First impressions and the second chance

It’s funny how little sayings stick in your mind. I first heard the phrase “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” about 30 years ago at some careers event, and I’ll be damned if I’ve ever heard it since. But there it is, lodged in my mind, taking up space where the location of my car key is or how to get words to wrap in Excel.

Maybe the phrase remains lodged because it’s recalled so often in my disappointment-strewn life. A few months ago a local shop closed down, and an interesting-looking deli was due to take its place. I knew this because it had “interesting-looking deli to open here soon” lovingly written in mushroom pâté on the sheets that hid the refurb team. Maybe it was tapenade.

The shop did seem to take a while to get fitted out, which only made my excitement grow as I took my daily walks past it, wishing I had somewhere to go on the other side. I pictured the counter with its array of goods from around the globe; samples atop the display cabinet on cocktail sticks and a subtly concealed spittoon for sampling errors; helpful, knowledgeable staff who put the deli in “delighted to help”.

You already know where this is going.

Opening day

arrived. Stepping in, something felt right. The refurbishment was extraordinary. Products on display looked suitably esoteric. The lighting was subtle. Three bistro tables and a few chairs filled the entrance square, which meant you could eat in and drink coffee, something I hadn’t considered before. First impressions exceeded expectations.

Then I stepped forward to talk to the woman behind the counter. Just small-talk, you understand. My queries about the provenance of the Fiore Sardo would wait till I’d been home and googled Fiore Sardo. I got a one-word response. Some snubbing can be excused as daydreaming, absent-mindedness, even excitement. This was a more studied snubbing, like the snubbing Julia Roberts’s character gets when she goes clothes shopping in Pretty Woman. I smiled and raised my eyebrows to offer her the chance to correct her errant ways. She didn’t take it.

Another customer came in and her attempts to start a congratulatory conversation met the same response. Whether we were the wrong type of customer or whether company policy was to avoid eye contact and conversation, I don’t know. And it’s likely I’ll never find out. The lack of excitement about their own enterprise would make any visitor wonder if it’s worth caring about.

Warm words work wonders

So what did I learn that day? As a writer, I’ve always known the importance of making that first impression, whether I’m pitching for a client or writing content for them. With a website, you don’t get that chance to individually greet visitors and take their questions. You have to simply let people know that you’re open for business and you’ll give them your best possible service. It could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

No doubt we’ve all visited websites where we have felt like the company is snubbing us. It could be the loading time, the design or my bit, the copywriting. Some welcoming, warm words go a long way. Which is what I’ll have to do to get hold of some Fiore Sardo.

Photo: Joanna Boj