ICS Magazine

The Training Corner: Guess What Your Customers Look for First? (Part Two)

October 15, 2001
It's the age-old dilemma: Youth means inexperience; older means 'too old.' Beat the stereotype.

In the September Training Corner, I pointed out nine factors that customers consistently use to form an opinion of your company. Research shows that they do this in the very first few moments that they see your truck and employee - before a single word is spoken. We also covered the first two "unmentionables," skin color and gender. This month we will deal with the third unmentionable: Age.

Sometimes being "young" is a disadvantage in our industry, and sometimes being "older" is just as big a disadvantage. Although it seems that we are never the "right" age at the right time, age is probably the one nonverbal element that can be camouflaged or highlighted as the need may be.

Unlike skin color and gender, which can trigger immediate positive or negative variables, "age" takes on an importance in direct relationship to these three things: (1) The job, (2) the consumer that is observing and (3) the expectations of the consumer.

First, let's look at "young"
Often in our business, being young appears to be a definite disadvantage, especially if the person's personal appearance triggers negative feelings. Here are some facts to be faced, like it or not.

1. The consumer has difficulty relating "experience and technical skills" with "young."
2. The consumer has a tendency to relate rapid job completion to these negative youthful attributes:
* Lack of attention to detail;
* Rushing to get done;
* Lack of caring about the task at hand;
* Lack of responsibility; and
* Lack of experience.

Neutralizing the consumers' attitude toward "young"
Nothing has a more positive effect on the consumers' negative attitude about youth than "appearance." Here are just a few guidelines guaranteed to help:

* Short, well groomed hair can add five to 15 years to a youthful face;
* Covering "skin art" is another positive plus;
* Removing excessive jewelry, especially those involving facial piercing;
* Wearing sharp looking, professional uniforms, keeping them neat, clean and well fitting at all times; and
* Wearing technical achievement patches designating employee skill levels prominently.

Let's look at "old"
Consumers worry that an older worker will get sick or hurt undertaking heavy work. They may even suspect that the tired older worker will take short cuts, doing an improper job. Once again, appearance raises its head.

The triggers for negative feelings about "old" are:

* Tired, slow and painful pace with lack of energy;
* Unkempt hair;
* Poor shaving practices along with unkempt facial hair;
* Body odors;
* Worn, baggy and unkempt clothing; and
* Complaints about aches and pains.

Neutralizing the consumers' attitude toward "old"
Most of the characteristics of "old" are employee attitudes, which must be changed because they have no place in your business.

These simple guidelines are easy to follow, if the employee wants to. Many times they are quite content to be sullen and suffering. It all comes down to appearance:

* Hair must be well cared for and neat at all times;
* Facial hair must be very neat with no stubble;
* Must be freshly showered and wear deodorant at all times, (for some reason it's the older employee that has a tendency to neglect this);
* Uniforms must be clean, neat and fit well, (again it's often the older employee who fails here); and
* Must move with energy and vitality (regardless of aches & pains).

In the next Training Corner we will continue our analysis of the nine factors that your consumer subliminally uses to make their initial evaluation of you company. As I mentioned last month, some of your staff may become inflexible or even militant about some of these issues, but again I assure you that such attitudes are extremely costly to your business.