The Importance of Making a Great First Impression

Something as simple a smile and a “thank you” goes a long way in elevating the customer service experience.

By Jim Callahan.

The saying goes, and I so agree, that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
In the business world, when you are expected to be a leader, this is something we all must remember.

Consider, on his first day of work at the prestigious American Management Association the new assistant comptroller—a quite learned man—held a staff meeting.  Barely into his presentation John misspoke and said, “It’s just one of those ‘mill of the run’ things,”when he meant to say “run of the mill.” He did not catch the faux pas, but everyone else in the room did.

For whatever reason, John was never able to overcome that initial gaffe and labored in mediocrity for the few years that he held the post. I was surprised because he was a pretty smart man and had shown characteristics of a strong leader.  It was indeed a learning experience and quite obviously one that I have never forgotten.

So it is in business as. We all spend literally hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars to lure customers into our stores as we regale them with promotions and outstanding service. However, many chains still refuse to spend a fraction of that amount on training the people behind the cash register—those that are the very face of our industry.

We are all aware that no matter how much training we imbue on our staffs, we are all very capable of misspeaking. John’s story is a reminder that illustrates how important it is to make a great first impression with those that matter—our customers.

Supreme Service
Today’s economy and all of the competition we are facing demands that we show great respect and gratitude to every customer that walks through our doors. I spend a portion of each workday thanking customers for their business. It’s something I have come to enjoy and something the customers are pretty fond of as well. Customers are so starved for that great smile, having the door held open for them, an offer to carry their bags to the car and even a simple, “thank you for your business.”

For these simple gestures, I’ve had customers remark how good I made them feel. Imagine that, offering a loyal customer a simple “thank you” and you can make their day.

From time to time I eat breakfast at a local Waffle House restaurant. I enjoy the quickness, the value and the food.  A few years back they must have had a corporate mandate for every employee to greet every customer as they entered. While that was a nice idea, it quickly became somewhat robotic at the store I frequented, culminating with servers not even bothering to turn around anymore as they greeted you. This is not at all what corporate had envisioned I’m sure.  

What I learned from this is to be unique with your recognition of customers and personalize it whenever possible. One of the best lines I’ve heard came from a Southern belle in La Grange, Ga. Miss Dixie merely said, “come back, ya hear.” But her great accent dripped with caring and sweetness in such a way that one had no doubt she meant it. You would be hard-pressed to convince me that employees don’t feel a lot better about themselves and their jobs when they can make a customer smile. It’s called making a difference.

While we are talking about thanking our loyal customers, don’t forget to thank, recognize and reward those employees who do a great job pushing customer service. They need to know they are appreciated too and that by doing the little things in a big way, they are making a difference every day.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at


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