Hire Happy People!


happy server

Want your customers to have a better experience? Instead of trying to train your employees to smile, just hire happy people.

Apparently, you don’t have to be an expert in reading faces to tell the difference between a real smile and a “social smile.” The latter is what facial coding experts call the smile we use when it is socially appropriate to smile but we aren’t really filled with delight. In a social smile, we form a smile with our mouth but far fewer facial muscles are engaged. In his new book About Face, Dan Hill (who actually IS an expert in facial coding) reports:

Participants watched previously videotaped interactions that, unknown to them, had been staged between a hotel check-in clerk and a would-be guest. The variable was that for some check-in enactments the actress playing the clerk was invited to feel, then project, genuinely positive feelings toward the guest (true smiles). In other cases, the actress was instead told she had to smile (social smiles). Observers of the respective videos find the service performed with a truer smile far more satisfying.

Another test found that restaurant patrons who felt that the servers displayed genuine positive emotions (i.e., true smiles) were far more satisfied with the service they had received.

The neuromarketing takeaway is that with enough training you may be able to get your service staff to smile on cue, but the customer won’t be fooled if those smiles aren’t backed up by true emotion. So, for those employees who will be in direct customer contact, be sure your interview process includes an evaluation of the emotions they project. A candidate who doesn’t display genuine positive emotions during the interview likely won’t in a customer service situation either.
[Image via Shutterstock]

  1. Verilliance says

    I think a lot of businesses generally undervalue customer service. It can make a tremendous difference in repeat customers and brand evangelism.

    I think I read somewhere that even young children can discern between a fake smile and a genuine one. Do you remember coming across that?

  2. Daniel Jeanes says

    It all comes down to honesty and genuineness in my opinion. If you can tell someone’s doing a forced smile, you feel less relaxed as you subconsciously feel you can trust them less. Alternatively, if someone seems to be smiling because they are genuinely happy, we’re more likely to assert them as an honest person showing true emotion.

    In a customer service interaction, it’s easy to tell which smile would make the customer more at ease and more likely to have a positive brand experience.

  3. denise lee yohn says

    totally agree with the point, roger.
    professionally, i’ve always believed you can’t train people to genuinely smile, care, be happy, or be nice.
    personally, i experienced something this week which provides evidence. i had surgery on my foot and i could tell the operating room nurse truly cared for me and wanted to comfort me — how? even though her mouth was covered by a surgical mask, she was smiling at me with her eyes!
    — denise lee yohn

    1. Roger Dooley says

      That’s interesting, Denise – I guess a “social smile” wouldn’t work at all if you were wearing a surgical mask!


  4. Gabriele Maidecchi says

    I completely agree, having a team made up of positive people is the real secret to its success. I am not a much spiritual person, but I believe negative people do have a negative impact on everything around them, if you know what I mean.
    Positiveness can’t be taught, it needs to come from the innermost part of a person.

  5. Vishal Rathi. says

    So True… Hire Me 😉 M Happy nearly all the time 😛

  6. Linc says

    I’m a very positive person but there is an individual at work that just by looking at her she drains my energy and positive thinkoing.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Gabriele and Linc, you raise a great issue. Not only do happy people create a better, more authentic customer experience, they also create a better environment for their co-workers.


  7. Pablo Edwards says

    Anyone who deals with customers must be a happy person in our company. It is not worth hiring an unpleasant person.

    1. James DeLap says

      There are folks who are predisposed to looking solemn and gloomy and lugubrious.

      Oh well.

  8. fitness girl says

    I am very qualified in this job,,i can smile all day lol…..and most “cute”.

  9. Virginia says

    I agree with this post–that most people can tell, at least subconciously, if someone is being genuine–however, it gets a little more complicated. This article in Scientific American says that our emotions could be driven by our facial expressions. So even a “forced” smile could engender positive emotions…

  10. Carina Franz says

    I would say that you can’t hire “happy” people. You hire normal people, and give them a reason to be happy (a friendly environment, nice co-workers, a job that enables them to grow, a boss who supports them, a product they can be proud of …) so that they can make others happy. What I want to express is that the employees are just the final link in a chain that tries to satisfy the customer.

  11. Roger Dooley says

    Carina, while I agree that the work environment can definitely change the mood of the people who work there, I do believe that many people are inherently happy or unhappy. Some people will make the best of anything with a shrug and a smile, while others will view even positive developoments with suspicion and cynicism. “A surprise bonus in my check? Hah, some surprise! It could have been higher. And they took out a lot for taxes. What’s left won’t pay for the new appliances I want.”


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