The Director of First Impressions:…Changing the Face of the Front Line

The Service Line with J. N. Halm: It’s A Joke...employing Humour at the Front Line
J.N. Halm is a columnist with the B&FT

Director of First Impressions!

I first came across this designation in the book “DOUBLE DOUBLE: How to Double Your Revenue and Profit in 3 Years or Less”. The author Cameron Herold stated that he hired someone for the position of Director of First Impressions when he was the president of Barter Business Exchange. Herold used the story to illustrate the importance of an organisation having the perfect team.

He was talking about building a team that can be trusted to do an outstanding job and deliver the kind of results that will allow a doubling of the business. Cameron Herold is no more with Barter Business Exchange. Interestingly though, the North Carolina-based bartering platform, established in 1994, is currently the largest bartering network for business owners in North Carolina.

Director of First Impressions!

My first reaction when I came across the title was “Wow!” I was impressed not only because it was the coolest job title I have come across in a long time but I could also imagine what that designation would do to the individual whose it was. It is the kind of title that was going to make the one feel good about the job, on a daily basis. The effect would even be greater if the title is printed out or embossed and placed or hanged somewhere prominent for all customers to see.

Director of First Impressions!

Just think of it. That is a really big post, if you ask me. How many people do you know with that title? Who has ever given you a complimentary card with that title on it? I do not know about you but I have not met anyone in this town with that title, at least not yet.

According to Cameron Herold, he went for that particular title because he “wanted someone whose positive energy would knock the socks off of any customers, suppliers, or employees as soon as they walked in the front door.” I believe Herold’s statement is the best definition for the title of Director of First Impressions (DFI). It must be someone who really appreciates the importance of the front line to the fortunes of the organisation and is committed to always doing his or her best.

As you might have guessed by now, the Director of First Impressions is that same individual in your office you refer to as “Receptionist” or in some offices, “Front Office Manager”. Elsewhere, the title is a bit closer to the DFI but not quite close— “Front Office Executive”.

On the face of it, it might look like just a gimmick but it is far from that. There is a very important reason why the front office needs a “Director”. To appreciate this, one needs to consider the fact that a typical customer engagement is divided into three parts. The first part is the arrival. The second part is the service itself. Then there is the after-service. Each and every one of these parts is of great importance because failure on the part of the business in any one of these sections can negatively affect the customer’s experience.

However, the arrival, or earliest stage of the encounter, has been found to be very crucial to how the customer perceives and enjoys the other two stages. If customer interactions are the building blocks of customer relationships, then the first impressions are the foundations of the relationships. Smart businesses know that if they do not get it right from the onset, it would take a lot more work during the rest of the interaction. These businesses therefore ensure that they put their best foot forward.

Scientists claim that we make our first impressions of any new situation within the first seven seconds. Some studies have even claimed that the time it takes is around three seconds. That is very quick. These studies attribute our tendency to form quick judgments about situations to our earliest need as a species to survive the harsh conditions of our evolutionary past. When humankind had to struggle against faster, stronger and more powerful predators, forming quick judgments was a great advantage.

Nowadays, we are not struggling against sabre-toothed tigers and poisonous-fanged reptiles. However, it seems the brain has become set in its ways. We still rely on first impressions every day as an important tool to make meaning of our surroundings and interpret social behaviour. Customers, human as they are, also make use of first impressions in their dealings with front line employees.

What makes the issue of the first impressions even more important for businesses is that it has been proven that after a first impression is formed, what the individual does is to look for signs to confirm those first impressions. This is regardless of whether those initial impressions are actually true or false. In other words, if the customer’s first impression is that the organisation is uncaring, he or she would look for signs to prove that the organisation truly does not care for its customers. Any action (or inaction) would be interpreted through that bias. This alone is enough to make every organisation desire to have its best face out there. Thus, the need for a Director of First Impressions.

It is important for organisations to seriously consider changing the designations of those at the front line because those individuals are critical for the success of the organisations. Being the face of the organisation, it is imperative that the front office employees project a very confident image. A change in an individual’s designation can have that effect on the one’s confidence. It is a fact that there is something in a title that brings out the best in people. The same individual referred to as a “receptionist” would totally change if she becomes “The Director of First Impressions”.

Another thing the DFI title does is that it gives the individual a strong focus. A receptionist is a good title but it really does not give the individual a clear mandate. A receptionist just has to “receive” customers. How that “receiving” is done is up to the individual. Unlike the Director of First Impressions. The DFI title gives the individual a very specific mandate—do everything possible to give a positive first impression to every single customer.

At this juncture, it would be apt to look at some of the qualities that would make for a good Director of First Impressions. For starters, a good DFI must be in love. Yes! He or she must be in love with three very important things—the frontline job, the organisation and above all, people. If the individual lacks in even one of these very critical requirements, it would only be a matter of time before the one would be found wanting.

A good DFI must have truckloads of positive attitude because the front line job would task the one. Dealing with customers can push one to her utmost limits and only someone who sees the glass as half-full would survive and thrive at the front line for long.

Since people are essentially visual beings, it is also imperative for the DFI to be someone who looks the part. To be well-groomed is an important consideration for any front line employee. There is proof that nonverbal cues have over four times the impact on first impressions than verbal cues. What customers see first will go a long way to determine their first impressions. Therefore, experts advise that businesses focus on the first nonverbal signs that customers come into contact with in the encounter. This is why the DFI must look right for the front office.

Since a number of first impressions would be over the telephone, it is important that the DFI has the right telephone etiquettes. A study published in the Sept/Oct 2011 edition of the Audiology Today journal asserted that the way front line staff respond to phone calls can have an impact on experience of patients to a medical facility.

A 2017 thesis presented to the Graduate School of the University of Missouri, Columbia sought to identify the characteristics of front line employees that affect customers’ first impressions. The study found that competence played a very significant role in the earliest impressions of customers. In other words, our DFI must really know his or her job. Attempting to wing it would not suffice. Customers would see through the charade and they would end up forming negative first impressions of the organisation. Referring to medical practice but still applicable to other forms of businesses, the aforementioned Audiology Today publication stated that “a knowledgeable staff can grow the practice and should be an integral component to the patient journey.”

That same thesis found that friendliness and service attitude were very important to the formation of positive first impressions. These must, therefore, be traits that a good DFI must possess.

When one considers the importance of first impressions to the fortunes of the organisation, it will not be so farfetched to see why the Director of First Impression is as important a personality as any of the other directors in the organisation.

Sometimes the trick is not in doing what everyone else is doing. And the business that goes for this title will even not be alone. A quick search on the Net shows that the title of Director of First Impressions is really catching up. It has been stated that the DFI title is fast replacing that of the “receptionist”. Many forward-looking organisations have already started recruiting for this position. Career advisory websites such as, and all have sample resumes and advice for anyone applying for a Director of First Impressions position.

The significance of first impressions to the customer’s experience cannot be overemphasised. We have all heard the saying “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It is so true at the front line. In my opinion, the best way to create great first impressions is to employ a Director of First Impressions!

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