you?" That is much more effective than glancing at the customer or a simple, "How can I help you?"

In addition to a great greeting, consider the following for your staff:

  • Appearance: Shirts should be tucked in, employees should wear the correct uniform, and cleanliness is a must.
  • Smile: It shows the customer you are happy they are there and you are ready to help.
  • Eye contact: This signals acknowledgement, connection and attention. Without eye contact, people are not encouraged to share their information.
  • Body language: Consider your posture and other mannerisms. Does your body language give the message that you are ready and anxious to serve the customer?

You also may want to consider shaking the person's hand or moving from behind the counter to greet the customer. This is your chance to leave a lasting impression. When we communicate in person, 55 percent of the impact is made with body language, 38 percent with tone and seven percent with words.

Read next: Business 101: First Impressions That Sell

Make first impressions a priority

The challenge in the rental world is that you often hire people with a technical and operational background. They are hard workers and strong contributors to your company. However, some lack the customer service and sales skills needed to deliver that positive and memorable first impression.

Here are some simple techniques to ensure a memorable and consistent impression throughout the organization:

  • Script a greeting: Make certain all employees know what to say. This creates consistency. For the phone greeting, place the script next to the phone.
  • Practice or role-play: Act out both the phone and in-person greeting. These practice sessions help employees learn the greeting and reinforce how important it is to your company.
  • Set an example: If you are the manager, make certain your employees observe you using the right greeting and setting the right tone.
  • Provide feedback: When you hear employees delivering a great greeting, let them know. Coach them if they are not following company standards.
  • Measure the results: Mystery shop employees to see how they are performing. Keep looking for ways to improve.

In addition, you should talk to some of your regular customers and ask them for feedback. They may recognize areas of improvement you do not see. They'll appreciate being acknowledged as an important contributor to your business.

Your first impression may seem simple enough, but it does make a difference. It is a great way to stand out from the competition and get a relationship started on the right track. Don't leave the first impression to chance - set your team up for success.

*This article was originally published in 2008.