Critical First Impressions

It may not be “love at first sight,” but the impression you make on your first-time customers better come close. The quality of your product and the level of service will play a major role in the intent of your new customer to return.

Several months ago, a new restaurant opened across the street from where I attend church. We had been watching the construction with anticipation for months. The exterior looked like a fun establishment, and my kids could not wait for opening weekend.

A few weeks later, that day had arrived. I picked up my son in between his rehearsals for a performance at school. We had a little more than an hour to grab dinner and get him back for his practice. We decided to give the new diner a shot. The interior was as creative as the exterior, and the menu consisted of many selections that I wanted to try.

We were seated by the hostess, and 4-5 minutes later, our waitress came by to take our order. They were busy! Every booth was occupied, and the kitchen was hopping. Fifteen minutes went by, and I checked on our order, only to be assured that it would be coming out shortly. Another fifteen minutes passed and still no food. The manager stopped by, so I asked him to check on it, letting him know that we had already been waiting 30 minutes and we needed to leave soon. He assured me it would be out any minute, but it was another fifteen minutes before the order appeared. It took a full 45 minutes, and both of our orders were wrong.

The manager apologized and told us this one was “on him.” He then made the comment that truly amazed me. He said: “We were caught off guard. We did not expect this many people on opening weekend, and I am short staffed in the kitchen.”

My immediate thought was: “Why would you spend all this money and hard work to create a new restaurant only to expect no one to come?” Since that night I have spoken with several other friends who had a similar experience. No one plans to return.

They missed out on that all-important first impression opportunity! Whether it is a restaurant or a company that manufactures a product, every team member must understand how critical it is to knock the socks off your customers on their first order or experience with you. Customers are picky and expect a high quality of service. They will go elsewhere with their money if the first experience is not a very positive one.

So how can you be assured you are ready for that new customer?

  • Review your processes for setting up new customers in your computer system. The initial purchasing process, including ordering, delivery, and billing, should be painless for your customer. Very few people will accept a line such as: “Sorry for the delay. It takes time to get new customers set up in all of our departments.”
  • If you are a new company or location, make sure you have developed several staffing contingency plans to handle the business if it exceeds your expectations. I always chuckle when I hear a call center hold recording that says: “Due to the high demand for the new product, hold times may be longer than normal.” That tells me that they did not expect for their advertising to work. (Why are they doing it in the first place?) Plan for success!
  • Review historical trends to anticipate seasonal demand for products or services. It never fails that stores run out of certain items at Christmas every year. I once asked an hourly worker why they had an empty shelf in this particular area. His reply was: “This happens every year.” (Why have they not learned from this experience and increased the order level for the next year?)
  • Go out of your way to follow up with an initial customer order to ensure everything was delivered at or above their expectation level. Follow up with a phone call if it is appropriate and ask for their feedback. Send a thank you card with an incentive for them to return and try you a second time. Sincerely ask for their feedback and how you can better meet their needs.

Remember: You only have one chance with a new customer to make that first impression. A company or restaurant will only stay in business for a short time if they can not capitalize on repeat business from their customers. That is one of the secrets to the success of Walt Disney World. On any given day, their theme parks and hotels are full of repeat customers, as high as 85% having been there before.

Unless the diner I mentioned above has dramatically improved since my visit, I predict that they go out of business before the year is up. Don’t be like them! Wow your customer so they leave their first interaction telling their friends and neighbors how great you are! That is the key to creating a long term, sustainable business.

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