Sometimes the most basic things can determine an organisation’s public image. For the visitor, first impressions are very important. A pleasant, welcoming environment will put even the most apprehensive visitor at ease. But, regrettably, we often unknowingly place interpersonal and physical barriers in the way of clients, customers, and other visitors. The result? Outsiders leave with a less-than-favourable impression. If you want your organisation to create a good initial response in your visitor, note these points…

1. Remember: first impressions count.

Regularly put yourself in the shoes of your customers, clients, or visitors. What you may routinely notice every day may not at first seem important in your eyes because it’s so familiar to you – but it can present an entirely different image to a client. When it comes to first impressions, three vital points must be noted:

  • A visitor’s first impression is gained in only ten seconds. The visitor may be charitable, and give you a second chance. You will rarely get a third chance to get it right!
  • The impressions we gain from the world around us are based on our five senses. Research tells us that first impressions are gained through sight (83%), hearing (11%), smell (3.5%), touch (1.5%) and taste (1%).
  • Visitors always remember vividly the worst impression, not the best impression. Your challenge is to know what it is that must be improved on.

The key is to always see and think like your visitors.

2. Locate on-site signage strategically.

Make sure that your premises are well signposted so that visitors can readily find their way from the street entrances or the carpark. Well-placed, friendly signs should also direct people to the reception area, the manager’s office, drop-off points for deliveries, and to parking. Consider multi-lingual signs where appropriate. Pay special attention to the main display board fronting the street: company name and logo prominently displayed, address, phone numbers, friendly welcome…

3. Check the premises’ physical appearance.

The appearance of your premises, both outside and inside, has a continuing and cumulative effect on public attitudes. Litter, peeling paint, unrepaired damage, graffiti, noise, dripping taps, broken furniture, that flickering fluorescent tube, unkempt gardens, cobwebs, cracked footpaths – all convey a powerful message that conflicts with a caring and well-run organisation. An attractive site, even if the buildings are old, is generally regarded as an expression of achievement. Have someone check with you the impression your business gives from the street. And what impression do you get as you walk from the carpark, through the front door, to reception, past the offices or workplace, or in the rest-rooms? Compile a list of concerns.

4. Pay attention to the reception area.

The reception area is often the visitors’ first contact with your organisation – and often the only part of your enterprise they see – and the experience can have a lasting impact. Establish procedures to welcome them warmly and attend to their needs. Don’t leave visitors waiting too long; the offer of tea or coffee creates a good impression. The reception area can be your showcase for the outsider, so be imaginative with decor and setting. This may be an ideal location for details of staff awards and accomplishments; visual explanations of processes; displays of product; company posters; historical items; copies of company brochures, newsletters, or annual reports for visitors to browse. Install pot plants and appropriate furniture.

5. Test your organisation’s telephone technique.

The telephone is often the initial contact a customer or client has with your organisation. Check out your company’s telephone technique – Is the phone answered promptly and pleasantly? Is the organisation identified? Does the person answering the phone always convey a willingness to help the caller? Is the caller kept too long on hold? Is the caller frustrated if required to press buttons and listen to music? Is the caller made to feel important and welcome? Do you have an effective message distribution procedure? Are calls returned promptly?

6. Check that your premises give off good vibrations.

Does your organisation ‘feel’ like a vibrant, successful enterprise to the visitor? Is it a friendly hive of activity? Is there evidence of staff, attired appropriately, enjoying their work in bright, co-operative surroundings? Visitors have an uncanny knack of picking up such vibrations.

7. And, finally…

  • Encourage staff members to say hello to visitors when they pass to emphasise the organisation’s friendly atmosphere.
  • Always strive for quality first impressions. Lead by example. Others will follow.
  • Remember, you and your team will often be judged outside work as well as during trading hours.
  • At least once a year, have one or two trusted colleagues run the gauntlet of your premises as a visitor or phone caller, and have them report to you on the kind of impression your organisation generates.

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