Regardless of whether you are a manager, receptionist, customer service representative, warehouse worker, account executive, or company owner, customers are judging your company by the impression you make on them. Current and potential customers use each contact with employees as a lens to see into the soul of your company and will make determinations about your ability to meet or exceed their needs by those experiences. Each interaction is an opportunity to advance, solidify, damage, or flush a relationship down the toilet. The information in this article should help you become better prepared if you were asked the question: What impression are you making whether in person or on the phone with every customer you come in contact with? Lesson #1 You only get one chance to make a first impression, so make it positive. During a potential customers' first contact with your company, they are sizing you up, forming impressions and deciding whether they want to do business with you. Did you know, when meeting with someone in person, 90% of how you are evaluated is based on non-verbal communication? Your appearance and body language will be scrutinized long before you open your mouth to utter one word. When you do speak, your tone, enthusiasm and delivery will be more important than the words you choose. But, along with the delivery, a person needs to show they are aware of their surroundings and know what is acceptable behavior. It's amazing how often I witness employees who ignore basic rules of etiquette and common courtesy when greeting a customer or potential customer for the first time. Manners go out the window and they are unfriendly, talk over people, don't stand to greet a person, don't introduce themselves and fail to acknowledge someone with eye contact when customers enter the business and they are on the phone. These are all blatant acts of disrespect. Interesting though, when I interview employees they have no problem expressing their displeasure regarding customers who treat them poorly. We all need to remember you can only control your own behavior and if you'll start every interaction with a sensational attitude regardless of the customers', things will usually turn around and end on a positive note. Awesome employee attitudes can definitely make up for deficiencies in other areas of a company. Sales Managers and companies expend a great deal of time and resources creating messages. Much of the time the message falls on deaf ears due to the messenger and how poorly it was delivered. Messages need to always be delivered with enthusiasm and a positive attitude. In addition, you also need to be well-groomed (check your breath regularly), appropriately dressed, have a warm smile, give a firm handshake and offer your name. If you already know their name, use it to greet them quickly and you will set the stage set for a positive experience. Now, if your initial encounter is by phone, keep in mind that 75% of how you and your company are perceived is determined by the tone of your voice. Customers will critique any accent you have, the pacing of your speech, how clearly you speak and will instantly create an image of you in their mind. When surveyed, people report the most important facet of a sales or service call is how friendly you are. The actual words you use will not carry as much weight as how they are delivered. The customer will believe the experience they have with you (whether good or bad) is the tip of the iceberg and represents how others from your company will treat them during future dealings. Companies spend a great deal of money attracting customers through advertising and marketing and are looking for you to provide sensational service experiences. It is far more expensive for company's to find new customers than to invest in keeping existing ones. This is why company's need to devote more resources to training employees on the topic of CUSTOMER INTERACTION. Sadly, I see the results of company's not allocating appropriate resources to train employees on how to positively interact with new customers. Even more astounding is how few examples there are of companies investing resources specifically for the education of their employees on how to interact with existing customers. I receive examples regularly from customers who had long-standing accounts with companies and have received little or no attention and respect. Their relationship is unhealthy and they are looking to make a change. You should never take an existing customer for granted, because your competition is doing everything in his or her power to lure them away from your company. By being rude and insensitive, you open the door for your customers to head straight to your competition. If you'll treat each and every customer as if they were royalty, you'll be surprised how quickly your business will soar. Lesson #2 Be an Active Listener My grandfather use to tell me, "You have two ears and one mouth for a reason, listen twice as much as you talk." Listening is much different then hearing. Being an active listener means you view the world through the eyes of your customer, which will allow you to display empathy for them. It is a skill that will require a great deal of practice, but it can be mastered. Ensure that you can focus completely on the customer and if you can't, politely ask if you may finish your current task so you can give them your full attention. Believe it or not, to be a good listener means to not have a discussion. Sure, you will need to acknowledge certain points that are made, but you are not there to have a discussion. Your only role is to listen effectively. As you move through the experience, you will need to summarize and repeat back to the customer to ensure you received the message clearly. Always wait for an appropriate break and never interrupt. To be a sensational listener, you will need to expand your skill set and learn when and how to ask a few, short, probing questions. Ensure they only cover topics the customer has already divulged, so they will be comfortable discussing them fully. You are not there to interrogate or judge and you should never change the subject or begin thinking of your responses while they are still talking. As you communicate, remember the person will be reading your non-verbal signals. Expressing interest with your body language will be important if you truly want the person to continue opening up to you. Focus on the customer and don't get sidetracked playing with your hair, looking at a blackberry or fidgeting in any way. Be in the moment with them. Before separating, recap the conversation and it should reassure the person you have truly cared about the time spent together and you valued what they had to say. Lesson #3 Don't be negative. Customers are looking to do business with optimistic people and companies. Give your customer a happy experience so they will love seeing and talking to you. But, beware about getting too comfortable with them. Although you may become friends with some of your customers, it is never the right place or time to discuss how miserable you are, that you hate your job or wish five o'clock worry hurry and get here. We all have challenging days, but we don't need to share those issues with our customers. Unfortunately, far too many employees make the enormous mistake of talking negatively to one customer about another. The best habit is to follow the advice of my mother who said, "If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all." Have a positive aura about you. Customer's want to feel important and that you truly care about them. When given the opportunity, have a sense of urgency and respond quickly to their needs. Move with a sense of purpose showing energy and vitality to attract and keep customers. Lesson #4 Handle your incoming phone calls proactively. Most businesses receive negative reviews regarding the difficulty customers face navigating automated phone systems. The number one complaint is how long callers are kept on hold. Unless you love elevator music, long hold times make customers feel their calls are unimportant. Multiple transfers are also a huge annoyance, since most customers simply want to be put in contact with someone who can answer their question. Many times messages must be left and return calls rarely come in a timely manner, only making matters worse. When you have the opportunity to speak to someone on the phone, make it a sensational experience. They will remember you and will give your company their business. If they are stuck talking to a machine and navigating the automated phone tree looking for a real person, they'll become frazzled and will probably hang up. You can bet when they do, their next call will be to your competition to tell them about their negative experience. Lesson #5 Ensure there is no baggage before moving forward. When dealing with customers, don't be afraid to ask them about past interactions with your company. It is important to uncover whether you need to repair an existing relationship due to a past negative experience before moving forward. No matter how small the infraction, a bur under a saddle will become a big issue over time. It is better to address and resolve it as quickly as possible. Information gained from a customer may also help eliminate future conflicts and problems. Customers are always looking for someone to help them and they want to feel good about doing business with your company. Everyone wants positive interactions. Remember it will only take one negative event to dismantle a relationship that may have taken years to develop. Remember, as you move through your day continue to ask yourself what impression are you making? Are you an active listener? Are you a positive person? Do you handle phone calls well and are you a person who looks to solve problems, even if they weren't created by you? Lastly, be very careful when corresponding by email. Since you can't see or hear the person you are communicating with, you will need to choose your words carefully. I recommend writing a draft and then letting is set. Come back later, reread it and if possible have someone else proof it before hitting the SEND button. If you will remember the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do to you," things should work out very well for you and your company.