Much has been written about executing amazing customer service, but let's focus today on one aspect that's immediately implementable: first impressions.

You've heard the axiom, "First impressions count." They do! So why do so many people pay so little attention to how they first greet or interact with a potential client? It takes a few seconds to properly impress a new client, and it takes days or weeks (or never) to undo a negative first impression.

Your first interaction should convey you're friendly, accessible, professional, knowledgeable, caring and honest. Whew. That's a lot of positives to pack into a first glance or the first few words, but it's doable. Here are four tips:

1. Smile when you say that

If you're in a storefront venue, look directly at the incoming prospective customer, smile and say, "Good morning (afternoon), how may I help you?"

If you're already with a customer, that doesn't mean to ignore the person walking in the door. And it doesn't mean ignoring the person you're already dealing with to take on a new person. It's a balancing act. Again, greet the new person with a good morning, but instead of a "how may I help you," substitute "I'll be with you in ____ minutes, can you wait?"

If not, then get a name, phone number and a time to call back. That constitutes a 30-second interruption with the first person, yet acknowledges the second person. Sounds simple and basic, and it is. Yet I see this violated constantly when I am the consumer needing attention from a retail clerk.

I don't expect an agent to jump from one customer and give me priority, but an acknowledging glance goes a long way. After waiting 10 minutes or so, without even so much as a glance or a wave my direction — I have to wonder, "Am I invisible? Does she even know I'm standing here?" Finally, I decide the store doesn't need my business and go elsewhere.

If you're a home-office-based travel professional, a similar interaction applies. Smile when you answer the phone. You can definitely hear a smile in a person's voice the same way you can hear a grouchy voice or an angry voice or a harried voice.

Don't believe me? Practice with your colleagues saying "good morning" as an angry, irritated, or cheerful person with your back turned to them. It will be obvious to them — and to your customers.

2. Use a proper greeting

The correct greeting is, "Good morning (afternoon). This is ____ with ABC Travel. How may I help you?" Not simply "Hello" or "Yes?" or "Travel agency." An appropriate greeting consists of a greeting and an identification, both of you and your agency. Without that, you're simply a voice on a phone, not a real person capable of solving their vacation needs.

If your greeting is simply "Yes?", then why not just use the automated robo-voice greeting supplied by your phone company. That's the same impersonal reception you're giving to customers.

I called a store one time, and the clerk answered the phone with a simple "Hello." I did a double-take and said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I thought I was calling ABC Store." She replied, "Yep, you did." After another double-take, my next thought was, "Who hired this person who couldn't answer a business phone properly and at least identify the store?" I asked for the manager, and she told me to hold on.

I heard her put the phone down, not on hold, just set it down. And then I proceeded to hear her talk to other people, laugh, joke and definitely not transfer my phone or page the manager. She finally came back on the line and said the manager didn't answer the page, and she asked if I wanted to leave a message. No thanks.

Professional? Not by a long shot. I've heard children answer the phone better than that. Is that what your customers are hearing? If you have other employees, you might want to call your office to hear what your customers are hearing from them.

3. Record a daily voicemail

It takes 30 seconds to record a new voicemail daily. "Hi. It's Monday, June 23, and this is ____ with XYZ Travel. I'm working today 8 a.m to 5 p.m. I'm probably with a client, so please leave your name and phone number, and I'll return your call as soon as I can. Thank you." And say it with a smile.

Why all this information and why daily? Nothing is more frustrating than to hear a generic message that could be a year old and tells you nothing. Are you out of the office? Are you on holiday? Out of the country? Off sick? Unusual working hours?

I've called "professionals," gotten generic voicemail recordings, left multiple voicemails and waited for a return phone call, only to find two weeks later that they were on vacation and someone else could have handled my needs. Do you really want to frustrate your customers? Aren't they worth 30 seconds of your time to record daily voicemail greetings.

When you record your voicemail, project energy and enthusiasm in your voice and demeanor — it will be palpable to the listener. If you can't muster excitement about the opportunity to discuss travel plans, then maybe you need to rethink your career choice. Your prospective customers want to know that you're as thrilled with their upcoming trip as they are.

4. Dress to impress

What about professional garb? Sloppy, soiled or ripped clothes don't make a good first impression (or second or third). Unbrushed or dirty hair adds to an image of someone who can't manage herself, let alone handle your complex travel needs.

I'm embarrassed by the rampant unprofessional clothing of travel agents when I attend conferences. Look critically at yourself in a mirror: Do you look like someone you would trust with something important?

And lest you think it's unfair that someone would judge your competency by your looks, let me ask, how else they could judge you? People make preliminary judgments within the first minute of introduction, so the only external clues to your competency are how you look and act.

It's not enough to be a professional inside. You have to look the part on the outside, too.