The shocking truth about your image

Four bizarre reasons customers may not like you

Fair or not, we’re 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 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 ask me to speak, 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 four image-related reasons that customers may not like you or your employees.

1. You look different than expected.

Customers prefer conducting business with individuals who meet their visual expectations, so dress in a manner that customers expect. A plumber dressed in an Armani suit makes the client uncomfortable. An alderman in khaki shorts would shock the council members of city hall.

“But that’s not fair” say employees, at the thought of being told what to wear – 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. Your job as a business owner or manager is to create an environment, including a 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, check with an attorney for the laws that apply in your jurisdiction. The great thing about a dress code is that it often weeds out applicants who wouldn’t feel comfortable in that environment.

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. 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.

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 concept “under-promise and over-deliver.

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.

A more common example is when employees converse amongst themselves in front of the customer. Numerous times I’ve been on airplanes when 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.

Finally, far too many employees 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 use 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.

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. If you do nothing about these issues, your business will continue to suffer without anyone telling you why.