According to some old sayings, first impressions are lasting impressions and you only have one chance to make a first impression. I believe that, in our business, we actually have a number of chances to make "first" impressions.

On one hand, that might sound good; if we don't make a good impression the first time, we get more opportunities to make it. Unfortunately, it also means we have a number of opportunities to make bad impressions.

But let me explain what I mean when I state that we have a number of chances to make a first impression. You are probably asking yourself, "Isn't there really only one?"

It Starts With Image

I believe we make a first impression in the advertising that introduces us to our potential customers; in the way we answer the phone when that potential customer calls; in the way our trucks look; in the look and approach that our service technician takes when making a service call, or the look and approach our sales engineer takes when making a sales call; or the impression that our installation crew makes when they first arrive and begin their work.

Each one of these situations creates an impression in the mind of the customer. Each situation is the first time the customer has encountered that representative of your company, and each one gives a first impression. What is left in the customer's mind is the aggregate of all of those impressions.

You should have already determined the type of image you want your company to have. Hopefully it includes providing quality, reliability, and professionalism. Take a moment to analyze your company and think about all of those first impressions. This analysis is not always a pleasant thing to do, but it's something each of us needs to do at least annually. It may not be pleasant because we may not like what we see.

Are you giving the right impression in every one of those areas? If you aren't, it's likely that your customers will not be left with a good impression of your company.

Make An Impression

First, consider your advertising. Does it reflect you and your company or is it just a package that a manufacturer sold you? What about your building? Is it neat in appearance and kept clean? How about the way you answer your phones?

Today most of our potential customers' first real impression of our company comes by way of a phone call. Sit next to a friend and have him or her call your company and ask some questions. Listen to how the call is handled.

If a sales call is required, does your sales engineer present himself or herself professionally? Does he thoroughly study the home and give a professional written quotation?

If a service call is needed, do the service technician and his vehicle reflect the impression you want your company to make? Does he park appropriately, approach the home properly, and take the right steps to satisfy that customer?

Do your installation crews approach their jobs correctly and professionally? I have heard horror stories about some crews (not ours, thank goodness) showing up at a job and asking the customer what they are supposed to do.

We are approaching the time of year when you should perform this analysis and make changes. For most of us, the time after the holidays isn't the busiest time of year, and it presents a good opportunity to improve our first impressions. It takes a great effort to make good impressions in all of these areas, but the results will show in your ability to sustain your business.

Guest columnist Butch Welsch operates Welsch Heating & Cooling in St. Louis. He can be reached by e-mail at

Publication date: 12/27/2004