Is Smiling a Good KPI?

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Your Smile is My Reward

“Is smiling a good KPI?”

The Chief Strategy Officer of a leading bank leaned forward, lowered her voice, and asked me this sincerely. “We can see our bank tellers on video and observe them serving our customers. Should we set smiling as service standard? Is smiling a good Key Performance Indicator?”

I replied (with a smile), “Smiling is a great KPI. But your camera is turned the wrong way.”

Setting a smile standard for frontline employees distorts a spontaneous expression of happiness into a mandatory and mechanical act. The unfortunate consequence was discovered at a retail store soon after they required every employee to open and close every interaction with a smile.

To the company’s amazement, customer satisfaction scores went down! Complaints came pouring in that frontline staff were cold and uncaring, which contradicted evidence on video that opening and closing smiles were being provided.

Only when mystery shoppers investigated closely did they discover that the two-smile service requirement had been knicknamed “Bookend Smiles” by the staff; a mechanical revealing of teeth between open lips that was easy to see on video, but lacked authenticity and warmth in person.

What matters is not whether your employees smile, but whether the service they provide causes your customers to genuinely smile.

And in some cases, that means your employees should not smile.

For example, an upset customer may not want to see your frontliner’s toothy grin. He may want serious attention, speedy recovery, and genuine expressions of concern. But not a happy smile.

However, after your customer has been well served, if your employee politely asks, “Have we made your day just a little bit better?”, then the smile your customer provides is the achievement of the performance indicator that really matters. It’s what you and your customers both value.

Is smiling a useful indicator of great service? Yes, indeed. But keep your attention focused where it counts. In a world of uplifting service for customers and colleagues, “Your Smile Is Our Reward”.

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