Does the appearance of employees affect your brand?

I have new company that applies fertilizer to my lawn. I started with them because we had a need and they had great timing when they came to my door to ask for my business. I am happy with the results and the relationship so far.

However, I had an experience with them yesterday that changed my feelings somewhat, and it got me thinking about brands, front line employees and how we form opinions.

Two staff members from the company came by at my request to look at some trouble spots in my lawn. One was the regular guy, let's call him Joe, and the other guy (we'll call him Tom) was someone I had not met. Tom was heavily tattooed, but dressed in his summer company gear.

As it turned out, Tom was the more seasoned fellow and had more experience about my trouble spots. Neither man proved to be an expert, but they cared enough to show up - points for them. We had a discussion about the source of the problem and possible solutions.

Tom further contributed to my opinion of him and the company brand by talking about 'coming home drunk and not being able to find his keys' as we were having some causal small talk while walking back to the front yard. Talk about walking right into my stereotype opinion of a tattooed 20 something. Ouch.

First impressions being what they are, I wondered about Tom's creditability and I began to question whether I had made a good choice in selecting this company to work on my lawn. All of that was based on one tattooed employee and his drunk comment.

Is it fair for me to judge on appearance? No, of course it's not. I felt shallow doing so, but we do it all the time. We form opinions about people and companies in all sorts of ways. And often, the first is what the person looks like and how well they represent themselves and their company.

Had Tom been very articulate and communicated to me that he was a subject matter expert in the area that mattered to me, and had Joe and Tom bothered to introduce themselves when they first knocked on the door, my opinion would have been significantly better. But, that is not what happened in this case.

In this age of self expression and as the working population transitions to a new generation, both employers and consumers are going to be faced with questions about staff and those that represent brands which with we do business. How do we make these choices as employers and as consumers?

I am going to keep using this company, but my opinion of their brand is less than it was 48 hours ago. When that happens, we all know that the door to leaving opens just a crack.