Smile like you mean it

July 28, 2009

Customer service is an essential part of the modern consumer experience. A helpful manner and welcoming smile can transform a routine trip to the supermarket or call to a service provider’s contact centre.

But how do you get employees to provide service with a smile?

A friend of mine who worked for an estate agent would stick fluorescent yellow smile stickers to office phones as a prompt for employees when calling clients. Now a train operator in Japan has gone one better by installing cameras into the workplace to see whether employees pass the smile test.

Before heading out for the day to meet the public, staff are invited to sit in front of a computerised scanner to check that they are disporting an appropriately sunny expression.

Employee Mitsue Endo speaking to the BBC said the computerised smile scanner helped her develop “a natural smile”. The pictures suggested otherwise, but anyone asked to maintain a rictus grin for a significant period of time while simultaneously helping commuters negotiate the busy Japanese rail system deserves our understanding.

You have to admire Japanese ingenuity. This after all was the country that saw Tama the tortoiseshell cat appointed ‘super station master’ to turn around the fortunes of a loss-making rail company.

And while I leave you to consider whether a grin checker could be transferred across to other professions (funeral directors and business receivers? No. Dentists? Yes), I am contacting my local train operator, First Capital Connect, to enquire whether or not its lachrymose members of staff would benefit from a happy ‘cam’. I’ve even thought of a snappy slogan: Travel with us, it’s smiles better!