By Donald B. Stephens

Early in my career, I took a service call at an account that was new to me. Everything went well until the customer asked me how things were going.

“Great!” I replied. “But maybe I should have put my glasses on before I did that last adjustment on your copier.”

I then pulled holographic glasses with huge, 3D eyes out of my pocket, and put them on. The woman screamed at the top of her lungs and the entire office went silent, as they turned to see me red-faced and bug-eyed. If not for several women who found this hysterical, my Xerox career would have been brief.

Whether you are moving into a new assignment, relocating for convenience, or simply taking on a new customer, a good first impression will start any new relationship off on the right foot.

I’ve spent 30 years servicing Xerox equipment in the field , had several reassignments, a relocation, and come in contact with countless new customers. First impressions are vitally important to me, and I’ve learned that how you present yourself should not be taken lightly.

Here are the top five things I’ve learned about how to begin a lasting business relationship.

1. Do Your Homework First

For existing customers, someone has already found out what not to say. Ask colleagues for any scoop they have on a customer’s likes and dislikes. For new customers, an Internet search will help you become familiar with the business environment you are walking into.

Donald B. Stephens

Listening: “Sometimes we get so caught up in letting customers know what we have to offer that we miss out completely on what they want.” — Donald B. Stephens, senior customer service engineer for Xerox.

2. Consider the Culture

When accepting a relocation to another country, this is a must.  But don’t take it for granted if you are simply moving to another area of the same country. You will shoot yourself in the foot if you take the “I’m not going to act like these country bumpkins” approach. Watch the people you work with and learn. You’ll save yourself a lot of embarrassment and make better impressions.

3. Dial it Back a Notch

“Be yourself” is the advice you hear most when meeting new people, but for certain personality types, that can get you into trouble quickly. Certainly, you don’t want to be phony, but pouring on the ‘me’ can be overwhelming. I like to joke around with customers, and it has made for great relations, but first I have to earn the right. I’ve made some of my biggest blunders by making wise-cracks before I’ve understood the customer’s sense of humor.

4. Follow Through on Any and All Promises

Your cell rings – it’s the boss. You’re being sent to a customer who has hit the ceiling and is threatening to cancel. At the same time your spouse texts you to say a water pipe has exploded over the baby’s crib. A bit extreme? Maybe, but you get the point. We all make promises that we intend to keep, but our busy, stressful lives often sidetrack us and keep us from following through. Customers understand this and are forgiving, but just like jesting, you have to earn the right to be forgiven. It’s human nature to doubt the sincerity of a stranger. Don’t cement that doubt by breaking early promises, even for simple matters.

5. Listen, Listen, Then Listen Some More

Sometimes we get so caught up in letting customers know what we have to offer that we miss out completely on what they want. A good listener asks open-ended questions that seek to gain understanding on how to serve a customer better, which is what will keep you in business and make a positive impression that will be hard to forget.

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