How an organisation can make a great New Year's First Impression

It's mid-January, and for many of us, we're already struggling to hang on to our personal pledges of New Year Resolutions. But what about our organisations? What pledges can they make that will support its customer experience. A good place to start is that First Impression - this blog will explain why, and how to make some easy improvements. In customer experience design, we use a concept called 'bookending'. It's simply a shorthand metaphor for the first and last moments in an experience, which tend to be the most memorable. They 'hold up' the rest of the experience, hence the bookend idea (although I accept that this image doesn't work well for the Kindle generation!). Whether we like it or not, these initial and last impressions carry a huge amount of significance, especially in terms of whether we choose to come back as customers, or tell others of what we've experienced.

And it works whether you're meeting a person for the first time, as well as entering an environment. So if you have personal or business objectives for 2018, consider the flying-start potential that a first impression could have in helping you to achieve it.

A New Year's First Impression - Get Started in 3 Steps

1. Have a clear intention - to be consistent and effective, your organisation needs a focus for what you'd like the takeout to be. For example, supermarkets target an impression of 'freshness' - vital for a retailer selling food. That's why they typically put fruit and vegetables upfront in the store layout, so it's the first thing you come across. (flower displays work well here too). The display drives an (often) subconscious perception that if the food looks/smells good, the rest of the store will be well managed too.

Fine hotels place 'visibility of services' high on the first impression agenda. They know that usage of an in-house spa or restaurant will benefit from a guest seeing it early in their experience, whilst still taking in their new surroundings. So don't be surprised if they helpfully walk you past these extra services on the way to showing you your room!

Note that these examples are easy to associate business metrics to, such as driving up dwell time, or spend per visit. And don't forget social metrics either - by having a digital-friendly presence, such as free wifi, you'll encourage Facebook and Twitter users to be sharing with others as they take in that first impression.

2. Use a story or narrative - this is less complicated than it sounds. It's not about a long-winded anecdote, but simply a way of creating a connection with your customer. The rules are to be concise and deliberate.

Learning at LeSPORT
Learning at LeSPORT

Staying with hotels as case studies, my favourite narrative is the Bodyholiday leSPORT resort chain. Their mission is to allow you to find the vacation that you need to unwind, by offering a wide range of (optional) activities and instruction. Their mantra is "Give us your body for a week and we'll give you back your mind".

This works at lots of different levels. It's the headline on their website homepage which, for many, will be the first impression of the brand they meet. It's a promise of rejuvenation, but also speaks to the range of activities you can call upon to help you achieve it (see left). It works when you arrive - the place is usually humming with things going on, but set against a backdrop of beautiful surroundings, to 'refresh the spirit'. And it works as a reminder - I stayed at one of these resorts over a decade ago, and still remember it vividly, especially due to the different activities I tried for the first time.

The narrative needs to be genuine and deliverable - otherwise you're simply setting the brand up to fail. But if it neatly sums up what you or your proposition is all about, it should be placed front and centre in the first impression.

3. Connect in their 'language' - it's amazing how often and easily first impressions can be undermined by assuming that all newcomers are as familiar with your 'world' as you are. If you've ever had difficulty understanding what financial service providers, medical professionals and IT technicians are saying, you'll be familiar with this issue! For the customer, this can create a lasting impression of apprehension, even reluctance to engage at all.

Yet it need not be this way. At the beginning of 2012, the Children’s Hospital, Colorado launched an Orthopaedics microsite, with the goal of making a patient’s first contact as informative, user-friendly and easy-to-navigate as possible.

They used research from existing and potential visitors to find ways to engage kids and their families in the visit and any treatment they may be undertaking. Navigation ideas included a picture of a child to allow users to click on various body parts to learn more about orthopaedic conditions. Another route focused on sports medicine & injuries, with an image of a person to click on body parts to search for specific injury locations or search by sport type.

Perhaps the best part about working on and delivering your first impression is that it's invariably easier and more fun to do when you have clear intentions, simple stories and friendly language to support you.

In our observational research, we see employees unconsciously starting to smile, opening up their body-language and losing any nervousness in their tone of voice. It's also common to see this behaviour reflected back by customers - something about reaping what you sow….

So go on - try making a New Year's First Impression for 2018, including listing the metrics you'd like to improve by doing so. And do come back and tell us your tips and tricks in a years' time!