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When Limp Becomes Memorable

May 14, 2009
by Gwen Darling
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Don't let a weak handshake be your last impression

Before we get to limp, a little background for our story. Last night, we were treated to the kind of Arkansas springtime storm that makes the windows rattle, the dog hide under the dining room table and cover his head, and the mom (that would be me) run around unplugging electronics and quizzing the kids (for the millionth time, according to them), “Okay, if the tornado siren goes off, where is the safe room?” Problem was - the kids (17 and 18) weren’t home. Unbeknownst to me, as the solid layer of extremely dark clouds started to head our way from Oklahoma, my two meteorological geniuses decided they had plenty of time before the storm, and couldn’t survive without a peanut butter fudge shake from Sonic. (If you’ve never had one – OMG.)

At any rate, here comes the storm, complete with golf ball-sized hail, torrential rain, 50 mph winds, tornado warnings – and the girls are driving home in Kelly’s little Jetta, with the passenger daughter (Sam) assuring me on her cell phone, “Mom, chill, we’ve got it under control – Kel’s new wiper blades are awesome.” Just as I am getting ready to sarcastically retort, “Well they should be awesome for $50,” Sam yells, “OMG Mom, the blade just flew off!” Fortunately it was the passenger side wiper blade, and the girls made it home safely, but I knew this was not going to be good, for through the sound of the torrential rain, my daughter’s anxious voice, and the thunder and lightning, I could clearly hear the very distinctive sound of metal scraping on glass. No, this was not going to be good.

Okay. So limp. This morning, I am at the dealership, bright and early, highly annoyed and ready to do battle with Bud or Lou or Skip or anyone with their name sewn on their shirt who tries to tell me that the windshield now sporting a permanent groove in the shape of an arch is not their problem. After all, these were the people who installed the designer blades a few weeks before, assuring me that they were worth every penny. After I told my story to the receptionist, out walks . . . Michael. Michael (not Mike) the service manager, is dressed in slacks, a button-down dress shirt, and a tie. Okay, first impression is favorable. He asks me to explain what happened with the car, and looks me in the eye and nods sympathetically at all the right places. Wow, this guy is good. As soon as he hears the part about the groove in the windshield, he says, “You know what? We obviously made an error when we installed that blade. Tell you what – let’s get you a new blade and schedule a new windshield installation at your convenience. We’ll cover all costs, of course, and hope you and your daughter will accept our apology.”

Ten minutes later, I’m all set, and a customer for life due to Michael and his fantastic approach to customer service. To put the icing on the cake, he walks me to the car and opens the car door for me. Wow! Sharp, ethical, AND polite – I’m thinking this guy’s the total customer service/management package. He is well on his way to making a very favorable lasting impression. That is . . . until he . . . shakes my hand. Limp. Not just a little limp. I’m talking all-out, major league squishy, weak, and flaccidly. . . LIMP. To say that his mamby-pamby handshake surprised me is an understatement. It just didn’t fit the overall impression that I had formed, and I was actually disappointed by it.

So does this mean I’m not still his customer for life? No. It’s not mission critical that my VW Service Manager have a strong handshake. But, I will now remember Michael for both his outstanding customer service AND his limp handshake. However, what if our roles were different and I was interviewing Michael for a high level position where he would represent a corporation, an organization, or say . . . a hospital? Would it matter then? Yes! In that case, limp would become memorable, and not in a good way. Even if he was savvy enough to ask all the final questions suggested by my colleague Tim Tolan, his weak handshake would be the last impression I had of him, and I would naturally wonder if the confidence he had displayed in his interview was simply a façade. All other things being more or less equal, if it came down to the handshake, I would hire the candidate with the firm one over the limp one every time. And ladies, this advice is particularly important for you, as a female in a male-dominated field – no wimpy handshakes need apply!

If you’ve got a moment, take a look at this humorous but educational video about how to create the right impression with your handshake – it gives several great examples of not only how to give the perfect handshake, but how to take control of the handshake environment, as well.


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