Mueller - Positive first impressions

Friday, October 15, 2004

Psychologists say we have from seven to 17 seconds of interacting with strangers before they form an opinion of us. The old adage, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression" is so true. I write and train often on customer service in general, but it is making that initial positive impression that is the first step to exceptional customer service.

Whether we are at a dinner party or at the workplace -- appearance counts. In today's business world, it is often difficult to define appropriate business attire. Casual business attire can take on many meanings. My rule of thumb-always dress for the job you desire, not the job you have.

If going to a group function or a one on one meeting, it is always best to be dressed one "level" higher than those in the group. Wouldn't you rather be a little overdressed than underdressed -- err on the side of being overdressed.

Standards have certainly changed regarding hair, nails, shoes, etc. Pick up on clues from those around you, and from magazines and articles. I had a young professional come to my home recently to do business with me. She was dressed in a shirt and jeans-certainly an outfit appropriate for her age, and yet it did not instill a sense of professionalism or confidence in her as a credible person with whom I would like to do business. Better yet, look at what your competitors are wearing, and one-up them.


Handshakes are the universally accepted business greeting. We are often judged by the quality of our handshake. A good handshake is firm, but not bone crushing, and lasts about three seconds. A good handshake may be "pumped" once or twice from the elbow. Please release after the shake, even if the introduction continues. Remember eye contact with the other person is essential.

Extend a hand when: meeting someone for the first time, or meeting someone you have not seen for a while; greeting your host; greeting guests, saying good-bye to people at a meeting or gathering; when someone else extends a hand. A great party tip: keep drinks in your left hand to avoid a wet cold hand for shaking.


Do you remember the rules for introductions? In general it is best to introduce the more prominent or older person to the others, i.e. ,"Mr. Distinguished, I would like you to meet Mr. Smith." If you meet someone in public and should forget their name, you can introduce your associate, "Oh, it nice to run into you. This is Mrs. So and so." Then the party you have run into usually take the lead in introducing him or herself to your associate.

Remember Dale Carnegie's principle: "A person's name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language." Remember to use someone's name in your conversation. If you cannot remember it, go ahead and ask what it is. It is better to forget and have to ask -- it shows you are trying to make a more personal connection than if you do not attempt to call a person by name.


Often the only impression we have of an individual or company is one over the phone. It may seem trite to remind ourselves to smile when we speak on the phone, but it works! Remember we communicate more with our tone of voice than by the words we choose.

Never let the phone ring more than three times before we answer it if possible. And, use the three-part greeting -- make sure you give the name of the organization, name of the person answering the phone and some type of greeting such as hello, good afternoon ,etc.

Always ask if it is okay to put someone on hold, and if they say no, take their number and politely tell them you will return their call as soon as possible.


How we communicate can certainly impact someone's first impression of us. Avoid slang and jargon that is not familiar to the customers. Avoid being distracted and maintain eye contact. Being attentive is the best way to make a good first impression. Ask open-ended questions. Ask more questions, and clarify the other person's answers to indicate complete understanding.

Don't forget email etiquette. Do not send jokes and stories to people at their business email. Do not type in capital letters -- unless of course, you mean to be shouting! Always be as descriptive and yet brief as possible in your subject line. Do not send messages with your email groups using the To: field -- use the Bcc: field so that you are not displaying everyone's addresses. Remember to check for spelling and grammar -- your email should read just like a business letter. Always read your email before you send it to check for context and tone.

There are many ways we can make positive first impressions. Sometimes we are busy focusing on our tasks and goals that we forget making a positive first impression just takes a little conscious effort and some old fashioned etiquette.

Sharon Mueller is president of Success Skills, a staff development and training company committed to the success of a client's enterprise through improving the performance of employees and processes within the client's organization. She can be reached at 332-0900 or

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: