Generally I love my job but sometimes things at work bring you down. A difficult customer, more stock being sent down, trapping you fingers in the till drawer or simply just forgetting your orange squash and having to put up with water on your lunch break. Suddenly being that happy, friendly, knowledgeable member of staff becomes such an effort and it becomes obvious you don’t want to be there anymore. So I was wondering, as I sulked into work the other evening (it had been one of them days and yes I had forgotten my squash as well), what affect my miserable persona would have on the customers.
It’s an unwritten rule that happy staff equals happy customers and it appears this is actually the case. Sears, an American department store, analysed data from 800 of its stores and found that a 5% increase in employee satisfaction also increased customer satisfaction by 1.4% which also increased sales (if only by 1%). It’s important to note that this is only a correlation, more profit could mean happier staff, or happy customers could mean happy staff etc. but it sure does set an idea in motion about how emotion is contagious.
As humans we automatically mimic each others body language for many reasons (this is a good review, also see mirror neurons) and, most notably, this occurs with our facial expressions. An experiment by Dimberg et al. showed that even when an emotional face was seen unconsciously participant facial muscles went to copy it’s expression. Smiling is infectious and by smiling back you have just made yourself happier, more self-confident and more attractive all by changing the shape of your face (In fact if you bite a pen between your teeth it will have a similar effect as it’s the same muscle ‘smiling’. But that’s getting off-topic and I think you’d get odd looks if you were to do that in the workplace!)
It’s the old adage that happy customers spend more but there has been some research specifically into service with a smile and its other positive affects. For example new data by Kingston’s Small Business Research Centre for Barclays has found that the key reason customers would become loyal to a store is because of a friendly greeting and a smile followed by an excellent and personal service. Smiling shop assistants have also been found to increase customer ratings of service quality, increase tips and make themselves appear less stressed at peak trading times. Once your store has this happy, friendly, positive image this will also help increase sales online for the brand.
However for smiles to work best they must be authentic, they must be the ‘Duchenne smile’ (this wiki gives a nice overview of Duchenne’s work, as it was conducted in the 19th century papers from him are hard to find!) and involve the eye muscles as well as the mouths. And remember yawns and frowns are also contagious and can induce negative feelings such as boredom and tiredness. So keep your staff happy – treat them fairly, listen to them, invest in them via training (including perhaps how to fake a natural smile as new research suggests it can be done) – and in exchange they are not only more likely to become loyal ambassadors for your store (only 34% of shop employees are!) but keep your customers happy too!
NB: I rarely stay miserable once I’m in work. My colleagues are too enthusiastic and friendly and smile a lot so it really does rub off. Additionally our bathroom mirrors have little slogans like ‘You look beautiful today!’ (there’s a lovely social project on this) – I don’t know if I smile with admiration or cringe but either way it paints on my Duchenne smile!