What Is First Impression Bias And How Can I Embrace It?

You only get one shot at a great first impression! We’re taught this from the time we are small children and the lesson only gets more valuable as we age. Whether we are trying to make new friends or interview for a new job, the value of making a great first impression can’t be underestimated. That’s why we greet customers with a smile when they walk through the door and go to client meetings in a nice suit. No matter your professional industry, we all know that leaving a lasting, positive first impression can only help.

First impressions, like many other things, have changed with the digital age. When we think of the classic first impression, we imagine shaking hands while looking a new friend, partner or client in the eye. It is a one-on-one, in-person interaction where both parties know to be on their best behavior.

That simply isn’t how things are anymore!

When someone is interested in you as a person or as a business, they look you up online. That means that ANYTHING that you have posted – good, bad, or ugly – has the potential to be your first impression. Ask yourself, if a potential client, business associate or new friend saw this, does the newest post on the top of my social media profile make a good first impression? As good of an impression as if I were shaking the viewer’s hand in person? If not, you’ve got a problem!

one star review

If that isn’t enough to worry you, then consider that YOU might not even be the person making your first impression! A business with digitally unruly employees or unhappy customers runs the risk of potential customers’ first impression of them being incredibly negative.

Here in San Antonio, the Alamo is a huge draw for tourists. We all know and love it! That’s why, no matter where you go in San Antonio, you can find mentions and images of the Alamo. However, if you had never heard of the Alamo (somehow) and this Yelp review was the first thing you saw, it likely would have impacted whether or not you decided to visit it.

This single review does not reflect most people’s experience with the Alamo. It isn’t hard to find stories from people who enjoyed their visits! However, whatever information gets in your head first sets the tone for how you see everything that follows.

This phenomenon is called First Impression Bias. The first experience someone has with a subject will strongly bias them and all future experiences will be contextualized based on that first experience.

First Impression Bias likely isn’t a surprise to any parents. My baby brother, when he was still new to solid foods, stuffed a freshly made tortilla in his mouth without considering the temperature. We watched both the realization it was hot and the half-chewed tortilla slowly fall over my brother. After that, whenever he was in the least bit suspicious about the food placed in front of him, he would need confirmation and reassurance about its temperature. Years later, long after he’d forgotten that bad experience, he would still sometimes hesitate and ask us “is it hot?”

First Impression Bias can be frustrating for parents but it can be even more costly for businesses. If a potential customer or client gets a negative first impression of your company, then they might actively avoid your attempts to change their mind. You can’t wow them with your upgraded service or improved techniques if they never walk in the door!
When it comes to managing an online reputation, it’s tempting for businesses to take a laissez faire approach. Many companies wrongly assume that, if they provide a great experience or excellent product, then positive reviews will organically find their way online. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t a case.

Happy customers will occasionally think to leave a review online but, more often than not, they will go about their day without taking time out to write up their experience. Unfortunately, unhappy customers have longer memories. If someone leaves your business in a bad mood, they are more likely to remember and write up the experience later. Venting online is a way for many people to make themselves feel better.

Since happy customers only occasionally write reviews but unhappy ones often do, the ratio of happy to unhappy customers online is unlikely to accurately represent how your client base actually feels about your product or service.

You cannot allow your first impression with potential customers to be made by angry former customers! There is no way to get around digital reviews. Instead, you need to embrace it go through it!

Don’t consider this a problem. Instead, see the opportunity!

First Impression Bias can help you intrigue new customers. Everyone knows about the power of word-of-mouth. If someone’s friend tells them that you are good, then that person is more likely to give you a try. The exact same principle can be applied to online reviews.

Embracing the power of First Impression Bias can help you gain new business while also engaging your current customer base.

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Chef Brian West

80% reduction in negative online reviews