Scientists have told us that a first impression is formed within the first 2-7 seconds of meeting someone. That’s a very short amount of time for someone to form an opinion of you. And yet, we do. In person, on the phone, via email, over social media – no matter the medium, we form very quick decisions on whether we want to deal with the person we’ve met or not.
So, what happens when you’ve messed up that crucial first impression? Can you salvage any chance of the person wanting to continue a conversation with you, or more importantly have them want to pursue a business transaction with you? Absolutely.
Two years ago, I purchased a house. I have had great intentions of doing all of the household repairs and maintenance myself, but realized with my schedule there are some things that I will need to bring in professional help or chances are I’ll never have the time to complete it. In particular, I decided to add a retaining wall across the front of the property to get rid of a weird incline that is impossible to mow and has a jumble of who-knows-what plants scattered over it.
I did my due diligence and checked online reviews of local companies, however, in my area, I could only find places that specialized in fencing or in retaining walls. No one seemed to do both, so I called the fencing company first. The person that answered the phone was courteous and helpful. And, because they put in fences after the retaining walls are put in, they also gave me three referrals of local companies they work with who could handle putting in the retaining wall.
The calls to those companies went something like this:
Company #1: “Company Z”
Me: (Who the heck is Company Z?!) “Umm, I was referred by Fencing Company about a retaining wall, can you help me with that?”
Company #1: “Well, he’ll need to come out for a quote and we wouldn’t be able to get anything done until three months from now, we are just too busy.”
Company #2: “This is Bobby at Company #2”
Me: “I’d like to get a quote on a retaining wall, can you help me with that?”
Company #2: “Sure thing!” Then asked for my name, address, phone number and email. “What are you looking to have done? Where at on the property? Are you available next week for us to come out and take a look? Great, we’ll see you then!”
Company #3: “Josh”
Me: “I’m sorry, I was calling for Company #3?”
Company #3: “That’s me! Who is this?”
Those are 3 very different first impressions!
After I made the call to Company #2, I was pretty set that I was going to use them as my contractor so long as I still felt the same way when they came out to meet me in person for the quote. The impression I got over the phone wasn’t anything remarkable, but it was a major improvement over Company’s #1– they were polite, they got my information and made an appointment within a reasonable amount of time.
Here’s the thing, when Company #2 came out for the quote, the guy that showed up was very courteous as well. But, ultimately, I didn’t hire them. Here’s why:
After the initial weirdness of the call to Company #3, the call completely changed. When I stated my address I was told, “I know exactly where that is, I put in the retaining wall 2 houses down from yours and worked on repairing the wall across the street with the pergola style arch over the walk – What were you thinking of getting? Have you thought of what type of stone you’d like? Brick like the house across the street or something like I put in a few houses down that’s more a tumbled stone?”
Then I was asked a ton of questions on if all the trees are still out front (they are), if I was intent on the wall reaching the highest level of the lawn or if I wanted to go midway (as long as I don’t have to mow the incline, I’m not picky), and would I consider adding some plants and mulching to cut down on the mowing as well. He proceeded to estimate the stone needed and approximate cost. All told, he spent about 20 minutes on the phone with me going over what I have, what he could do, letting me know when he’d be available and if I waited until his slow season he would consider a discount. He also noted that he had a lot of other ideas of what could be done to the front of the house to make it feel more cohesive and match the cottage theme.
So, while I was not initially impressed by having to guess who I was calling when Company #3 answered the phone, I was impressed that after the initial greeting he was professional, he had a lot of energy and excitement that I could hear in his tone and he had knowledge of my area in that he gave me specific examples I could see easily of past projects he’s completed – on my street! First impression, successfully changed!
The best defense against a bad first impression? Do everything you can to prevent it.
Social media and email offer a better chance at first impressions since you have time before hitting the Send or Post buttons to review what you’ve written. Take that time! Especially if you are a professional and are writing a business communication. If you do mess up, admit it, fix it and make sure you put a procedure in place to review information before you send it out so it doesn’t happen again.
In person and by phone impressions are a little different; they are in the moment experiences. There are a few things you can do if you realize you might have gotten off on the wrong foot with someone:
- Apologize – Were you a bit abrupt when you answered the phone? Didn’t quite pay attention as someone was introducing themselves to you? Apologize, sincerely. “I’m so sorry about that, I was a bit distracted and didn’t mean to be curt, you have my complete attention.”
- Pay attention – Focus on the person in front of you or who you are talking to and listen to what they say. Limit any additional distractions.
- Be polite – Use good manners to be courteous and respectful.
- Smile – Smiling adds an up-beat tone to your voice that comes across in person or on the phone. Most of our communication is non-verbal, so this little thing makes an enormous difference!
- Prove your worth – If you know you’ve got examples, give them. Bring out your experience and knowledge and really show that you are of value to the customer.
- Do what you say – If you say you are going to do something for the person, do it when you said you would. If you offered to send a quote today, send the quote today. You don’t want reinforce that initial bad impression by following it up with unfulfilled promises.
- Follow up – Didn’t hear back from the person? Give them a call or send them an email. Touching base with someone lets them know that they are important to you and their business means something to you.
It’s not always the end of the world if you make a bad first impression, but it does take a lot of work to come back from it and prove that you’re someone worth doing business with.