April 21, 2018

Small Business Advice

Without a smile, your staff is not ready for work

"When I look out at the people and they look at me and they're smiling, then I know that I'm loved. That is the time when I have no worries, no problems." ~ Etta James

Jerry Osteryoung | 6/24/2013

I have just returned from a very enjoyable and relaxing cruise to Alaska. From watching glaciers to salmon fishing, the panoramas and activities were incredible, but the experience aboard the cruise ship was lacking in one major area: customer service.

Without exception, the crew — and it was a large crew — never really smiled at the guests. I have no idea why this was, but in my opinion, they clearly needed to.

For example, there was one day on this cruise when we were at sea the entire day. I used this ship-bound day to observe the servers at the giant buffet. Their primary job was bringing drinks and clearing tables, but I never saw them smile at anyone.

Sometimes a guest would smile at them and they would acknowledge the smile with a nod, but even then, still no smile.

A smile is a valuable piece of the customer experience because it communicates things words cannot. A smile indicates warmth and kindness, whereas a frown or empty expression puts up a barrier between your company and your customers. At best, it sends the message that you just are not there for them.

For this reason, all of your employees should wear a smile at all times. It is an integral part of the presentation they make to each customer or guest. Clearly, on a cruise you want your staff happy so that the guests stay in a great frame of mind.

Walgreens clearly gets the importance of a smile in the service experience. On a visit to one of their drugstores, I noticed a sign in the employee lounge that said, “Your uniform is not complete unless you are wearing a smile!”

Many firms talk about the importance of smiling, but very few make it a part of their culture. I think the reason for this is that management just forgets how great an impact this very simple act can have on the customer. Additionally, management often assumes the staff will just know they should smile, so it’s not emphasized in their training.

I believe that smiling is a natural habit we are all born with, but gradually it is extinguished by watching role models who do not smile or because we get punished somehow for smiling.

For example, my parents rarely ever smiled. Consequently, I picked up that same behavior. I am, however, changing that by making a conscience effort every day to smile.

As with any new behavior, smiling must be practiced and rewarded over time. As the leader of the company, it falls to you to provide a consistent example for your staff to see and emulate. Make it a point to remind your staff every day of the benefits of smiling in a fun way.

Now go out and make sure that you include smiling as part of your customer service training. The benefit to your customers will be worth the effort.

You can do this!

Other small business advice columns from Dr. Osteryoung are here. Note: Articles older than 30 days require registration (it's quick and free).

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is an bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at

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