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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!

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8 thoughts on “Shiny Happy People

  1. I know that when I go shopping I really like it when the person working in the shop looks happy and like they enjoy their job. I know that for many this is not the case but i do believe it improves the shoppers experience. (The american’s do this very well-always great service.)
    But this idea about a fake smile and genuine smile is an issue when we look at the value of a smile. Shore and Heerey (2011) showed that people valued a smile just as much as they valued a monetary reward. However they found that if that face was what is known as a ‘polite smile’, one that is disingenuous and ‘doesn’t reach the eyes’, they did not respond in the same way as they did when receiving a genuine smile.

  2. The Song make me smile all the way through reading this post 😀
    A longitudinal study that took 20 long years to complete, looked at social networks. Did you know? Your happiness can spread through three degrees of separation within a network. If you live within 1.6 miles of a friend and you are happy you increase the chances of your friend being happy by 25%. So starting with happy department store staff, we could make the whole world a smilier place! sing it Frank “when you’re smiling………”

  3. I really enjoying listening to the Sinatra song, he is a really good singer. 🙂
    I like the idea that smiling could be an affective cue increasing customers to purchase more. It gets me thinking that bartenders would adopt similar behaviours to interact with the customers. In my previous experience, I visited a cocktail bar in Bristol, I noticed that they always welcome the customers with friendly smiles as an affective cue to create a comfort zone for the customers (Skowron & Paltoglou, 2011). As a result, I feel really comfortable every time I visit that bar and I tend to go back every week although the drink is quite pricey. Therefore, smiling in this situation, could be categorised as “sensory marketing” (Krishna, 2012). Sensory marketing suggests that basic five sense (taste, vision, smell, auditory & touch) are the fundamental elements to interact with customers’ perceptions and affect their judgments and behaviours. North, Hargreaves and McKendrick added that background music in a supermarket could affect customers’ choice. I think if we fully utilise sensory marketing in consumer behaviour, we could somehow affect/manipulate customers’ choice but it won’t be that ethical! 😀

  4. Pingback: Grab your mulled wine! | Musings on the Shopfloor

  5. Thanks for the replies! And I’m glad you enjoyed the song. I admit this post made me genuinely smile all the way through writing it.

    I do love the idea of sensory marketing – ethically it needs some consideration but its usually the smallest things that make a difference to behavior.

    As for the networking surly that should provide companies with an incentive to employ people liked by other staff and this could be considered at interview? I know where I work on busy shopping periods us staff are asked to recruit friends and family (aka people we like) and that does make the day better when you have happy, humorous people on shift with you.

    As for the polite smile – I don’t suppose there’s research on your mood and the type of smile received? If I’m having a bad day I’m pretty sure any smiling face, polite or genuine, would cheer me up (though maybe not to the same extent).

    All your comments have really expanded on my blog and have given me some ‘food for thought’ as well. Thanks : )

  6. I’ve definitely found that that whenever I go shopping and in need of customer service or about to pay for something; if the member of staff is smiling it makes the shopping experience better and you feel more like a valued customer, opposed to someone who looks as though they really can’t be bothered to deal with you. Sutton and Rafaeli (1988) found that through social cues such as smiling created a positive relationship between the customers and employees and were then more likely to purchase a product. So in my opinion I think a smile can go along and may in fact influence someone to buy a product and potentially visit it again with the idea that employees are friendly and helpful.

  7. We could add that leadership has also a strong influence on employees satisfaction, that might reflect on their smiles as well.

    I have been working in many different Companies over the past few years, mainly in France (we are not renowned for our customer services and even less for our “smiles” and speaking about leadership we are often very far from the cutting edge studies on employee satisfaction)
    If I tried most of the time to smile and I can confirm that “Happiness” can transit from one employee to another, the influence of the manager or supervisor is even more powerful.
    If you are working for someone who is either not working at all or who show no respect for your investment, who don’t even help you to find a meaning to what your are doing, you might start seeing your work as a total waste of time.
    It become harder to keep smiling in these conditions. This influence can come from a direct supervisor, but often as I saw in many cases, it comes from the top of the hierarchy and is reflected in single employees.

    The transformational Leadership theory: A way to enhance motivation and performance of the employees trough a variety of ways, aim to link the sense of identity of the employee to the project, to the Company. Trying to make the Employees taking a greater ownership for their work.

    “leaders and followers help each other to advance to a higher level of morale and motivation” J.M. Burns

  8. When i was a kid and i was in a mood my dad used to always say “your face will stick like that” or “it takes less effort in your muscles to smile so why waste effort frowning”. Your blog is great! I actually did my undergraduate degree dissertation on motivating staff in the retail industry. It is very important as it affects customer perceptions, and sales and its so easy for the managers to do. happy workforce=happy customers!!!

    When i worked in retail i felt my day went quicker and i had more energy if i was enthusiastic and cheerful.
    We used to have a board in the staff room which was completed by the manager at the end of the day and the member of staff that had been the most cheery and hardworking through out the day got to choose what they did the next time they were in i.e fitting room, tills, stockroom etc. it really worked well and gave us something to aim for each day

    You can see when people smile and there eyes smile at you too then it looks more natural and real.
    I do agree with you that its hard to be constantly cheery when you feet hurt, your hungry and a customer has just had a massive moan but if you just shake it off then you will get over it quicker.

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