We have always been told that impressions really matter. The first impression is especially important according to experts. Nonetheless, the last impression is the ‘lasting’ impression apparently; the one that stays with us for a long time. For businesses people’s tendency to remember the first and last impressions can be critical and determining. From a customer service perspective this tendency can serve for others to decide if they are happy or not with whatever they received. Impression is what we often refer to as the ‘customer experience’. Potential outcomes can be positive or negative. Customers may never come back; clients could be stunned or, our business partners left extremely disappointed! 

A recent experience urged me to write this blog on a topic which from a professional viewpoint, I consider as important. A few days ago, I visited the shop of a well-known ‘leading’ European food retailer. I visited the particular store before but, on this occasion my visit left me with an undying impression. The appearance of the person who served me was enough to generate a lasting emotional sock to any customer. I am convinced that the shop assistant lacked any self-respect conviction.

A dreadful individual

He wore a uniform shirt with badly torn sleeves at both the elbows. The shirt randomly ripped and seemed as it was in desperate need of cleaning. One of the shirt’s lower sides shoved forcefully under the trousers’ belt. The other hanging slackly over the waist. I cannot think of many kind words to describe the awful state of the assistant’s trousers. His look reminded me of the long haired and unshaven Chuck Nolland, the main character in the survival drama film Cast Away, having lived in a cave for few years. Then, I started thinking . . . What makes someone to be apathetic about his appearance? What messages conveyed to customers in regard to company culture and quality standards? Why any line-manager tolerate or accept this type of attitude?

For me, the appearance and conduct of front-line assistants and service staff must exceed customer expectations. The opportunity to retain clients lies in the ability to project good standards. Poor grooming represents ineffective management, lack of professionalism and inadequate supervision. A sub-standard look shows there is not sense of pride and transmits the wrong messages. Simply, in a healthy business environment, poor grooming is a disease that may bring decay to the business.

Personally, on my long career journey, I served in positions when I had to wear a uniform. On every instance, whichever the attire, I treated it with attentiveness and thoughtfulness. My uniform projected my own and the company’s ethos, my standards, commitment and self-esteem. I wore the uniform with pride. This was because as I believed then and continue to believe now, an employee’s appearance projects personal and organizational values. It is an image which reflects service standards and commercial objectives.

Is the more customer friendly approach the best approach?

Having said all this, grooming standards is not just about wearing a uniform. For organizations and businesses they must consider a variety of subjects. The issue is prompted by factors such as company policy, dress code, regulations, services, management style and workplace conditions. At individual level there are aspects such as personal hygiene, cleanliness, culture, mood and perceptions.  Staff attitude is also a prime factor in regard to look and behaviour. Whatever the case may be the challenge to ‘get it right’ is big. We can never forget that clients and branding can be affected by bad appearance.

Wider socio-economic conditions and contemporary circumstances also influence corporate branding and employee appearance. We only have to look how over the years major institutions changed. Police forces, authorities, hospital staff, nurses, bank employees and airline stewards they all changed drastically. They left behind the corporate look and adopted the casual image. We moved on with times and the white-and pink-collar workers now have a relaxed guise throughout. Seemingly, polo shirts, combat trousers and no wearing a tie is a more customer friendly approach. Even so, what message this type of image emits is another matter. 

Organizations should take seriously employee appearance and attitude

In the past, I found myself in the most awkward position having to confront a staff member about his poor hygiene and distasteful appearance. I understand that having to speak to someone about their cleanliness is a difficult matter. Irrespective of the difficulties associated with this challenge, as line manager I had to safeguard the workplace. Therefore, I dealt with the issue directly in order to prevent the development of other unwanted effects. I also understood that the problem has a multidimensional nature. Still, poor grooming raises questions around workplace conditions, and client expectations while could seriously affect the company’s image. These unexpected challenges have to be addressed and companies shouldn’t overlook the matter.  

In summary, organizations need to make sure their policies on dress code, behaviour and employee appearance are robust. The company’s reputation is at risk and if we are to create a good experience for the customers, the employees and our business partners; then the strategy has to be right. The rationale for quality appearance and behaviour should come from the desire to promote professionalism as well as a commitment to provide the best in quality of service. Personal appearance is a very important aspect of any business as the well-groomed employees stimulate positive responses.


Written by Nikolas Koukos

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