Teaching & Learning
First Impressions: Part I – Shaping first impressions for lasting positive relationships
By Chantill Lopez
Scene: Pilates studio. New student approaches and enters. Student sees someone near the front desk looking busy and approaches tentatively.
New Potential Student's First Impression: The used car salesman that I loathe, who I know is going to try to take me for all I'm worth, is standing at the front desk of the Pilates studio I just found on Yelp. They look busy. Maybe they think I am not good enough to do Pilates. I know it's expensive, but just how expensive? It's really nice in here. Will they try to pressure me into the most costly package? I'm ready, steeled against the powers and prowess of their persuasive techniques. I know Pilates is probably good for me, but I will not be bullied. En garde!
Teacher/Studio Owner/Front Desk Staff's First Impression: Here comes someone. Great, I am right in the middle of… (Fill in the blank: this ankle alignment, this email, this phone call, this social marketing fiasco, etc.) Smile. Be welcoming (The owner's watching. My teachers are watching). They look fit, well dressed. I bet they've done Pilates before. This should be easy.
They look confused. They've been hanging around outside for the past 10 minutes. I wonder if they even know what Pilates is. I bet they will only want to do classes. People like this always do.
Does any of this seem familiar? Of course, these scenarios and our coinciding judgments vary endlessly; some are trivial, subtle and benign and some are rooted in prejudice, hurt, fear and defensiveness. Either way, they color our first impressions and more often than not are unconscious and messy. These first moments are crucial to whether or not that student becomes a loyal customer and a dedicated student, or no-shows for their first appointment.
The most crippling part of first impressions is that we often don't recognize what's at work. If we observed our underlying motivations and sculpt first impressions with specific intention. It takes the same awareness we bring to our movement practice. We start by noticing and asking the right questions.
- Describe yourself in three words.
- Ask an acquaintance to describe you in three words.
- Ask a good friend to describe you in three words.
- What are your greatest strengths? (In general or in regard to teaching.)
- What are the most important qualities you want to convey when people first meet you?
- What lasting impression do you want to make on your students, on your staff, on your community?
The most harrowing experience I've had with first impressions and the folly of assumptions was when a staff member, one who was particularly good at relating to new folks—especially those who were nervous or unsure—made the mistake of assuming that a new client couldn't afford Pilates. (This is not so uncommon after all.) The potential client was a referral from another long-standing and loyal student, but that wouldn't matter in the end. Because our staff person repeatedly mentioned that we could work with any budget, and that there were affordable options, the client felt battered and not heard. She tried to tell the staff member that money was not a concern, she wanted to come three times a week and was ready to start that day. After the conversation she was so upset she called me directly and described the incident in detail. After a long discussion offering assurances and insight as to who I was and the integrity of the studio, I felt it was likely she would come in as she said she would.
She never did.
She never even called to say she had changed her mind.
We dress, talk, act, buy, write, read, watch, and do much more to make an impression of some sort or another. As Pilates teachers we adopt a certain lifestyle that carries with it, as all roles do, a certain expectation. In your work, what expectations do you have of yourself? Are these expectations helping you or hindering you from portraying who you really are? Perhaps you want to portray something different. If so, to what end?
- What kind of impressions do you make right now?
(Ask someone you recently met—the best person would be a new client—what his or her first impressions of you and your studio were.)
- What kind of impression are you trying to make?
- Do you think your strengths come through in your physical appearance? Why or why not?
- Do you think your strengths come through in how you talk, listen and teach? Why or why not?
- Does your studio, the environment you've created, reflect your strengths and values?
One of my favorite parts of Malcom Gladwell's book “Blink” is the story of a car salesman named Bob Golomb, from New Jersey, who sells on average twice as many cars a month than other salesman. How does he do it? He follows three simple rules: ‘Take care of the customer. Take care of the customer. Take care of the customer.’ But more to the point of this article, he follows a fourth rule: Never judge a customer by their appearance.
“He assumes that everyone who walks through the door has the exact same chance of buying a car,” writes Gladwell. “You cannot pre-judge people in this business. Pre-judging is the kiss of death. You have to give everyone your best shot.”
- What are your prejudices and assumptions about people when they inquire into your studio?
- What are the most common assumptions and judgments you make about people in or out of the studio?
- What inaccurate assumptions do others make about you or your studio?
Although you might feel like keeping up in the market right now is all about launching a social media campaign, if you are truly interested in improving your teaching and generating more revenue, take time to look at how the first impressions you leave are affecting your businesses bottom line. After all, just because you can get potential customers in the door doesn't mean you will convert them into the long lasting clients that give your work meaning and your business stability. Look to what builds authentic relationships, and an authentic presence from the moment they walk in the door.