On a cold morning in December of 2000, my wife and I walked into an orphanage in Eastern Ukraine. We were there to meet, for the first time, our soon-to-be son and daughter, Alex and Abby. It had been a long and arduous journey getting to this point. We’d started the adoption process approximately one year earlier. After tons of paperwork and months of waiting, we now found ourselves in an unfamiliar country surrounded by strangers. Our only lifeline was a local adoption agent who spoke broken English. We were tired, scared, and anxious.
An attendant at the orphanage escorted us to a room with several large playpens. Most were empty, as the majority of children were elsewhere. But two of them held children – our children. As we approached, the sound of our voices caught their ears and caused them to turn their heads. Our eyes met and they smiled.
There’s just something about a smile. We take them for granted, but smiling is one of the most amazing methods of communication available to us. While handshakes and other gestures may indicate different things across cultures, smiling is the one thing that everyone recognizes and understands. Smiling communicates acceptance, good will, and peace. Smiling at someone tells them that you are on their side and that things will be ok.
Smiles, like yawns, are contagious. It’s hard to remain stoic or even ill-tempered when faced with a genuine smile. Impulsively, we smile back and in that instant a flood of positive energy washes over us. The body relaxes, boosting our immune system. Stress levels drop and our mood is lifted.
Research shows that we are all born with the ability to smile. It’s not a learned behavior as even those born blind begin smiling almost immediately. Research also shows that a smile does more to improve one’s appearance than makeup. And a smile is the most easily recognized facial expression, detectable from up to 300 feet away. You can even tell when someone is smiling just by listening to the sound of their voice.
It’s no wonder then that, as service providers, smiling is the most important customer service skill available to us. With all the good that smiling does for the giver and the receiver, smiling is something we should all be extremely proficient at. Yet, it is often hard to find a smile in today’s working environment.
Why is that? Why do we let outside influences rob us of our smile? Why do we hand over control of our own emotions so readily? Maybe we just forget how good it feels.
By now you know that I’m prone to issuing challenges. As we celebrate Customer Service Week (you did know that was this week, right?), I’d like to challenge you to unleash the power of your smile.
Greet the customer with a smile. Every customer. Every time. Use the power of your smile to transform your conversations this week. Let the positive energy of smiling change the way you and your customer perceive each other and your interaction.
Back in Ukraine 15 years ago the power of two smiles brought one to my face. As my mouth stretched into a grin, all of the anxiety and fear I’d brought into the room disappeared. Instead, I felt positive, motivated, and energized. I’ll never forget the smiles of my children that day – and I’m smiling now just at the memory of that moment.
How will you use your smile this week?