When it comes to your business, you’ve got so many thoughts to carry out that it can be truly challenging to save enough space for creative activities. Your energies should go towards new ways to generate brand awareness, yet there are sales targets, employee management, accounting and a variety of small everyday issues that need to be addressed.

In the service industry, the way you interact with customers is the key to your success. Talking about experience design, one often overlooked aspect is the first impression that you make to your prospects: this is essential to your business and could make all the difference between failure and success. In addition, you should strive to amaze clients from the very first moments they interact with your service, regardless of whether those first moments involve a few minutes, days, weeks or months (as it varies depending on the type of business).

Many successful product companies have perfected this strategy (consider how you felt when unpacking your first iPhone or a pair of Beats headphones), though service businesses would also benefit from creating an experience that surprises customers when they initially seek out the service.

Imagine how you might feel when joining a gym. It may not surprise you that most people will give up on their membership within three months. Why is this? Lack of motivation, I’d say. Perhaps, a free meeting with a personal trainer is a great starting point: this person could identify your current fitness level and goals; then, after considering all of your needs, he’ll prepare a training plan, offer advices on nutrition, show you the exercises and make sure you execute them correctly. How effectively he manages this process will have a major influence on whether or not you return and whether or not you’ll decide to pay for additional personal training sessions.

Now, I invite you to think about the first impression that you got the last time you tried a new hair salon. Some stylists will actually sit with you in an office to discuss the looks that will best suit your desires. Imagine how helpful it would be to have a software that virtually simulates how each hairstyle would look on you. You could see different colors and cuts before deciding which one to choose, instead of simply sitting in a chair and being faced with a simple and impersonal question like, “What do you want?”.

Another great example that occurred to me, during the first night of a cruise vacation, is related to the perspective of someone in the business of travel and event mangement. I noticed that the dinner served on the very first night was below average and did not create the ideal first impression! Maybe you are putting together a week long incentive trip for business people. You wouldn’t want to plan the best restaurant meal during the middle of the trip (instead, you should do this on the first day and the last day, in order to combine the initial positive impression with the final pleasant memory of the experience).

Some might find that the “first impression strategy” is too expensive, particularly if you are working with the financial budget of a small business. However, if you consider the ROI you could get by applying the right strategies, you may find that it is more than worth the expense.

Based on what we’ve discussed, one of your priorities should be to dedicate enough time to new customers in an effort to foster trust and loyalty:

1) If customers are not only happy, but truly impressed with your service, they will return. They may think of your business and service as so worthwhile that they never want to go anywhere else, even if they could find something less expensive;

2) With happy, satisfied, and impressed customers, you can rest assured that your sales will increase. Your customers will not only return, but will be interested in purchasing more products and services, including the more expensive options available;

3) If your customers are impressed with your products/services, they will have fewer customer support needs. They will not feel inclined to complain over small matters, and they will be more forgiving of any flaws that may occur with the service or product over time.

Creating the perfect first impression is not enough, however. You need to maximize your customer satisfaction strategies, consistently evaluate your standards, and focus on the impression that you make on each customer with every visit. By doing this, you will wind up with customers who will refer your business to others and will return again and again.

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