Are You Making a Bad First Impression?

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The butter was too hard. Strike one.

Actually, it was worse than strike one, because it was the very first thing that happened at our table in the restaurant. Social science research tells us that the thing that happens first has more impact than whatever comes later–it’s called the primacy effect. That initial experience/impression gets amplified in our memory, and therefore has a greater impact.

That butter, flecked with savory little bits of mushroom, damaged our experience. The sea salt gently sprinkled on top didn’t solve the problem.

The house-made roll was beautiful, just crying out for a pat of melty, golden butter. But the butter wouldn’t spread–it was way too hard. I had lumps of cold butter stuck in two spots, and the rest of my roll was now squished and torn.

We were off to a bad start.

It was a bad blow–could they recover?

We’re working our way through the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Why? Why not?

Most of the 50 Best restaurants we’ve been to are pretty spectacular. Significantly, the butter in these places is usually soft enough to spread (yes, I’m geeky enough to pay attention to butter temperature). This restaurant, though, dropped 17 places on this year’s list. Coincidence? Or was it the frozen butter?

The law firm’s equivalent of rock-hard butter is a slow response to the initial contact. The potential client will call, email, text, or use your chatbot, only to get no answer for what feels like too long. Maybe it’s not too long in your mind (perhaps the restaurant thought the butter was perfectly fine). But if the prospective client thinks it’s too long, it’s too long.

When you don’t respond quickly, the prospective client is disappointed. Trust diminishes. It’s hard to recover, even if the butter gets softer after a few minutes on the table. Do you know what I mean?

Start strong, stay strong, end strong

I’m not going to tell you about the three-course meal except to say that it was incredibly Instagramable. Each plate was a work of art, worthy of a heavily-filtered photo from an “influencer.” This was the kind of food prepared with tweezers and paintbrushes. Every course was beautiful, and tasted excellent (not quite as good as it looked, but delicious).

Things went well right through the dessert, which I enjoyed.

But even as I waited for my coffee, I was still looking at the little butter dish sitting quietly near my bread plate. The memory of that hard butter and my frustration at how it simply wouldn’t spread weighed on me.

The mignardises didn’t lift our spirits

The restaurant went for it in the end. They didn’t realize that they needed to recover from the butter incident, but I did. I was hoping for a big finish. Sometimes a bad experience at the outset can be offset by a good experience at the closing of the event. Sometimes recency overwhelms primacy. We all learned that in our trial advocacy classes.

The waiter took away the bread plate with the sad little remaining bit of salted butter and replaced it with a beautiful box of small sweets. Mignardises are a little gift, offered as a parting gesture from the kitchen, which hopefully embodies the spirit of the restaurant. The two delicious bites were beautiful, melted in my mouth, and warmed my heart.

The sweets helped, but they failed to salve my wound. The memory of that straight-from-the-fridge butter was too strong.

My meal experience took fewer than two hours. There wasn’t enough time, nor enough interaction, for me to overcome the negative first experience. The meal, while impressive, started wrong and never had the chance to hit the reset button. (I accept that I’m particularly harsh and critical.)

But I’m no different from most clients contacting you for the first time. We need to be able to trust you. We’re all assessing our experience, judging you, and trying to decide how much we can trust you. The heat is on, and the butter had better be reasonably soft.

The first interactions–sometimes on the phone, sometimes on the internet, sometimes in person–require you and your team to rise to the occasion. Those few moments matter more than the rest. Impressions are formed and often locked in place. They determine the quality of the client’s experience with your law firm. Make sure it goes smoothly. Make sure it’s soft like butter.

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