First Impressions and Second Chances: the Tightrope Walk of Client Interaction

woodharbinger3_1122-Edit_1By Margaret Felts

Everyone in a firm or organization will at some point have some kind of client interaction. Accounting staff, the receptionist, a project manager, or a principal — each in their own role, and in their own way, are doing business development and speaking on behalf of the firm when they interact with a client. Despite best efforts in training and touting a customer service mindset or client-centered initiative, there will be times when personalities clash, a comment is misunderstood, or a phone call is not returned, and this interaction could put the company’s reputation on the line in the eyes of this contact.

First Impressions

I was recently in a situation where I initiated a first interaction with a contractor by passing along a project lead. We knew that this contractor had a relationship with the owner. When I called, they were excited that we had thought of them; they hadn’t heard about the lead yet, and seemed enthusiastic about including us on their team as their consultants. I initially thought this was a great first impression – for both of us. But over the next few weeks, I called to follow up, emailed, and received no response. I never heard from them again, despite multiple attempts. What happened? My impression of this firm as a professional potential partner changed to one of them as non-communicative and unreliable in a few weeks.

Second Chances

In the meantime, at an industry-related event, one of our principals met another employee from that same contractor firm and asked me to set up a follow-up meeting to continue the conversation. I shared my experience with him and he was surprised to hear about my negative viewpoint when his experience was completely different. I agreed to setup the meeting despite my first encounter, because I know that one negative impression from one person doesn’t necessarily represent the company as a whole. There are those times when the ball gets dropped; it shouldn’t be ignored, but it also shouldn’t be the deal breaker in business relationships.

Everyday Interactions

In our world of professional services, where it is all about relationships and we have people-to-people interactions every day, it is inevitable that mending fences will need to happen. Each situation is unique and requires special attention. In the example I described, the lesson can be boiled down to not holding a grudge based on one negative experience. You’ve probably heard the Will Rogers quote, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” While that’s true, you may get a second chance to make a better second impression. It’s an important reminder to be open to this opportunity, no matter which side of the interaction you’re on.

Follow Margaret on Twitter @MFelts_WH

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