You know first impressions count. Your customer makes assumptions about the kind of company you have during their first interactions. Polite? Friendly? Helpful? Accurate? Service-oriented?

These kinds of assumptive conclusions are formed within the first few seconds, and the succeeding interactions either confirm or negate those impressions.

But what about last impressions? Often overlooked, last impressions are also lasting. Whatever happens during the last interactions are frequently the most vividly remembered and most powerful.

When these last impressions are negative or flawed in some way, they also counter the first impressions, however positive those were initially.

Case in point: a couple had a lovely, relaxing and fun vacation in Hawaii. But on checkout of their hotel, they discovered a surprise charge they weren’t expecting nor had explicitly authorized. A dispute ensued at the hotel front desk which took several levels of executive intervention to ultimately reconcile.

What was the first memory that this couple relayed to their friends when they got home? Not "we had a fantastic time." But this, "You would not believe what they tried to charge us for when we were checking out! It took forever to get it fixed, and by that time, we were worried about missing our flight home!"

That was their most recent, powerful memory that colored and distorted all the pleasantness that had preceded it.

Let’s say you go to the store and have a great shopping experience. You encounter friendly, helpful staff that quickly assist you in finding just the right product to meet your needs. You pay for your items, go to your car, and suddenly question why your bill was four times higher than expected.

You check the receipt: one item was charged twice; another item was rung up at the regular price, not the sale price, and all in all, you were charged $30 more than you should have.

You go back into the store, wait again in line for the cashier, explain the problems, wait for the cashier to call a manager to confirm the sale price and fix the program to automatically ring up the sale price, process the refund, and then wait for the bank to post the credit refund to your credit or debit card.

Do you think by this time the customer even remembers the warm and fuzzy feelings he had towards this store while shopping? Or is it now a distant memory in light of the more powerful and recent memory of being incorrectly charged and waiting for his refund that he shouldn’t have needed in the first place if the cashier had done their job right?

One last example: A cable company promised 20,000 miles credit to an airline loyalty card as an incentive for signing up for their service. The cable installer did a fine job, and was pleasant and efficient.

All was well until the promised airline miles never materialized. After months spent arguing, pleading, and arguing some more with various department heads to get the promised miles, that customer had little recollection of the pleasant and efficient installer.

What she remembered was that this company had little integrity and wouldn’t fulfill promises. She also canceled her service. Despite multiple phonecalls from the company trying to woo her business back, the lasting impression was that this was a deceptive company who promised much and delivered little.

What is your company’s last impression? Does it cement the values you espouse and promise the customer? Or is it a negative experience that your customers will remember most vividly and passionately tell others about? Lasting impressions are the most powerful.