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The Shocking Truth About Your Image: Four Bizarre Reasons Customers May Not Like You

By Jeff Mowatt |

Whether it's fair or not, we are often judged on first impressions. This harsh reality is nowhere better seen than in today's ultra-fast business world where customers size-you-up in a nano-second based on your personal image. Since their impression of you will determine whether or not they want to do business with you, the impact on your career and on your organization's bottom line can be staggering.

Ironically, when corporations bring me in to speak at conventions on how to boost customer retention, I often find that there's been little or no professional training for employees about personal image. Since it's often awkward to confront employees on these sensitive issues, you need some ammunition to make the task easier. Here are 4 image-related reasons that customers may not like you or your employees. Incidentally, customers will never tell you these reasons to your face – they'll simply do business elsewhere.

1. You look different than expected
Customers prefer conducting business with individuals who meet their visual expectations. So if you want to keep customers, dress in a manner that customers expect. A plumber dressed in an Armani suite makes the client uncomfortable. An alderman in khaki shorts would shock the council members of City Hall. A waitress with too much makeup, sporting tattoos and body piercing would likely put off a patron in an upscale restaurant. On the other hand, a bartender in a conservative suit and tie may appall a customer in an alternative nightclub.

"But that's not fair!" decry so many employees at the thought of being told what to wear. Again, first impressions may not be fair, but they are the realities of the business world. You hire employees to take care of customers - not for the sake of expressing their sartorial individuality. They can do that on their own time. Your job as a business owner or manager is to create an environment, including staff wardrobe, where your customers feel comfortable.

The most effective way to convey this message to employees is to have a written dress code. When writing your code, it's best to check with an attorney for the laws that apply in your jurisdiction. The great thing about a dress code is it often weeds out would-be applicants who wouldn't feel comfortable in that environment. That's better for everyone.

"... many employees tell customers more than they want to hear."

2. You're hard to understand
Customers don't want to strain themselves to understand front line staff. If you or other employees don't speak the local language clearly, then customers will generally go to your competitors where they won't have to work so hard to communicate – or to spend their money. This is doubly important when speaking on the telephone, where customers don't have the benefit of non-verbal communication to help them interpret what's being said.

This concept has nothing to do with discrimination based on ethnic differences or nationality. It has to do with basic communication skills that are essential to do the job. If it's a question of improving your knowledge of the local language, then take courses until you're fluent and easy to understand– not just enough to get by.

3. You exaggerate
Don't exaggerate to tell customers what they want to hear. If a task will take 15 minutes to complete, don't say, "It'll only be 5 or ten minutes." This is called lying. Customers hate that. Organizations that stay in business over the long term, adhere to the age-old adage, under promise and over deliver. 'Nuff said.

4. You're indiscreet
'Indiscreet' describes the cashier at a self-serve gas station who chatted with his friends while I entered to pay. He barely stopped his conversation with his buddies to take my money. I felt like I was crashing a private party. I never went back.

While this obvious display of rudeness is relatively rare, a much more common example is when employees converse amongst themselves in front of the customer. Numerous times I've been on airplanes when the flight attendants, while rolling food carts down the aisles, are so engaged in their personal conversations that they barely stop long enough to take the dinner orders. Meanwhile every passenger has to listen to their private conversations, whether they want to or not.

To top-off the indiscretion list, far too many employees inadvertently tell customers more than they want to hear. For example, when a customer asks a front line employee, "How are you?", they really don't want to hear complaints. It's just a greeting. Yet some employees take this as an excuse to complain with, "Oh, I'm 60-40", or as a security guard once told me, "I'm vertical." (Yikes)! Some employees respond with, "I'll be great when my break starts." In other words, the employee will be happy as soon as he or she can get away from their job and us – the customers. All of these indiscretions make customers wish they were dealing with professionals.

There is hope
Awareness of these problems is half the battle. A lot of employees simply don't realize they're committing these offenses. Another part of the solution is training. Bringing in a professional trainer to address the employees as a group provides the advantage of third party objectivity, in a fun non-threatening manner. One thing is clear though, if you do nothing about these issues, your business will continue to suffer without anyone else telling you why.

Canadian, Eh!

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