To Smile Or Not

There’s a coffee shop conveniently located on the ground floor of my office building. When the days get too dark, the coffee downstairs calls to me all the way up to the floor where I’m sitting behind my desk.

Sometimes I manage to overcome the temptation. If I buy a latte once a day every workday, it’ll add up to 80 euros a month!

And sometimes I’m not that reasonable and I just need a nice hug in a mug, as the coffee shop advertises.

Not a coffee – a lingonberry-cino

But… it’s not always a warm, cuddly feeling that I get when I approach the girl behind the coffee counter, wallet poised in my palm, ready to order.

The regular behind the counter is a skinny girl with a masculine haircut, tattoos running up her sleeves, and a know-it-all face. No, strike that. A seen-it-all face. She looks like she hates her job and all the customers.

I’ve noticed that whenever I order from her, I become apologetic, as if I need to apologize for bothering her. If it was my coffee shop, I wouldn’t have her working there. She never smiles and she’s almost a bit scary.

Maybe she hasn’t gotten fired because even her boss is scared of her.

Which brings me to this: do you think customer service staff should smile?

As someone who has worked in customer service for many years, my answer is yes. You need to either smile or in some other way convey kindness and a welcome feeling to the customer. If smiling is too much for you, then maybe a little bit of chatting or at least offer an extra good evening. If that’s too much for you too, then maybe you’re in the wrong line of work. It really shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

Unfortunately, it is. Most of the times I buy something, I don’t get acknowledged at all. The cashier doesn’t look me in the eye, doesn’t say hello or thank you.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve been embedded with a strong habit of always saying thank you, bye! and as a customer it infuriates me if I’m the one saying it to a cashier who doesn’t respond. They’re the ones getting paid, not me!

In Finland, the land of introverts (don’t worry, I’m one too), automated cash registers have become popular at supermarkets. If you want to pay quickly without engaging in any eye contact or verbal communication, you can choose self-service, though to be frank, both options offer the same amount of human interaction. I feel less annoyed when I’m being ignored by a machine than by a human.

At one of my previous office jobs, there was a big training project where they wanted to teach all of their staff the importance of service encounters that leave the customer happy. Some of the employees had not regarded themselves as customer service people and didn’t like being given that label. They promptly refused to say any extra words or smile. Yes, they refused to smile.

And it was debated in meeting rooms filled with project managers, staff supervisors, and sales directors. Can we force staff to smile? Is it asking too much? Do we have the right to ask them to say things like welcome and thank you? Even the union reps got involved.

The result was no, they could not ask staff to smile. If someone was not a smiling kind of person, they were not required to put on a show for the customer. No one needed to pretend to be happier than they actually were.

Hmm. Then on the other end of the spectrum comes one of my very first jobs in a fast food establishment back when I was a teenager. I had quickly learned night shifts made you more money and there was always the same group who volunteered for nights. Now, you might think that the quality of service you’d get at a fast food place manned by teenagers in the early hours of the night wouldn’t be anything to remember. But you’d be wrong. I’ll always remember a girl who worked there. She had an easy, big smile and she once smiled so hard at a customer that her lip cracked open, colored red by blood. She was a genuine people person! It’s all about attitude.

While slightly off topic, I can’t end my tale without telling the story of a future brain surgeon I once met. I was working at a clothing retailer and my boss had taken on a young girl as a trainee for a week. Over here, high schoolers have to do real-life work experience for a week or two. The girl was supposed to be assisting in all of the things we did at the store on a daily basis: sorting clothes, assisting customers, unpacking new arrivals.

On her very first day, she arrived on time, worked through the morning, chatting happily with one of the younger staff members. Then she told us she was going for lunch. Okay, see you, I said. And she never came back.

I was slightly astonished but thought maybe I’d misunderstood. So later that evening when the boss came back, I told her the trainee never returned from lunch. Our boss was surprised and told me that there had been no such talk. Wondering what had happened, she called the girl’s mother, who had set up the traineeship in the first place.

