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Is your customer’s first impression important?


Once upon a time... why first impressions do count!

Once upon a time… why first impressions do count!

Once upon a time, a duck hatched seven ducklings. Six ducklings were beautiful with yellow fluffy feathers. The seventh was much larger than the other six and had grey, shoddy looking feathers. The poor duckling suffered each time it tried to join the other duck families. Rejected and chased away, the ugly duckling heard them calling him names: ugly… different… dishevelled… unwanted…

Unhappy and forlorn, the ugly duckling hides on the banks of a lake until one day he sees a group of elegant white swans swimming not far from his hiding place. Awed by their beauty, he creeps out to watch them until he is discovered by the wild swans and is encouraged to join them. In their eyes, the ugly duckling is the most beautiful and elegant swan they have ever seen…

Do you recognise the tale of The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen?

When you have students, have you thought about the impression your appearance can be making on them? Rather like The Ugly Duckling, is your appearance: ugly… different… dishevelled… unwanted?

Why first impressions do count

Unwanted in the eyes of your customer and students… Why? Can’t they see the swan? The qualified, well prepared and experienced teacher below the superficial external appearance?

No, they can’t – and worse, they won’t even try to peer below the exterior. Your customers and students will only see your appearance. The see the way you dress, the way you conduct yourself – and they see a form of disrespect – and the money they are paying to hire your services.

Why some teachers appear disrespectful to the customer or student

Sadly, and more often than I care to mention, I see teachers in schools or institutes at best untidy. For example, I once attended a well versed, interactive presentation on English language teaching. The gentleman was humorous and very energetic. Yet he badly let down  his customer – he appeared as if he had slept in his suit for the last three weeks. During his energetic presentation, his shirt came out of his trousers – which when added to the torn and ripped pockets, the scuffed shoes… made for a disagreeable appearance.

Was this presenter a fantasy figure of my mind? I wish he was, but he’s not. And unfortunately, he’s not an isolated case.

It is not the issue that a freelance teacher has to buy expensive clothes. The issue is in the care and maintenance you, as a freelancer, must give to your appearance and clothing when you turn up at your customers and students, or when they come to you in your office, studio or atelier. It will take an exceptional reputation with an eccentric personality, for companies to hire a freelancer as a teacher – appearing as unsavoury as this presenter did.

The outward appearance: what if you cannot afford expensive clothing?

Unsavoury was the word used. Not expensive. Unsavoury gives the customer the impression of disorder, disharmony and a lack of body hygiene. Who wants to buy or hire services from a person that gives this impression – even if the opposite is true? Hairdressing apprentices learn how important their outward appearance, their manners, their courtesy and helpfulness will influence their customers. They are taught there is no need to turn up at the salon looking like a drowned rat when inventions (such as umbrellas) can be used.

The outward appearance and the appearance on the inside too?

Umbrellas may be able to temporarily hide or prevent a disastrous appearance when you arrive at your customer, but courtesy to the customer is normal. At least, it should be.

Manners are part of the customer’s first impression of you.  Manners and courtesy to your customers or students, no matter what age they are. This is your customer’s first impression of your inward appearance.

German hotels are only too aware of the ever-widening gap in expected manners with new apprentices. Each year, more and more apprentices have to undergo a new 3-months training programme – in table manners and respectful yet discreet service. They are taught discretionary manners for potential embarrassing situations. An example is when the customer bends over (to pick up something from the floor) and unintentionally makes an unwanted noise. A polite and concerned exclamation, followed by an enquiry if the customer’s back is all right will save this hotel’s customer (or your students) from a red face.

Why you should not ignore the customer’s first impression

Outward and inward appearances are important. They are the signs of courtesy and respect for the customer. Anything less is a sign of disrespect toward the customer or student.

In the eyes of your customer or students, neglect in either outward or inward appearance is a reflection of your character and an immediate reflection on the quality of your work.

As in Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the Ugly Duckling, most people see first and judge first the person’s character and qualities by the outward appearance. Paying customers will reject anybody on an unsavoury or inappropriate appearance alone.

Customers can be among your peers. They can be your colleagues. They are more interested in learning and less interested in a dishevelled appearance. Customers who are your colleagues may ignore your appearance. However, this will be the exception to the rule. A bona fide customer or student – won’t. So don’t turn up like a drown rat when it rains, and don’t forget to say “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” when you greet your customer.

Whether you like it or not, as a freelance teacher – your customers are not even going to try out your service if your appearance is unclean, untidy or dishevelled.

If your clean and tidy outward appearance leads to a first contact, but your manners are disrespectful, you will get to see your customers only twice. Namely, the first time when you greet them, and the second time as you leave.

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