8 Jul 2010
First Impressions – sweat the small stuff
I don’t know who said it, and neither would it seem does Google, but “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. What you do get are opportunities to reinforce whatever that first impression was – for good or ill.
Your brain’s ability to ‘thin slice’ your world is pivotal in the experience of first impression moments. We are constantly creating concrete beliefs, ideas and opinions of the world around us based on the patterns and connections our brain creates from the ‘thin slice’ of information it is able to take in during those first milliseconds of any particular experience.
The Devil is in the Details
Whether it’s your first experience of a new restaurant, date, candidate or potential employer, it’s the little things that add up to make a BIG difference. There are sights, sounds, smells and multitude other triggers that saturate our senses, the most important of which is a smile. According to Paul Eckman, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, we can spot a smile at 30 metres. It’s something we’re programmed to look for and when we find it, we feel assured of a positive reception, even from a complete stranger. It makes us feel welcome and safe.
We pick up clues from the physical environment as well as behavioural signals – uncomfortable furniture, out of date magazines and newspapers, air conditioning that’s too cool, lights too bright and the dreaded ‘press one for accounts, press two for sales, press three for….’ automated telephonist. It’s this plethora of tiny pieces of information we take in as that ‘thin slice’ that form what we experience and upon which we make present and future judgements – be that of a person, brand or potential employer. Once we’ve formed that all important first impression, our brain goes off in search of evidence to back it up and confirm that the judgement we’ve made is right. Our focus becomes our reality!
Moments of Truth
As a business, delivering on your brand promise at every opportunity is critical, and none more so than the very first point of contact when first impressions are made. It’s the first ‘moment of truth’ for your brand! Understanding the importance of those moments and actively seeking ways to make the best possible impression, every time, is a massive opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition, build brand strength and loyalty.
From an employer brand perspective this means getting across every touch point of your ‘customer’ journey and in particular the various first impression moments you have such as your advertising, website, recruitment partners, reception, the way you answer your phone, etc. What is it that you want people to see, hear, think and feel when they come in contact with your business and brand as an employer? How do you reinforce that at every other touch point, every ‘moment of truth’, throughout their recruitment journey, including rejection, and through their employment experience if they’re the successful applicant?
The Little Big Things
In his recent book ‘The Little Big Things: 163 Ways To Pursue Excellence’, Tom Peters asks a great question of the reader and one I believe applies very well to first impressions – “If not excellence, what? If not excellence now, when?” Mr Peters talks of legendary IBM boss Tom Watson who reportedly said words to this effect when asked how long it took to achieve excellence “A minute. You achieve excellence by promising yourself right now that you’ll never again knowingly do anything that’s not excellent – regardless of any pressure to do otherwise by any boss or situation”.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. If it’s not an excellent one you’ll be forever trying to recover from it, be on the back foot and, odds on, behind your competition who HAVE taken the time to look, listen, learn and change. Just because it’s how you’ve always done things, doesn’t mean you can’t do it differently and for the better. And the changes don’t have to be BIG. It really is the little things, done in an authentic way by people who care that make the difference.
What can you do?
- Revisit your brand promise so you’re clear on what it is that you’re meant to be creating and that others will expect
- Identify all your ‘first impression’ opportunities
- Engage the creative power of your team to come up with ideas of how to make excellent and ‘on-brand’ first impressions
- Change what you can!