ICS Magazine

Guess What Your Customers Look for First? (It's Not Your Quality)

September 9, 2001
Customers focus on what they 'see' when you first arrive. What to do? Presentation. Presentation. Presentation.

Customers focus first on what they see and, right or wrong, form immediate opinions of you and your company based on what they see in the employee you send to their home. Actually, more than half of a customer's opinion is formed in the very first moments that they see your truck and employee arrive, before they ever hear a word.

What influences them in those initial seconds, causing them to form an immediate opinion of you or your employee?

Social scientists have studied this phenomenon for years, and agree that there are nine factors that people subconsciously use. While they don't agree on the exact order of these subconscious factors, here is the generally agreed order: (1) Skin color, (2) Gender, (3) Age, (4) Appearance, (5) Facial expressions, (6) Eye contact, (7) Body movement, (8) Personal space, and (9) Touch.

Do you really know what you look like to your customers? (Do your techs know what they look like to your customers)?

You may not be aware of this, but most people do not immediately recognize themselves when they're unexpectedly confronted by their full reflection. We all simply have trouble remembering what we look like in a full frontal body image, without a clear image of our face.

It is critical to your success that you and your staff know what you look like so that everyone can understand what your customers will be basing their opinions on.

Let's examine these nine factors briefly. In this issue, we'll begin with the two "unmentionables:" Skin Color and Gender.

Skin Color - When dealing with the public, every cleaning and restoration professional must accept the reality that despite years of attempts to overcome racial prejudices, skin color remains the most dominant characteristic of a person's physical appearance used by a consumer in their initial nonverbal evaluation. This is not to say that it is always a negative factor, but that it is always noticed first.

In situations where skin color might be a negative factor in the initial moments of contact, the employee should take steps to counter stereotypical opinion by paying extra attention to other factors, such as dress and facial expression.

The most powerful tool to neutralize skin color prejudices is personal appearance. We will discuss personal appearance in greater detail in October's Training Corner.

Gender - Gender carries almost as many stereotypes - both positive and negative - as skin color.

Initial observation of a male service technician carries far more power and authority in the consumer's subliminal evaluation than a female technician or even a female supervisor. While obviously unfair to the employee, this is exactly what occurs in those initial few moments when the consumer observes them. Female company owners accompanying a new technician to a job location find this happens time and time again.

Once again, the best tool to use to neutralize gender prejudice starts with appearance, followed by eye contact and positive body language.

In the October Training Corner we will continue examining the remaining seven of the nine factors that consumers subliminally use as they make their initial evaluation of you and/or your employee, (and ultimately your company) before a word is spoken.

I strongly recommend that you use this information in staff training meetings. While these issues may be uncomfortable to discuss, they are a reality; sweeping them under the rug won't help your company.

You may find that some of your staff will be inflexible, even militant, regarding their feelings versus the customer's subliminal attitudes. How you deal with that will be your decision, but I assure that such attitudes are very costly to your business. The section on "Appearance," to be covered in the October article, will offer some effective guidelines for dealing with these subliminal customer attitudes.