Optimizing the Last Impression

Essay published on March 22, 2013

You've heard the saying "you only get one chance to make a first impression." While I don't refute the importance of a first impression, for a business at least, I believe the last impression is much more valuable.

Let's use a practical example: a taxi cab versus an Uber cab. Every impression is arguably better in an Uber, but I'm betting someone thought very carefully about how they wanted customers to feel in those final moments. What's the last impression? You show up in a nice black car, they open the door for you and tell you to have a great night. There's no payment necessary — all the details are emailed to you. As a friend was telling me last night, "it feels baller."

A typical cab experience is quite different. You get out your credit card (commence eye roll and/or complaining from the cab driver about fees), spend a minute fiddling with the machine while people around you become impatient, and the cab starts driving away the moment the door shuts.

If you've ever been on a cruise, it's clear no one thought about the last impression. On the final day, they kick you out of bed at the crack of dawn, make you stand in several long lines in order to leave, and here's the kicker: you foot the bill and all the tips for your whole trip right before you step off. I've walked away from a cruise, receipt in hand, everyone around me grumpy, telling myself I'll never do it again; and I won't.

Why the last impression is critical

There's a strong emotional tie to last impressions. Someone could have a great experience dealing with your company, but if you get the final interaction wrong, it ruins any goodwill they have for you moving forward. WOW them, and they are not only more likely to do business with you again, but the last impression is first on their mind when a friend or colleague asks for their opinion. In Uber's case, you actually want that last impression again. It makes you feel good; it puts a smile on your face.

Online last impressions: canceling service

I'm surprised at how many online companies get the last impression wrong. Many times, I've sworn off ever doing business with a company again because of the way they handle the cancellation process.

Why is it that we make signing up so easy (30 seconds, no credit card required, etc.), yet canceling requires getting someone's approval? Usually it requires a phone call, email or digging through documentation that was purposefully hidden. It's clearly the wrong last impression. If someone can't cancel service in two clicks, you are doing it wrong.

Recently I was talking to a friend who works for a major publication, which has several thousand online subscribers. They were having trouble scaling online support, yet I discovered that customers have to email the company in order to start the cancellation process (yes, there's a process). Not only does this last impression make people angry, but it's also costing the company money in human support. The honest truth is that this company shares the shortsighted view that most online companies do when it comes to cancellation: they are scared that more people will cancel if they make it easy. Isn't that treating the symptom rather than the problem?

If you care about last impressions, here's a new way to think about cancellations: how you can make the experience absolutely delightful for the customer? That's the only chance you have of doing business with them again or having them recommend your service to other people.

Every business has last impressions with customers. Thinking about the company's self-interests rather than the customer's in this critical moment can prove costly. Instead, use the opportunity to put a smile on their face. I assure you, they will remember it.

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