First Impressions Are a Moment of Truth

By Mike Dandridge

It was a joke, really. A sheet of eight and a half by eleven paper, probably a photocopy made at a customer’s office, that hung behind the sales counter for years. You’ve probably seen it. It’s a black-and-white sketch of three generic cartoon characters, their mouths wide open, doubled over, expressing hysterical comic-book-style laughter. Below the trio of chuckleheads the caption reads, You want it when?

Then one day, an overheard casual remark made by a customer waiting for his order changed everything. He said, to anyone listening, “Did you ever notice, the places that have those signs that joke about the service, are the same places where the service is a joke?”

I took the sign down, crumpled it up, and threw it in the trash. Maybe that sounds extreme. I mean I know that comment by one customer doesn’t speak for all customers.  And I also know those so-called jokes are supposed to be a light-hearted jab at procrastinating customers, a figurative wink, and a nod to over-demanding clients who expect a supplier to have everything in stock. After all, failure to plan on their part doesn’t constitute an emergency on our part. Yes, I get it. It’s funny. But the implications run much deeper. It’s as if we’re saying to the customer, You want us to do what? Did you just wake up this morning and decide you had to have this part? What do you think we are – magicians? Are we supposed to drop what we’re doing because you’re in a hurry?”

“Well, yes,” replies the customer. “Yes, you are.”

First Impressions Last
Fifteen seconds. That’s all you get to make your first impression. According to Jan Carlzon, president of Scandinavian Airlines, those precious first seconds are your moment of truth – the length of time it takes for a customer to read a sign, or to form an image of you and your company. That decisive moment may remain in your client’s mind forever. It’s difficult for customers to believe a company that claims, “Our customers are our top priority,” when the first thing they see is a sign that says otherwise.

Of course, a sign isn’t always literally a sign. But, there’s a simple sign you can keep in front of you that’s a paraphrase of the Golden Rule and it’s the foundation for providing great customer service: Treat the customer as you want to be treated when you’re the customer.

Of course, we’re not just talking about a placard with a clever saying or funny picture that hangs on the wall. There are other “signs” that communicate to the customer how you feel about their business. Your appearance, your voice, your language, and even your vehicle transmit “signs” to your customer about whether or not the words you speak are in alignment with the actions you take. What are the signs your customer first sees at the beginning of a business transaction with you or your company?

Mike Dandridge is the author of the book, “One-Year Business Turnaround.” He is a professional speaker and consultant to the electrical equipment industry. Sign up for his blog at


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