There are no 'do-overs' with first impressions

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Rick Macias
Rick Macias

Could you imagine, when building a new house, the contractor starting to build the walls on top of cement that has not dried or hardened yet? Nobody builds a house on a weak foundation.

First impressions may not be everything, but they are definitely the foundation for everything.

Research tells us it takes anywhere from seven to 30 seconds to make a first impression. Some research even shows that we start making judgments about people and experiences within one-tenth of a second. Either time period is a short one. The main point is that “first” means one. There are no “do-overs” with first impressions.

A lot of people won't remember what was said during an initial encounter, but they almost always remember how they felt.

Does your lobby or greeting area make people feel welcome? Wait a minute; is your lobby the first place your community offers for an individual to have a first impression? Think of all the different points of contact your community can make a first impression. How about the phone, or the entrance to your building's parking lot? Train your staff members to be aware of all the possible places a person might encounter his or her first contact with your community. Then help them understand and to be able to help ensure new comers have a great “first” experience.

Merriam-Webster defines the word “impression” as the effect or influence that something or someone has on a person's thoughts or feelings. What does a good first impression look, sound, and feel like? For starters, keep in mind that a thing or a person can make an impression.

Let's start with those “things” that can make an impression on a person. A good way to ensure that you are managing the right things is by thinking of a person's five main senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. Yes, touch and taste need to be considered when thinking of the comprehensive first experience at your community. Let's break them down one at a time.

Sight. The view of your buildings' grounds and parking lot should not be overlooked. The place where individuals tend to consciously size you up is in your lobby or greeting area. Just as you expect your lobby and remaining interior of the building to be clean, well-maintained and free of clutter, so, too, should your parking lot, exterior of your building and grounds.

Hearing. All too often, I have visited senior living establishments and have been serenaded by the current top hits radio station. Keep in mind that the age group of your residents most likely prefers a different style of music. Staff members may reason they are appealing to the adult children who shop for a place for Mom or Dad. Keep in mind that your community is home to all who live there, and their interests are what should be catered to in this instance. Also related to hearing, a smile can be heard on a phone, call so be sure to smile while answering and talking on the phone, and also speak clearly and at a reasonable pace.

Smell. There most likely always will be debate about having neutral odors versus pleasant odors, but either is desirable over bad odors. Good smells can be things such as no perceptible odor at all or the smell of fresh baked goods, soft florals, etc. Any odor that most people would find pleasant is a good start. Keep in mind that they should not be overpowering. Your sense of smell is closely linked with memory, and you want your guests to remember their great first impression.

Touch. A warm handshake or reassuring light touch on the arm can go a long way in making someone feel welcome. Always move out from behind a desk or separating structure when greeting someone.

Taste. By offering a good-tasting beverage and/or snack, you can pleasantly appeal to a person's sense of taste.

We are now left with the “someone” part of an impression. Good eye contact and a warm smile are the foundations of an individual making a great first impression. Being prompt and attentive rates right up there as well. Have you ever entered an establishment and found that an employee seemingly ignores the fact you are standing within touching distance and delays acknowledging you? How did that make you feel? It is important to be hyper-aware of your surroundings so you can immediately engage anyone who enters your establishment. The same goes for answering the phone within three rings.

I'd like to leave you with a closing thought. Don't forget the last impression! People tend to remember the start and finish of an experience, conversation, etc. Therefore, it is just as important to leave a great final impression as it is to leave a great first impression. This is easily done by walking your visitor to the exit door, thanking him or her for visiting and offering a pleasant departing salutation. May all your impressions be great ones.

Rick Macias is vice president of training and development at Involve, based in Plymouth, MN. The company provides hands-on marketing solutions, training and support for senior living facilities nationwide.

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