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Pilates COREterly

Fall / Winter 2011

Teaching & Learning

First Impressions: Part II – Creating an authentic experience for lasting client relationships

By Chantill Lopez

They say you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. But I’m not 100 percent sure that’s true. In building relationships, especially in the studio, you have an opportunity to make an evolved impression—one that builds a foundation for long-lasting and loyal relationships. When done thoughtfully this equates to clients who come back over and over again because they trust you and value what you offer.

Recently I was at a weekend retreat with several other teachers. We had been working in groups on creating authentic presence, clarifying vision and evaluating the kind of impressions we each made. The last exercise of the day was to list your three first impressions of each person in the group and three qualities you admired about the person now that you knew them a little better. We got a lot of laughs out of it, for sure, but at times these things were difficult to both hear and respond to.

For instance, someone thought someone else was unapproachable because they were tall. One told another that upon first impression they appeared “ethereal” and therefore probably not all that bright. Another person was told they seemed self-absorbed because they rushed into dinner an hour late and talking on the phone. Someone else was “curt” because they articulated their words. We were also told we that we were organized, commanding, overly serious, hilarious, kind, and intelligent.

By the end of the night we had a striking new awareness of how impressions can evolve so much in a very short period of time. As teachers we come face to face with this every day, but rarely look into how or what we are doing to cultivate these impressions. We can, however, make a huge impact on our relationships, reputation and client retention with simple awareness.

Four First Impressions

1. Initial Contact

The moment you make first contact with a student could be in person, on the phone or via email. Be prepared. Once you know what kind of impression you are trying to make—one that reflects your values and your business’s vision and mission—you can begin to cultivate an experience that will bond the client to you and your studio. This is your moment to really shine. Give every potential client everything you’ve got.

What you’ll say: The 30-second “elevator pitch,” when you hear people talk about it, sounds like a sleazy salesman’s approach—but really you can’t do without it. There is no better way to clarify your passion and succinctly relay it. Don’t underestimate this tool and don’t neglect it. This is the one chance to engage their curiosity and leave them wondering how Pilates could make a difference for them.

What you’ll write: Have an email template that you send to new student inquiries. It should reflect your personality and include a clear call to action. As in a face-to-face conversation, you want to be authentic and represent the best of what your business has to offer.

On the phone: Know what key points you want to share and how to respond to frequently asked questions. Have a format ready that helps you capture necessary information, direct responses, and guide outcomes but is not formulaic or rigid. Every system you have in place should reflect your unique offering.

Bridging the gap: Consider a new student inquiry sheet that helps track the key points of a phone or email conversation. These notes can then be put into the student’s file and given to the teacher who will conduct their session. In this way you are thorough and thoughtful. You are able to weave their experience into a clear outcome. This, in turn, sets you up for a successful second impression—the first time a student enters the studio for a session.

2. The First Session

You are in control of the experience your client receives. Create one that expresses who and what you are, the most important qualities of your business and what matters to your clients. Whether that’s community, affordability or the style you teach, make it effortless and memorable.

The best way to discover what’s important to your clients is to ask. Take an informal poll and see what clients think of different aspects of your business, what they were drawn to or what they might change. Use this feedback to hone the environment you create and make an impact. And then ask yourself what an exceptional experience would be for you. Personally, I want them to love the space, to feel welcome and safe, and to know that from that first moment I am dedicated to their success.

This means I am prepared, I have a plan, and although I want their business, I am entirely clear that I am not the right fit for everyone and I don’t take it personally if they decide not to opt in. But I am also certain I’ve done everything I can and have given them everything I’ve got.

(continued above)

Small things that matter:

  • Have necessary paperwork waiting for the client when they come in. Even better, email it to them so they can fill it out in advance and make their first visit smoother.
  • Create and provide a welcome packet.
  • If a client has a specific issue, make sure you know about it. If they had an initial conversation with another teacher, make sure you have all the details.
  • Create a timeline for the session leaving time for Q&A and sign up.
  • Ask why they are there. Start to uncover the story.
  • Be real and focus on your strengths (not the bottom line).
  • Be generous and be honest.

3. The End of a Package
Can you ask for what you want? I find that this can be an uncertain moment for most teachers and one that either makes or breaks the whole deal. We’re not sure what’s best. We’re afraid to say that what is best might be expensive. We don’t know where we stand when it comes to how we want our clients to practice. Clarity of purpose is key.

Know from the beginning where you want your clients to go. Know your system for retaining clients for the long run and know how this particular student fits, or not, into that plan.

If your client feels that you have their best interest in mind—which is conveyed by the strong impressions you’ve been giving all along—then they will let you guide them. In fact, they want you to tell them what to do. Be the expert and be honest. They will either say yes or no. It’s that simple. You have to trust yourself if they are going to trust you. There is very little room for self-doubt or hesitation in this moment. Acknowledge you could always be wrong, but this is your assessment and you’re excited to move them toward their goals.

4. Ever After
One of the most challenging aspects of teaching, for me, is showing up fully for the same client over and over again. But if I don’t, my clients will (and should!) find a teacher who does.

I recently read a sentence from Carol Appel’s Business Savvy workshop that put this particular challenge into stark perspective. “The worst thing you can do is ask a client ‘What would you like to work on today?’” When I read this, I blushed a little with guilt.

I’ve done this. I’d bet many of you have, too. And what it means is I am falling asleep at the wheel. I might disguise it as checking in or gauging someone’s needs, but if I do it over and over again I need to reevaluate. When you’re in it for the long haul it can be tough to keep up your stamina. Constantly reassessing client goals and needs never ends, and the finish line is constantly moving out – we hope – to the next session or package.

Each time we teach is an opportunity to anticipate our client’s needs in order to match and exceed their expectations. Because, after all, it really is the last impression that we leave with–over and over again–that keeps them coming back.