Your Smile is My Reward

“Is smiling a good KPI?”

The Chief Strategy Officer of a leading bank leaned forward, lowered her voice, and asked me this sincerely. “We can see our bank tellers on video and observe them serving our customers. Should we set smiling as service standard? Is smiling a good Key Performance Indicator?”

I replied (with a smile), “Smiling is a great KPI. But your camera is turned the wrong way.”

Setting a smile standard for frontline employees distorts a spontaneous expression of happiness into a mandatory and mechanical act. The unfortunate consequence was discovered at a retail store soon after they required every employee to open and close every interaction with a smile.

To the company’s amazement, customer satisfaction scores went down! Complaints came pouring in that frontline staff were cold and uncaring, which contradicted evidence on video that opening and closing smiles were being provided.

Only when mystery shoppers investigated closely did they discover that the two-smile service requirement had been nicknamed “Bookend Smiles” by the staff; a mechanical revealing of teeth between open lips that was easy to see on video, but lacked authenticity and warmth in person.

What matters is not whether your employees smile, but whether the service they provide causes your customers to genuinely smile.

And in some cases, that means your employees should not smile.

For example, an upset customer may not want to see your frontliner’s toothy grin. He may want serious attention, speedy recovery, and genuine expressions of concern. But not a happy smile.

However, after your customer has been well served, if your employee politely asks, “Have we made your day just a little bit better?”, then the smile your customer provides is the achievement of the performance indicator that really matters. It’s what you and your customers both value.

Is smiling a useful indicator of great service? Yes, indeed. But keep your attention focused where it counts. In a world of uplifting service for customers and colleagues, “Your Smile Is Our Reward”.

13 replies
  1. Hana alrostamani
    Hana alrostamani says:

    Dear Ron,
    Great insight into the world of measuring an outcome of a great service through a customer behavior rather than our typical internal kpis. Indeed it’s important to measure the outcome of the service on our customers.,..
    It’s quick and fast and I think it should be equipped with empowerment to the staff to ensure correct action is made should the customer doesn’t smile and has actual problem

    • Peter Andrade
      Peter Andrade says:

      I think Hana makes a great point, Ron. You may recall we also discussed this when we met up during your recent trip to Dubai. It’s not about showing a plastic smile but ensuring a genuine interaction that reveals to your customer that you really care about him/her getting the required service and taking the ACTION needed to deliver that message.


    Any conversation with a smiling face will certainly improve your customer relationship and he or she would love to turn up to your counter or table sooner or later.
    Your smile alone cannot bring a customer satisfaction unless his desire is fulfilled . Here the smile will be viewed as arrogance and you lose one customer.
    If you want to milk a dancing Cow, you should also know dancing –
    customer handling is an art.

  3. Ali Anwar Bhatti
    Ali Anwar Bhatti says:

    Dear Ron,
    Listening to customer is more importantant then comes delievery of service.Smile is like ribbon on gift pack making it more good looking.

  4. Vishnoo Luximan
    Vishnoo Luximan says:

    I agree that an artificial smile does not add value. A smile after a poor service is adding insult to injury. A smile should come from the heart and the positive vibes should be felt by the one who receives it. Then it genuinely adds value to the service.

  5. Maria
    Maria says:

    Totalmente de acuerdo! El foco siempre debe estar en lograr la mejor experiencia del cliente ante nuestro servicio. Y si nos regala una sonrisa, sabemos que seguirá con nosotros!

    English: Totally agree! The focus should always be to achieve the best customer experience to our service. And if we give away a smile, we know that will be with us!

  6. Samer Ajaman
    Samer Ajaman says:

    I agree with almost everything said so far; however, the real challenge any management should stand up to is to make both the customer and salesperson have genuine & sincere smile.
    This challenge should start right from the very beginning at the time of selection and hiring or promoting of sales people based on character and attitude over experience & skills, then providing the right resources and tools from training, career development and reward system, and finally empowering the sales staff to treat every sales transaction as the most important one, keeping in mind that every customer is the person who is really paying the salaries of everyone, including board members.
    Any organization succeed in making own staff happy and self motivated will guarantee that customers will do repeated sales with big smile every time they visit.

  7. Theresa
    Theresa says:

    Love this article! I’d like to add that in the world of call centre service, scripted conversations may initially give less confident/trained agents the basics of what they need to deal with the particular call, but the customer can tell that it’s scripted and lacks the authenticity.

    I happen to be talking to one of Ron’s customers (a very successful hotel in Singapore), and they told me that their call centre staff each have a mirror at their desk, so they can see themselves smiling during the call. These are the same staff that are empowered by their leaders to keep their guests happy, and do not have scripts. WOW!

    And if you smile often enough, you actually re-wire your brain to make positive patterns more often that negative ones.

    That means happier employees AND customers.

    Maybe we can take a cue from the Happiest Country in the World – Bhutan, and each company should be measuring not just if the customer smiles, but Gross National Happiness of the company –

  8. Blair McHaney
    Blair McHaney says:

    What Ron seems to be pointing out is what Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor (Primed To Perform) would call the difference between “tactical” and “adaptive” behaviors. By “counting smiles” the company has turned this into a “transaction” and a tactical behavior that is akin to checking a box. What Ron (and many others here) intrinsically understand is that as soon as we “pay per smile” or “pay per “Hi'” we have taken what is an adaptive and self directed behavior and cheapened it. The employee now feels “handled” and no one wants to feel that way.

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