When we're in business for ourselves, and especially when we're long-established, it can be all too easy to lose sight of the impression our business conveys to existing and potential new clients and customers. We may be so preoccupied with completing the tasks in hand, making new contacts, winning actual orders that we forget to stop and pretend to be our own customer, evaluate how we look, review how our concessions appear, consider the impression we convey.
Impressions, especially first impressions, can make all the difference to how our customers and clients interact with us. This is why some organizations hire secret shoppers, to gain feedback on their customers experience of dealing with them. Their findings help them to keep their fingers on the pulse, keep a focus on what's really important, provide guidance as to any necessary changes and improvements.
It's important to stop and check if our customers see us as professional, high-end or bargain basement, cheap and cheerful. Is that how we want to be considered? Different businesses will have different messages and criteria that they're keen to convey to their customers.
Let's look at some of the things it's important to consider when we reflect on the first impression we give to customers and clients:
– Business literature may be the first introduction that some people have to your business. They may be handed a business card, leaflet or flyer or they may see an advertising poster offering goods for sale or the date of a seminar or workshop you're offering. What impression does it convey, how professional do you appear? Consider your branding and check if it's consistent through. Business cards often benefit from being good quality, especially as they may need to survive being stuffed into someone's pocket or purse alongside a handful of other people's.
A professional impression is given when your stationery, articles and handouts contain relevant information so that customers can read follow-up with you whenever they need. Keep your message clear and specific, especially if it needs to separately target several different niches and demographics to reach a varied customer base. It's important to tailor your message appropriately, while not forgetting to occasion introduce new products, topics or services.
– Some people meet through network meetings. They're an effective way to identify people in business who are looking to make new contacts. A good first impression can be made when you're interested in listening to what new acquentions have to say. Identify what they're looking for, any problems they may be facing and see if there are ways you can help. Even if you can not directly resolve their problem you may know someone who can, which is a great way to establish a reputation as an important point of contact.
– What impression do your concessions convey? It may be feasible to have your business plans in a rundown, inexpensive part of town, which helps keep your overheads down and is an effective way of appearing inconspicuous and low-key. However, might there be times when it's worth renting a more convivial business environment, eg for client meetings?
If your customers and clients regularly call at your concessions it's important to intermittently check on their experience and the impression they receive. Pretend to be your own customer occasionally. What does the area look like? How about your concessions; are they shabby or smart? Would they benefit from a coat of paint, a good clean, some greenery growing in planters? Is there safe car parking, a friendly reception area? Some potential clients may decide to check on your place of work first, prior to booking an appointment or doing business with you.
– And last but not least, what about you, how do you present yourself as the face of your business? It may be that in working for yourself you rarely need to display a corporate image or be especially smart or well turned out, but research has proven that we all unconsciously assess someone within seconds of first meeting. Okay, a business suit or tie may not be necessary, particularly if you work from home but for many potential customers and clients looking professional goes a long way towards making a good impression. It demonstrates that you take your business seriously, care about how you yourself and respect the people with what you come into contact.
The saying 'we only get one chance to make to first impression' is very apt. There are many ways we can influence a potential customer and being mindful to create a good first impression is a positive start to effecting a successful outcome for all concerned.