by Martin Grunstein

There is much written and spoken about the importance of first impressions. Lines like “There is no second chance to make a good first impression” and “People judge you in the first five seconds after they meet you”.

If it is acknowledged that first impressions are so important, then why do so many “professional” businesses make such a poor first impression.

What’s the first thing they ask you for when you check in to a five star hotel? A credit card imprint. Why? Because you’re a thief! And that IS the real reason.

How many businesses can you think of that get a credit card imprint before they’ve even served you? Would you put up with it in a restaurant? I don’t think so. Would you accept it if a retailer took a credit card imprint when you entered the store in case you did a runner with some stock? I don’t think so. But in the industry reputed to have the best service in the world, they create a terrible first impression.

And what’s much, much worse is that you can stay at the same hotel ten times and pay your bill every time and they STILL ask for a credit card imprint when you check in the eleventh time.

One of the oldest truisms in life is that people act the way you treat them and that is why so many people steal things from hotels. They treat you like a thief, so you act like one. In fact, I was once told the rule at hotels is quite simple - If it’s not nailed down, it’s complimentary! Someone else even suggested that if you can pry it loose, it’s not nailed down but I think that’s taking it a bit far.

Ironically, I was running a seminar in Ulverstone, Tasmania and a lady told me she had run a bed and breakfast for 22 years and she never asked for a credit card imprint because that’s rude. And in the whole 22 years she never had one bad debt! I guess people do act like you treat them.

Why do the big hotel chains treat you like thieves? Because all their competitors do. If Hyatt stopped asking for credit card imprints from customers (or even just stopped taking credit card imprints from people who had stayed there before and paid their bill) so would Hilton, Sheraton and all the others. At the moment it’s not costing them any more because their competitors are making no better first impression.

But you might not be so lucky.

A lady told me she was browsing in a newsagency and one of the staff came up to her and said “This is not a library, either buy the magazine or put it back”. She did buy it - AT THE SUPERMARKET ACROSS THE ROAD and continued to buy three magazines every week from that supermarket for the next FIVE YEARS!

A businessman told me that having moved to a new area he rang up a local printer and asked about starting an account there. The printer growled back at him “You have to do a minimum of $70 a month to start an account”. The businessman hung up the phone and went to another printer where he did approximately $4000 a month in business for the next eleven years.

Am I saying the printer shouldn’t have minimum transaction level for account customers? No! Am I saying that the newsagent has to watch someone read but not buy magazines every day for months without saying anything? No! I am saying that we should give people the benefit of the doubt and not yell at everybody because of the sins of those that went before them.

In the printer’s case, set up the account and if the transaction level is seen to be low after a few months, have a quiet word with the customer and explain that it is not profitable to run an account for the low level of business.

In the newsagency watch your customers and let them browse but if you see the same person reading magazines day after day without buying any, have a quiet word with them.

It’s hard enough to get people to do business with us without treating them like criminals before we’ve built a relationship with them. And it’s potentially very costly as in the above cases.

Have a look at the first impression your business creates. Are your customers welcomed or treated with suspicion?

You think bad first impressions are not common? How many of the following situations have happened to you? You are waiting to be served in a department store while two staff members are having a personal conversation ; you ring a business that takes ten or more rings to answer the phone; you are put on hold by a receptionist and not returned to for what seems like an eternity; a tradesperson says they’ll quote on a job and you never hear from them again; a salesperson says they’ll return your phone call and you never hear from them.

I have had ALL of those things happen to me and I wouldn’t be surprised if ALL of them haven’t happened to you, too.

Newsagents of this world, let me browse for a little while and I’ll be happy and the odds are I’ll buy that magazine from you rather than the supermarket across the road.

And if you ever have some time on your hands and want to have some fun, check into a hotel and when they ask for a credit card imprint act surprised and ask them why. After a lot of sidestepping with lines like “it’s the policy of the hotel” to which you reply “why would that be the policy of the hotel?” they’ll eventually tell you it’s in case you run off without paying your bill. It’s nice to watch the reception staff squirm before they have to eventually tell you the truth.

Martin Grunstein’s work with over 500 companies across over 100 industries has made him this counrty’s most in-demand professional speaker on Outstanding Customer Service. He is contactable on (02) 96623322 or you can email him at martin@martingrunstein.com.au

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Martin Grunstein

35 Cottenham Avenue
Kensington NSW 2033 Australia

02 9662 3322

0414 933 249

02 9662 4004