The mother then told her that the girl had just felt like skipping the rest of the day and had gone shopping. Nothing to be worried about. Apparently that was what she did during school days as well.

The next day, the girl returned in the morning like nothing had happened. The boss told her, Hey you know that’s not how you behave when you have a job, you can’t just leave when you want. It was, after all, supposed to be an opportunity to learn about work life, so it needed to be said. A friendly chat about work morale, nothing too mean.

But apparently the girl hadn’t liked being scolded, because later that evening her mom arrived at the store, fuming.

She’s too good for this place, anyway! the mother vented. She’s such a smart girl, she’s going to be a brain surgeon one day!

I hope I never end up on that brain surgeon’s operating table.

To smile or not?

Happy New Year!

78 responses to “To Smile Or Not

  1. Definitely, we should keep our smiles!
    Not everyone has the skills for a customer service, and in my opinion, they should find another job, as sometimes, it looks more like they hate their job and this will only hurt them on a long run. At the same time, there are so many awesome people who smile or chat while serving the others, that it makes you go more often to that place, isn’t it?
    Happy New Year!!
    Christie

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Christie, and all the best for your 2020! Whenever I encounter really good customer service nowadays, I send positive feedback afterwards. (It’s that rare! We used to have great service earlier. I don’t know what happened.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. First of all, what an extra cute mama dragon shoes photo! ❤

    As for the smiles, of course they help plenty when you deal with customers but should they be obligatory? Hm… Some people are great with smiling with their eyes. Some people's smiles are so fake that they better not smile at all, ever.

    I smile before I do anything else, it comes naturally to me. I smile as a preventive measure, as a counter-attack, as self-defence. Because if I don't, you'd be scared of me. Angry me is a sight to behold. 😀

    I only ever worked with costumers once, at uncle's photo-copy shop for a short time and had to smile plenty because the machine kept gobbling up paper. 😀 It was quite scary. But for example, I like the silly computer games where you serve costumers. I like to time manage.

    The girl from your last story… damn! I'd have a word with that mama alright. And the fear-inducing girl from your coffee shop… It makes me sad for you. You get that (expensive) coffee not even every day, only when you wish to treat yourself, and she doesn't cooperate. I'd tease her, tell her stuff to make her crack up, anything… I wish that she gets pregnant soon and is replaced (with a cute guy). 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Manja, for your super comment! 🤗 Smiling with your eyes is fine, it’s smiling too 😊 When smiling gets to be forced, maybe it really is time to consider a new career path!
      Your copy machine story reminded me of fax machines! Oh they were fun to have in the office! 😆 And the sound they made! The deliveries never went through, and when they did, you were left uncertain.
      I smile as a defence too, like at a job interview for example. When asked to speak in front of people at work (luckily not often), I usually end up making jokes, too many of them. 😁

