You Only Get One Opportunity to Make a First Impression, and You Have to Make it Count

By Ted Ings, Executive Director

Do First Impressions Matter?

Whether you are answering the phone at the dealership, greeting a customer on the showroom floor, or booking a vehicle in for a service, the customer will form an opinion based on that initial contact and it will often set the tone for the rest of your relationship with them. And it’s not just you that they are judging.

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The first impression the customer has of you also influences their first impression of the dealership as a whole. It’s not only your reputation on the line, but it is also that of the entire business, so you need to make sure you get it right.

The theory of thin-slicing

Author Malcolm Gladwell is a proponent of a theory called thin-slicing, a term used in psychology to describe our ability to accurately judge people or situations on first impressions. In his book, Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, Gladwell contends that our first impressions are generally accurate.


He writes, “It is a central part of what it means to be human. We thin-slice whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation. We thin-slice because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot.”

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This means that when you work in the sales and service industry, you have to pay attention to first impressions. A positive first impression is an important initial step to building a successful long-term relationship with your customers. It sets the tone for the entire customer experience, and if you want to set the correct tone, your greeting should always be friendly, yet professional and polite.

Professional, polite and personal

Often your first contact with a customer will be over the telephone and even if you are not face-to-face, they are still forming an impression of you through the tone of your voice and the words that you use. That means that it is essential for a phone greeting to be professional, polite and personal.

For example, “Thank you for calling CPI. I’m Ted and I can help you.” By thanking the customer and introducing yourself, you are being polite and professional, but you are also adding a personal touch and making a connection. And let them know YOU can help them!

Telephone greetings need to be consistent and standardized in order to convey professionalism and great a good impression. Decide on how you want everyone in the dealership, from the receptionist to service manager, to answer the phone. Write a script, get all your employees to practice the greeting and keep a copy next to every phone. Make sure that the entire team understands why it is important to use a standardized greeting.

First impressions matter in the sales and service industry

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When a customer walks into your dealership, you need to greet them immediately. Don’t leave them milling around trying to find someone to help them. This does not create a good first impression. People want to feel that they are dealing with a professional company and that their businesses are important to you and if you don’t greet them quickly, they don’t feel like you care. Or they get the impression that your time is more valuable than theirs, and that is not a good start to any relationship. Engage with your customers as quickly as possible, introduce yourself and make them feel welcome in your dealership.

In the same way that you script a greeting for answering the phone, you can script a greeting to be used on the showroom floor. This only needs to cover the initial greeting, after that you have to let the conversation flow naturally.

Personal appearance is important

The old expression “don’t judge a book by its cover,” makes a good point but unfortunately, we do all judge on appearance, and it is often on a subconscious level. This means that when you work on the dealership floor, you need to look the part. Always dress to impress and make sure that your appearance is neat and professional; clothes must fit properly, and shirts need to be ironed and tucked in. Your appearance shows the customer that you respect yourself, the dealership, and most importantly, you respect them.

Appropriate eye contact and body language form part of a first impression. When we communicate face-to-face, our words only count for 7% of the impression we make, 38% is tone and 55% is body language. When you greet a customer, smile, look them in the eye and shake hands.

This is a professional way to greet customers, it creates an immediate connection and demonstrates that you are happy to see them, paying attention and interested in what they have to say. Be confident, stand up straight but keep your posture relaxed and don’t cross your arms. (To learn more about body language, read my article “Communication is more than mere words.”)

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First impressions are not just made by people

It’s not only people that can make a good first impression. Your showroom is your introduction to the customer. Before you have said a word or even had the opportunity to greet a customer, they have formed an impression based on what they have seen.


Take a critical look at your dealership and try to see it through the eyes of a new customer. Is your dealership clearly signposted and easy to find? Does it have curb appeal? Is the parking area well maintained and free of trash? Is the interior of the dealership clean, neat and inviting? Does it look professional? These are all important factors that add to a customer’s first impression and you need to do everything in your power to create a pleasant customer experience from the moment they see your dealership sign.

Practice makes perfect

Don’t just tell your employees to dress well and answer the phone politely, explain to them why it is important and use role-play to practice greeting customers over the phone and in person. Even if it is a simple greeting, practicing it will make it more natural and eventually it will become second nature for all employees to use the standardized greeting.

First impressions are powerful, and you need to use that to your advantage to make your dealership stand out above the competition. Making a good first impression is the first step on what will hopefully be a long and lucrative relationship with your customers.