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Service Without a Smile

Glum (c) Naomi Karten

Can a service provider’s smile and friendly demeanor make a difference in how satisfied the customer is with the service provided? My experience in dealing with a nearby print shop led me to ponder this question. Peggy, the woman who handled my printing needs was very easy-going and friendly. She always seemed pleased to see me. We chatted about this and that. And she smiled a lot.

I took Peggy’s style for granted until the day I went to have some seminar material printed, and discovered that she no longer worked there. In her place was another woman, Lindy, whom I immediately disliked. Disliking her was not a conscious reaction; it just came over me, unpremeditated.

Lindy’s manner was brusque. She made me feel like I was inconveniencing her. Not that she was rude or impolite, but she didn’t exactly exude friendliness. And she never smiled. It was as if she didn’t know how. She just looked glum. She did the work I requested but I found her manner off-putting. I didn’t think such things mattered to me, but after a few visits, I actually contemplated taking my business elsewhere.

A few months later, I went to the print shop on a Saturday and was delighted to see Peggy on duty. She explained that she’d gotten a new job that paid more, but still helped out on weekends. When I described her unsmiling successor, she said she already knew, because everyone who came in on Saturdays told her they missed her. And everyone commented on how different her friendly style was from that of Ms. Sourpuss. I wanted to ask her to quit her new job and come back, but I could envision her smiling while calling me an idiot.

What a difference a smile makes in helping customers feel welcome. And what a striking contradiction it is when someone asks, "Can I help you?" while their expression says, "Go away, you’re a nuisance."

Even if you’re not aware of your demeanor, your customers are, and your manner can affect how satisfied they are with your service. It can also affect how quickly they’ll forgive and forget if you slip up. In thinking back, I realized I was quick to dismiss Ms. Friendly-Face’s goofs as just one of those things, but became annoyed when Ms. Sourpuss made even trivial mistakes.

It occurred to me, thought that seeing Ms. Friendly-Face’s upbeat demeanor prompted me to act friendly in return, while I probably reacted to Ms. Sourpuss with my own glum expression. Without thinking about it, I may have been reinforcing Ms. Sourpuss’s sour puss. And who knows? Maybe she was reacting to my expression, and we’d created our own little self-defeating loop. So I’ve started adopting a friendly, smiling expression when I see her.

Not long ago, she perked up a bit when I stopped in. Last time I was there, she almost cracked a smile. Maybe there’s hope.

Text and graphics copyright © 2009 Karten Associates. +1-781-986-8148,


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Karten Associates
Randolph, Mass., USA
Phone: +1-781-986-8148
Fax: +1-781-394-0530