      Liked by 2 people

  3. To care or not to care?…
    I understand it’s not everybody’s personality to smile or chat but as a customer I expect someone at least polite on the other end of the counter. If he/she is a caring human being it’s even better!
    I rarely use the automated cash registers because I feel it will help to slow the process of machines taking us over in the customer care department… silly I know.
    Also, I never go back to a place where I feel treated like sh@@@. And if all the customers reacted the same way, maybe it would change the rules of the game a little. Who knows?
    Great story about the brain surgeon! Very scary but hilarious 🤪!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel like it would be in the customer service person’s best interest to smile and be nice, because then the customer smiles too and everyone is happy. If you act like a bitch towards every customer, you’re bound to get a few upset ones every day who pour out their own frustrations on you. A negative circle or a positive one? We can all choose. (If only it was that easy in other parts of life! 🤪😄) And yeah, I try to avoid places where I got bad service. But if the location beats all the others, it can sometimes be hard to avoid them.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It is a worry that this girl with her poor work ethic might end up being a Doctor or goodness help us, a surgeon. She might be intelligent but she is street stupid and intelligence is never an excuse for arrogance and lack of team spirit and respect. It sounds like an arrogance in that it is totally fine to act in a nihilistic way. Perhaps the mother was the one with the problem as she was failing her daughter?
    On customer service, I think it amusing and touching that the Finnish bosses even considered discussing whether they could enforce staff to smile. In Australia, we would just be told we had to smile. I used to help the admin staff with reception calls on occasions at my workplace. I had my own particular courteous, structured phone greeting when answering a phone call. I stopped assisting admin when they were told by head office what they should say in answering the phone. They wanted staff to be more professional, but their official ‘speel’ sounded ingratiating to me.
    I would deinitely smile to the scary coffee barista but not say thanks! I think you got that habit from your time in Aust.😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I found it quite amusing, too – and also frustrating – that all those bosses and managers spent so much time dealing with the smiling issue. For me, work outfits are much worse than being told to look cheerful. As a flight attendant, we were even told what color hair bands we were allowed to wear and what size our earrings must be. And to take care of our appearance. And to smile! No one complained. I really can’t see what the problem is and, if you ask someone to wear a uniform that doesn’t suit them or fit them, why couldn’t you ask them to smile as well? You’re already asking them to step out of their personality a bit.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sure, customer service people should smile or be friendly in some way. It’s called customer service for a reason. I’m definitely an introvert, but I work in customer service and I feel an essential part of the job is to make customers feel welcome.
    Mind you, I have had some epic and wonderful bad service in my time. My favorite, many years ago, was a waiter at a cafe in the Azores who simply refused to serve anyone. The owner/cook would plead with him to help and he just wouldn’t. We learned that the thing to do on arrival was to help ourselves to a bottle of wine from the rack, relax, and watch the show. Golden days!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t really remember Finland for its customer service when I lived there haha. I agree that it’s normal for customers to expect a hello/thank-you and maybe a simple smile. The greetings are pretty normal here but a smile, hmm not really except maybe for some restaurants and boutique shops. There have been a few cases where I didn’t get any hello or goodbye and I remember being really annoyed.
    I hope the high school girl has grown out of her ways! That’s a terrible work ethic, and her mother was even worse for enabling her! Happy New Year, Snow! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Happy New Year to you too, Pooja dear! 🥳 Hope it brings you new exciting things and fulfilled wishes.
      I do miss the chatty ways of the French from my years living there. Shop owners shouting hellos to people passing by on the streets – besides being friendly, they also have a positively sales-minded attitude, something that’s also lacking here. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t think this is something that only happens in Finland or “cold” countries… During my Uni years I worked in retail during Christmas, and I remember that during the training I was always told to be always nice and patient with the customers and wish them merry Christmas/New Year at the end of the purchase…. Well, years have passed since them (but not many!!!) and now I’m the customer and I find that nobody in Spain smiles, wishes you good day/merry Christmas, nothing anymore… for me, this is really sad!!! What’s the purpose of these days if it’s not celebrate Christmas and the New Year? These holidays are becoming the consumerist winter holidays, there’s no festive feeling in Spanish shops or restaurants or cafes anymore… 😦
    On the other hand, every time I go to a shop in Switzerland is the opposite case. Everybody says goodbye wishing you a beautiful day or afternoon, or happy holidays, and they smile… like they really wish you good! It is true that Swiss are a bit like people from Nordic countries and it’s difficult to have Swiss friends. But these simple (and polite) things always make me smile and think they are nice people. And it’s one of the reasons why I love Switzerland!!! 😛
    I hope you had a beautiful beginning of 2020, Snow!! And the rest of the year brings health and happiness to you and your dear ones! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Mercedes, for your lovely long comment, what a treat! 🤗 As for Spanish customer service, maybe mass tourism has become too much for them, the tourist season now lasting all year instead of high and low peaks (for resting and gathering up some good mood again)? Do you think tourism might have something to do with the general level of service going down? (As a tourist, I hate it when shop owners/staff think I won’t be back so there’s no point in treating me well. What do they know about my traveling habits?)
      As for Switzerland, I’m trying to remember what our trip was like, a few years ago, but I can’t… maybe no huge extremes then?
      Yes, our Xmas was lovely, hope yours was too – and I wish you all the best for the new year and decade 💕

