You've probably heard the phrase, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." While it's easy to discard advice of this nature as simplistic or cliché, it's important to remember that your customers make these types of assessments every time they visit your business ... and what they take away from that experience will linger longer than you can possibly imagine.
While a first impression entails everything from the way you speak, shake hands, and engage physically, it also includes things that are barely perceptible: the tilt of your head, your tone of voice, and even the way you explain something.
Don't Let This Happen to You
Imagine, if you will, a chance encounter with a potential long-term client. If your weekends entail frequent outings, late nights, and arriving at work on Monday with a less than upbeat attitude, you may unintentionally be sending the message to both your customers and your staff that you don't have time to discuss their concerns.
If you appear uninterested (even if what you really are is just dog-tired), the message you put out will be one of negativity. At best, your staff might shrug it off and chalk it up to a rough weekend; at worst, they may get the impression that it's pointless to offer input or insight and just withdraw from taking an active role in the business. Probably not at all what you're hoping for.
Best Practices for Best Results
Unless you've resigned yourself to the belief that your business can't be improved upon, then the following advice will go a long way toward enhancing your public interactions. And honestly, it's not that difficult to implement. Here are some proven steps to help you and your staff make better first impressions (and to keep those customers coming back).
Shake hands authentically
- The rules governing a proper handshake are simple. Be firm but not overzealous and don't prolong the activity. Holding on too long can be misconstrued, and shaking without a firm grip can portray you as weak or disinterested. And this goes for women as well. Try practicing with a coworker or friend, so that you'll know how much pressure to use and when to let go.
Make and maintain eye contact
- This is a tough one for some people, but if a person is speaking to you, and you're looking around the room or at your phone, then you'll seem distracted. Even worse, you may come off as arrogant, thinking only of yourself. It's important to look into someone's eyes to reassure him or her that you're listening and engaged with the conversation. Just remember to blink once in a while. It's not a staring contest, after all.
Maintain a respectful distance
- Have you ever had someone stand too close to you while you were talking, eating, or just waiting in line? Everyone has a comfort zone and maintaining an appropriate distance can help your customers or employees feel more at ease in your presence. A good rule of thumb is three feet. Just think about how it feels to have someone else's breath on your face. If you can feel it, you're definitely too close.
Offer a genuine smile
- Given a choice, most people will interact with someone who is smiling rather than someone who is not. The reasons are simple. A smile is a gesture of friendliness and interest. While you can't maintain that cheerful grin all the time, be sure to offer one when you first engage with someone. It is certain to make him or her feel more comfortable.
Remember your posture
- As a final piece of advice, this is possibly one of the most important of all. Good posture is akin to good manners (think Emily Post's advice on etiquette). Standing or sitting up straight is perceived as a form of confidence, while slouching or slumping in your chair makes you appear lazy, disrespectful, and uninterested. The way you carry yourself is a sign of who you are. Stand tall, and you'll always receive more respect.