Mastering First Impressions

On 14 February, 2018 in Client Communication, Customer Service, Training by Aaron Goode

First impressions are EVERYTHING! A client’s first impression of your practice sets the tone of what your client envisions your practice to be.  A range of details influence your client’s perception including the look, feel and smell of the reception area and staff. From this very first interaction your client starts to gather information about your practice and forms opinions in order to say yes or no to becoming your client. It is all about the ‘perception of value’.

It is important to realise, people formulate these opinions within one tenth of a second when meeting you and pass judgement in regards to appearance, likeability, trustworthiness, competence and aggressiveness. To the clients, YOU are the business and must foster a positive relationship. Therefore, by incorporating the key components of customer service excellence including welcoming the client, acknowledging them and using positive body language or speech patterns can go a long way in making a great first impression.

Understanding the client’s point of view is one way to determine why clients may initially choose your veterinary practice. Decisions can be based off factors including:

  • Location
  • Word of mouth (from clients or friends)
  • Brand
  • Advertising

Client satisfaction is a fundamental tool in understanding why customer service is important. Consider why clients leave a veterinary practice? The number one reason is the perceived indifference or lack of interest by an employee. Therefore, the key reason they stay is staff friendliness and service. By understanding this as the business and building you team’s customer service skills you can start to foster quality relationships with your clients.

Have you ever stepped foot into a business and not been acknowledged? Excellent customer service demands that the client be acknowledged as they enter your practice. Through acknowledgement it demonstrates you appreciate the client. Hence, the key to identifying, managing, delivering and meeting client expectations begins through establishing and building communication rapport. Firstly, a simple smile or creating ‘small talk’ are vital in building rapport and helping the client feel at ease and secondly non-verbal communication, the messages sent through your body including tone, posture facial features and gestures. When receiving the message, 55% is made up of non-verbal communication, 38% tone of voice and 7% spoken words.

What is rapport? Rapport is the act of expressing genuine interest in a client verbally and non-verbally. Clients need reassurance through rapport building and genuine care. Displaying genuine interest includes the ability to listen, attend and ask meaningful questions. The ability to build rapport can achieved in the following steps.

Firstly, greet the client. In exuding your personality, you can deliver the very best first impression to the client. In doing this, it shows:

  • You have seen them
  • You want to help them
  • You want them to feel welcomed and acknowledged
  • You value them

Secondly, a well-delivered greeting can be complemented and bolstered by specifically recognising the client. Some examples include:

  • Smile and introduce yourself
  • Use their name/pet’s name when greeting them
  • Focus on what the client is doing right

Thirdly, attending. This means focus, look and pay attention when someone is communicating with you. Give your full attention and focus on that person. It includes:

  • Focusing – all physical and psychological attention to someone when they are communicating with you.
  • Looking – Making eye contact with another person demonstrates you are present during conversations. Though a customer may paint a verbal representation when first visiting your practice and have their previous history written down, the client’s expectation is that you look at them, not the piece of paper. You can’t connect with the paper!

Fourthly, non-verbal communication. These are actions that affect the message contained within verbal communication. “It is not what you say, but how you say it”. Remember what you don’t say sends the loudest message. When greeting and acknowledging the client ensure both verbal and non-verbal communication are aligned; smile, make appropriate eye contact and speak with a positive and optimistic undertone.

Lastly, build rapport through questioning. In asking questions it validates to the client you care and are interested in them. Do this through open-ended and closed questioning. Open ended question allows to the client to respond in more detail. As these are more personal, they assist in continually building rapport, encourage conversation and show your interest in the client. Closed question are typically responded with a yes/no or one word response and are used to acquire specific answers. 

Learn how to make a great first impression with our upcoming workshop series ‘Connect with your Clients’ specifically designed for those on the front line of customer service in your practice.