      Like

  8. Can’t believe the brain surgeons mom behaved that way! You can see where the daughter had learned her ways. I’ve heard from a friend in the restaurant business that one problem with some of the young employees of this day is that they can’t stop looking at their phones. Even when talking to a customer!!!! Anyway, to answer your initial question, I do think customer service should include smiles and cheery interaction. The barista you described sounds so awful that it would put me off my coffee entirely!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, nowadays when I think of having a latte, I think ”80€ a month!!!” and then ”oh, and miss always-on-a-bad-mood”… it does help me keep to my budget!!
      You mentioned staff staring at their phones (also young daycare workers do that!! I don’t like it, they’re supposed to be keeping my kids safe!!!). But another thing that drives me beserk is when customer service staff talk to each other while servicing me, like they are in the middle of an interesting conversation and don’t care to stop while they take customers’ money. Aaargh!

      Like

  9. Smile, of course. I’ve worked in a public library for 2o years, and one of the joys of my job is interacting with the people who come in each day. Luckily I’m a people person, but even if you’re not, you should try to make people feel welcome. If I was rude or unresponsive to the patrons, I’d get fired. I was surprised to hear about management wondering whether they could force people to smile. If you’re the boss, you can have things the way you want it. Those who don’t like should find another job. As for the brain surgeon, don’t worry, she sounds too spoiled – wouldn’t last a day in med shcool..

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you – I’ve always loved chatting with customers in all of my customer service jobs. It really is the best part! And guess what: I haven’t had any negative feedback either, what a surprise! 😉 Really, it should be completely obvious. I was really surprised about management pondering the whole thing for so long.

      Like

  10. OK, where I work, if you don’t provide good service, you “go away”. That’s crazy that these folks still have a job!
    However, I hope I always am friendly and kind, even of the worker is not so much. I hope maybe I can help brighten their day.
    Love your post! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I know what you mean! When I started out in my very first jobs 20 years ago, bosses would always say to me and everyone else, ”don’t just stand around with your hands in your pocket, do something” or ”don’t talk with your co-worker when there are customers present”, ”go ask every customer if the need help”, etc. And it was fine. I feel like today you’re a nag if you try to get younger kids to be active at work. Thanks for reading 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I think good customer service is a lost art, as the regular decorum of being pleasant and polite has slid into “You don’t know my life!” in a kind of crazy way. I don’t think smiling and welcoming clients or customers is beyond the ask. Yes, yes, we all experience existential angst and yes, yes, we all have our own battles — all the more reason to treat one another with courtesy.
    The truth is, if one works somewhere one HAS to go, without options, being rude probably doesn’t affect job performance, but in a location that is a matter of competition and choice, being rude turns people off and they’ll go elsewhere. Could you coffee shop hostess stay employed in a corner coffee shop that’s less frequented? I bet not.

