A First Impression Can Make Or Break Any Customer Relationship

By Debbie Bermont President, Source Communications | January 14, 2010

Unfortunately, with all the branding efforts towards educating the mass market on good service, you now have to deliver exceptional service on a consistent basis or you will fall short of the customer's expectations.

The first point of contact with your company sets the tone for your future relationship with a prospect. You only get one shot at making a positive impact on that person with an exceptional first impression. If you lose them in that first moment, you might have damaged the possibility of even making the first sale - let alone getting customer loyalty.

The only way you can develop and strengthen a relationship is through a first positive impression followed up with constant care, attention and nurturing. Every connection you make with the same individual adds to the experience of the relationship. In business all it takes is one negative person in your company to have an unpleasant experience with a customer and all the good has been wasted. If you start off on the right foot with an exceptionally positive first impression, you have to follow up with more exceptional connections to make the relationship strong.

Most likely the initial contact with your company is going to be by phone, mail or through your website.

When the first connection is an incoming phone call from another person you want to leave the caller with a good first impression so they have a desire to call your hotel again. Proper phone etiquette is the most obvious way to leave a good first impression. Unfortunately it's not uncommon to call a company and get a person on the other end of the line who sounds hassled, frustrated, bored or apathetic. Obviously this doesn't leave a good first impression.

This is the age of automation where companies use phone features such as auto attendants, voice mail, call waiting and placing someone on hold. While each of these features is meant to improve communications, they also can lead to frustration for the caller. We have entered an era where people have very little patience. They expect answers immediately. If someone goes out of their way to connect with your company by phone, they will appreciate an immediate courteous response on the other end of the line.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.