Studies show that people make a judgment on their first impression in less than a second. Research from Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov and co-author Janine Willis, shows that people will make snap judgments in a tenth of a second! This does not leave a lot of room for small businesses to make the best impression on a prospective customer.

First Impression

Unfortunately, that impression will not be changed with additional interactions. Once a customer classifies a company in one category, it is tough for them to make a mental switch. This can be good if the customer’s impression is positive about a company, but fatal if it is negative.

Here are the steps for a company to follow to give that all important first impression:

  1. Plan. Don’t leave that first impression to chance. What exactly do you want the customer to feel and experience the first time they are exposed to your company? Specifically what impression do you want to leave afterwards? What will they be talking about next day to their friends? This should be taught to every employee and be reflected in all marketing since where language, print size and photos are only a one way communication medium.
  2. Practice. Make sure that all employees can accurately reflect this. Can the employee authentically mirror the impression the company wants to make? At each interaction, it is critical to practice with employees what gets said or written. This is not the type of training that gets done once, but must be taught on an ongoing basis.
  3. Test. What do customers think? Is there a positive or negative reaction? Do they come back? Different approaches should be tested to see which yields the best results. An effective way to do this is to use simple A/B testing for web pages, emails and telephone greetings.
  4. Refine. Make changes based on feedback and results. This is an evolving process since customers make their impression inside the context of contact with other competitors and what is going on in the world around them.

Having a bad day? Admit it. With only one chance for a first impression, you may want to think of staying away from customers that day if you can’t faithfully reflect the brand.


Barry Moltz gets small businesses unstuck. He is a small business motivational speaker, writer, and radio host. Barry can be found at