    Re brain surgeon kid — I’ve worked places where people left for lunch and did not return. They were all fired if/when they tried to come back, but most of them didn’t come back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That would be so awkward, coming back after having left in the middle of the day unannounced!
      I’m not perfect, I have my bad days, too, but I generally try to be nice to everyone, customers and colleagues alike. The barista in my story doesn’t seem like a nice person to be stuck working with, either 😬 I think you might be right: in another location management might notice her rudeness faster.
      My favorite thing working in customer service was chatting with people, and a lot of times especially elderly people really seemed to need someone to chat with – maybe I was their only chatting buddy all week, who knows? Just like you said, we all have our battles, all the more reason to be nice.
      Thanks Joey for your thoughts! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Great post, I think smiling is not mandatory but a natural occurrence with good customer service, it’s not about being fake but genuinely listening and trying to help the customer get what they want. The last example of the trainee is so accurate to how the parents have spoiled their children with entitlement. I see it often where I work, so many excuses of why they won’t come to work and none of them are good! Examples: I have a test to study for, I have anxiety about customers, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great point, genuine smiles come with good customer service in a natural way 😊 But there also needs to be a will to give good customer service, either from the person’s own personality (recruitment) or from management. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  13. I do expect a customer service person to smile or at the least make me feel welcome. I have been known to walk out of boutiques (where I might have been tempted to spend money) because my presence was never acknowledged. If you don’t want my money, there are plenty of places that do. I worked as a fast-food cashier from ages 14-18 and smiling was part of the job. I learned to project that smile through the drive-thru speaker too and also through the telephone later on as a secretary. My teens make fun of it because they can tell when I answer the phone whether or not I know the person. A little kindness goes a long way. 🙂

    Happy New Year!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I so agree with you, Amy. I walk out sometimes, too, and always feel astonished that they really didn’t want my money. This even happened to us when we were trying to buy a car, but that’s a whole other story! Sometimes the level of not caring is just incredible: with so many people unemployed, how can bad workers keep their jobs? Or don’t the managers care at all – have they no idea that great customer service increases sales? Anyway, I enjoyed your comment 🙂 Way back, I learned to convey a smile over the phone, too. It’s a quite handy thing to know 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Oof, it’s a tough one. So often there’s just so many reasons not to smile especially after long hours of interacting with demanding and/or angry customers. On the other hand a nod, a grin, or a small hello from a service person has so often changed my entire day into one of hope! On that note, I wish you a very happy New Year and all the best with it!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Whether or not the customers are angry probably depends on the line of work but in general, if you work in for example a café, most customers are probably not in a very bad mood. But what can piss them off is a sour customer service experience. Then you’re just entering a vicious circle of passing negative feelings around 😀 In any case, customers are always humans and should be shown some understanding. Thanks for commenting and the very best for the new year! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. As an perennial optimist, wishful thinker, rose-colored-glasses-wearing American, I smile way too much. As Manja says, we can wear our smiles for so many reasons, and not all of them are genuine. But I still answer Yes to your question; if you are being paid to take care of people, even if it’s just handing them a cup of coffee, you should make an effort to be nice, and nice often requires at least a faint smile or at least sincere eye contact!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly. It should be part of the job description. And while rude, arrogant people often get further in life faster, I really wish we were all taught manners as kids and everyone was polite to each other. At the very least, when you’re paid for it… Thanks Lexi and happy 2020! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  16. hmmm. fake smiling is pretty noticeable and so I’m a bit torn as whether people should fake it or not, As for the story about the girl whose mum got upset etc… sigh. I dont think that’s as a rare a story as it should be

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t it a bit alarming if all you can manage is fake smile? If a person really dislikes other people that much, maybe they should look for work that isn’t centered around… people. 🤨 Thanks Andy for reading! 😆

      Like

  17. Pingback: Speaking the Same Language | The Snow Melts Somewhere·

  18. it’s 9 PM here, too late for coffee, but that lingomochalochaberry looks yum 😀 ha, I just wrote under your previous post that your texts and stories always make me smile 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • 😆 I’m happy to have shared smiles with you! 😘 Hope you’re well, how’s the corona situation over there? Here, my employer just announced we can all work remotely – I’m relieved! But my boys are still going to daycare, hmm… 🤔

      Liked by 1 person

      • We are in a state of emergency from yesterday, no schools or daycare for a week, but the politicians are still debating whether to keep malls open pfff… I work from home anyways, and the boys are happy they are not going to school lol… Hope you and your boys are well and healthy xx

        Liked by 1 person

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