“Insert Smile Here” Vs. Making a Genuine Connection

I will never, ever tell my staff to follow the ‘insert smile here’ model of customer service. You know, like the kind of scripted dialogue you get at McDonalds. Or the automatic “hello” you get upon walking into WalMart. Some people might appreciate that kind of mindless interaction, but I don’t. And I’m sure my staff wouldn’t enjoy operating that way. 

I was talking about this very topic over dinner with some good friends recently. We had a lively discussion about what good customer service is, and interestingly, we disagreed on a lot of points. A couple of my friends hate it when servers write “Thank you” or put smiley faces on their restaurant bills, because it comes across as phony, and a last attempt to butter you up so they get a better tip. Personally, I like it!

What we did agree on, is that making a genuine connection and going above and beyond are the surest ways to wow us. What does that look like? One friend was at a restaurant with her husband, and when they were ordering a bottle of wine from their server, another server overheard it and immediately went to get the wine and pass it to their server, who was still taking their order. It almost magically appeared. Simple, but effective. How often do we see smooth displays of teamwork like that?

Another friend talked about how much fun he had at a diner where a server skillfully teased him and his date, along with other patrons in his section. He made them all laugh without being intrusive, and created a sense of community among strangers. My friend says he will go back there whenever he can, because of that one experience.

It probably says something about me and my friends that all we can talk about is the food service industry (OK, I admit–I dine out a lot), but really, it’s the same story no matter what kind of service you’re talking about. Truly, we are all longing for connection. It’s human nature… a need so deeply wired in us. We want to laugh, we want to belong, we want to feel appreciated and valued. A canned greeting does not accomplish any of this. We know when we’re being treated like just another face in the line-up.

I tell my team that I want customers to be acknowledged within three seconds of walking in the door, no matter how busy they are. But aside from that, I leave it to their best judgment how to connect with customers. I hire people who are intelligent and have common sense, and are genuinely friendly and helpful–so I know I can trust them to create a stellar service experience. I never tire of hearing people tell me about the great interaction they had with one of my employees. It happens a lot, so I know putting faith in my team must be the right thing to do :)

12 Responses to “Insert Smile Here” Vs. Making a Genuine Connection
  1. Yanni
    January 5, 2012 | 7:06 pm

    Oh my, that was brilliant.
    Most often, I’m also the customer doing the same to those I ask for support and service: “do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.” :)

  2. Alan Cheng
    January 6, 2012 | 12:39 am

    Hi Natalie,

    You reminded me of some of the telephone calls I receive all the time. “Hello it’s such and such from company X, we would like to offer you…..”.

    I had to interrupt a few of them in the middle of their sentences to tell them I’m not interested.

    As for restaurants, the emotionless “Welcome to XXX. How may I help you?” always makes me smile :-)
    Alan Cheng recently posted..Free Traffic Or Paid Traffic?My Profile

  3. Kostas
    January 6, 2012 | 4:52 am

    Interesting post, in my opinion personal interactivity with your clients is a great way to make them trust you and buy again from you (products or services) it’s much better emotionless standard discussions…
    Kostas recently posted..The New ‘P.C.’ of Social MediaMy Profile

  4. Hi Natalie,

    I would always like to think that each person who was pleasant to me was that same pleasant person 24/7. So many pretty voices, so many fallen icons. I guess it takes a while for me to discover whether a person is genuine.

    Lou Barba@informationhighwaycardandgiftshop.com recently posted..The Wheels on the BusMy Profile

  5. Yanni
    January 7, 2012 | 4:08 pm

    Oh, and what not to do, from CBC’s Marketplace: Canada’s Worst Customer Service

  6. [...] heart and soul into those systems. As I said in my last post, I tell my staff we don’t have an “insert smile here” policy. I want them to use their own warmth and friendliness to make customers feel welcome and [...]

  7. Lilach Bullock
    January 8, 2012 | 4:27 am

    It’s funny as being in the UK us Brits love your US manners, you’re so much more polite and friendlier than us:)

    For me, it’s about their mannerisms and how a person makes you feel. A fake and pushed upon smile doesn’t cut it!
    Lilach Bullock recently posted..How to choose an affiliate program that will make you moneyMy Profile

  8. bloggingtips
    January 8, 2012 | 5:23 am

    You are doing pretty well here, keep adding value to other bloggers.
    bloggingtips recently posted..4 Things You Need To Do To Bring You The ChangeMy Profile

  9. Joyce
    January 8, 2012 | 5:11 pm

    The article is right on point. We need to start injecting some humanity into our business. This will differentiate us from the pack.

    We definitely need to start connecting with put client on a personal level however we need to no when we are being invasive and find a balance.

    Thanks for sharing
    Joyce recently posted..The 7 Real Truths You Need to Know About Being Successful In LifeMy Profile

  10. Stacy
    January 9, 2012 | 1:35 pm

    Hi Natalie,

    This is so true! It’s the real human interaction that makes a difference for people. If our customers were robots it could be a different story but it makes such a difference how we make others feel!

    Stacy recently posted..Blogging Tips 101 ContestMy Profile

  11. Srinivas Reddy
    January 9, 2012 | 9:08 pm

    Hello Natalie,
    I couldn’t agree more. I prefer to be ignored than deal with a phony greeting. I believe we humans are hardwired for connections. We long to connect with everything and everyone in our lives. Restaurant or elsewhere, I can never forget a good and honest connection with someone. All that said, I admire your approach with your team.
    Srinivas Reddy recently posted..Is Fast Food Bad For You?My Profile

  12. Lesa
    January 11, 2012 | 12:52 pm

    When employees are happy about being at work, it is easier to smile authentically. Really, it just makes doing the entire job easier. So, treat your employees well and they will treat your customers well. What goes around does indeed come around.
    Lesa recently posted..New Business Goals for 2012My Profile

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