First Words Make (or Break) First Impressions


“Checking in…?”

“Here or To-Go?”

Isn’t it frustrating when those are the first words that come out of a front line employee’s mouth? As if they didn’t want to take the time, or couldn’t care less about offering a friendly, approachable greeting to the customer. Meanwhile, the next guy waiting in line thinks to himself, “Gee, thanks for the warm welcome. Nice first impression.”

SAD BUT TRUE FACT: the first impression window is narrowing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this social trend since I was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal on the topic. The reporter and I discussed this “window,” and I mentioned my research on hundreds of books on first impressions.

MY THEORY: As years go by, we seem to have less and less time to make a first impression.

Consider these numbers:

•In the 80’s and 90’s, NLP authors like Nicholas Boothman claimed you only had 90 seconds to make a first impression

•By the time the new millennium hit, you only had four seconds, according to hundreds of articles

•In 2005, Malcom Gladwell’s bestselling book Blink explained that people made first impressions in TWO seconds

•This year, an article from The BBC quoted a study which explained that Internet surfers form an impression “in one 20th of a second of viewing a webpage”

It kind of makes you wonder: as technology accelerates and as time goes on, will people eventually have ZERO seconds to make a first impression?

Ok, just kidding.

But think back to the guy waiting in line at the counter: if employees only have a few seconds to make a first impression anyway, why would the first words out of their mouths be so unfriendly?

I used to work at the Ritz Carlton. We were trained to eliminate the word “Hello” from our vocabulary. It was always “Good morning!” or “Welcome in!”

What ever happened to phraseology like that? Have we become so rushed, so programmed, so unfriendly, so unapproachable and so robotic that we can’t sincerely take the time to offer a customer a warm welcome?

Nevertheless, the following list of substitute phrases will make the first words out of your mouth UNFORGETTABLE:

Instead of “Next,” try:

•“Step right up!”
•“Come on down!” (that one’s for you, Bob Barker!)
•“Don’t be shy!”

Instead of “Checking in?” try:

•“You finally made it!”
•“Welcome to paradise!”
•“Everyone’s been waiting for you!”

Now, if your company has a standard protocol for greetings, that’s understandable. You don’t want to piss of your boss. On the other hand, if you say, “Step right up,” and your customer starts laughing before he even begins the transaction, I seriously doubt your boss will say, “Johnson! Stick with the script!”

Look, these phrases work. I’ve used them thousands of times in my retail, food and guest service experience, and customers love them. They’re funny. They’re memorable. Most of all, they’re different. And that’s the whole point: not only to give your customers a brief encounter or experience that’s both friendly AND memorable; but also to communicate in a way so others can’t help but pay attention to and remember you.

After all, if you only have two seconds anyway, you may as well have a little fun!


What’s your best two-second customer greeting?

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That guy with the nametag


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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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