What Clients Remember: Last Impressions Are More Critical Than First Impressions

December 11, 2009 at 7:27 pm Leave a comment

by Rob Wolfe – Connected Places Global

Yes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and without a good first impression you don’t get a chance to make a last impression, and every customer touchpoint is important, but the last impression is the most critical to retain a customer and build customer loyalty. Ritu Wadhwa, MBA, Operations and Sustainability in Chicago, agrees: “With any product, even one mishap or inconvenience might mar the impression. But, how the brand is perceived at the end of consumption life cycle is really critical.”

I occasionally order from Amazon.com, which makes a great first impression with the total shopping and ordering experience, comprehensive product recommendations, ratings and reviews, and good prices. But what comes to my mind first when I think of Amazon is that every time I order something, it’s consistently delivered much sooner than I expected. It’s that last impression—quick and reliable delivery of my order—that I remember most and relate most to the Amazon experience.

Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues have shown that what we remember about the pleasurable quality of our past experiences is almost entirely determined by two things: how the experiences felt when they were at their peak (best or worst) , and how they felt when they ended. This “peak-end” rule of Kahneman’s is what we use to summarize the experience, and then we rely on that summary later to remind ourselves of how the experience felt. The summaries in turn influence our decisions about whether to have that experience again, and factors such as the proportion of pleasure to displeasure during the course of the experience or how long the experience lasted, have almost no influence on our memory of it.

Here’s an example. Participants in a laboratory study were asked to listen to a pair of very loud, unpleasant noises played through headphones. One noise lasted for eight seconds. The other lasted sixteen. The first eight seconds of the second noise were identical to the first noise, whereas the second eight seconds, while still loud and unpleasant, were not as loud. Later, the participants were told that they would have to listen to one of the noises again, but that they could choose which one. Clearly the second noise is worse—the unpleasantness lasted twice as long. Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of people chose the second to be repeated. Why? Because whereas both noises were unpleasant and had the same adverse peak, the second had a less unpleasant end, and so was remembered as less annoying than the first.
(The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz, 2004)

According to Seth Godin, “the last interaction is responsible for virtually all of the word of mouth you’re going to get, positive or negative. That free muffin at the restaurant or the lollipop at the barber or the call from the Realtor a week after the house is sold and contracts are signed and the movers have left…believe it or not, it matters.”

And so, whether you’re marketing, branding, or selling consumer goods, professional services, or a tourist/leisure destination, while you don’t get another chance to make a first impression, with each touchpoint thereafter you have the opportunity to make a lasting impression. “The end of the transaction is not the last impression,” says Darren Corder, Sr. Mortgage Consultant at MetLife Home Loans in Philadelphia. “It’s the continuous touches to every happy person you’ve helped after the transaction that is also tremendously important.” Each last impression is critical in retaining customers and keeping them loyal to your brand.

Corinne Elletson, in Do You Give the Right First and Last Impression?, reminds us: In Hawaii, the word Aloha means both hello and goodbye. They believe you should end a meeting with the same warmth and openness that you started with, if it be a short parting between friends or an indefinite farewell between strangers. You should run your business’s prospect relationship model in the same way.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to my fellow members of professional networking groups, as well as fellow bloggers and published authors, for your insights and contributions, which are expressed and reflected in the content of this feature.



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