Categories : Coaching Communication Customer Service Relationship Building Retention


Research shows that customers form first impressions about their interaction with a customer service representative in as little seven seconds. The first impression the CSR creates with the customer will set the tone for the rest of the conversation.

Those initial few moments are important because they are “make or break” – they determine whether the customer has a positive or negative feeling about your company. Following are some tips on how to make sure those first seven seconds create a great first impression.

Voice, not words, makes the first impression. For many CSRs, customer interaction is primarily over the phone, and how they sound to the customer is critical. With telephone interactions, 80 percent of the first impression is based on the CSR’s voice inflection. Some of the key elements of voice inflection are tone, pitch and speed.

When your CSRs pick up the phone and greet the customer, does the tone and pitch of their voice communicate that they are glad the customer called? Do they greet the customer like they would a good friend? Or do they sound like they have already talked with 25 other people that day? The enthusiasm and energy in the CSR’s voice are critical to a first impression. If you want to improve the first impression, record CSR conversations with customers and play them back. Let CSRs listen to their own voice and grade their voice inflection on a scale of 1 to 4 with 4 signifying they came across as enthusiastic and friendly. You may find it takes listening to a few calls before they give themselves a top grade.

When was the last time a business used your name? Using a customer’s name at least twice in a service interaction will build rapport and strengthen the relationship with that person. Many customers will offer their name at the beginning of the conversation. If CSRs are really listening, it will help them correctly pronounce difficult names.

So what happens when a customer doesn’t provide their name? All you have to do is ask! Most people will respond when the CSR says, “May I ask with whom I am speaking?”

Have all your CSRs use customers’ names during their interactions for the next 30 days and see if it doesn’t improve the conversations. However, there are two things to consider when using a customer’s name. First, if the CSR isn’t using excellent voice inflection when they call the customer by name, the customer will perceive that they don’t really care. Second, if the customer’s name is used numerous times, the customer will think the CSR is reading from a script and that he or she is not sincere in attempts to build a relationship.

Are you always listening to the customer? CSRs have a challenging daily task of listening to problems that customers call about and then creating a solution. But they listen to similar problems day after day, week after week, month after month. Through our mystery shopping programs, we have found that CSRs often fail to practice active listening to confirm they are tuned into the customer’s needs. When a CSR asks a customer to repeat a comment or asks a question about something the customer has already explained, that will be the death of a good first impression. Training on how to listen actively and confirm critical elements of the customer’s call will help CSRs communicate that they really are listening to the customer’s needs.

First impressions will make or break a customer’s perception of your company. Does every customer who calls or walks into your company always finish their interaction with an excellent first impression? It only takes a few seconds for them to make up their mind.


David Saxby is president of Measure-X, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based measurement, training and recognition company that specializes in customer service and sales skills training for utilities. He can be reached at 888-644-5499 or via e-mail at Visit the Measure-X Web site at