Smile or Frown: WOW! Customer Service


It takes 50 muscles to make a frown — but only 13 to produce a smile. No it doesn’t, not really. Like much of the advice about excellent ‘customer service’ there is a lot of misinformation out there. Customer service (let alone excellent) is a very diverse and broad term that covers a multitude of industries and businesses. Most of the collected wisdom is questionable, non-scientific or generic. I like to compare it to myth you have probably heard about smiling and frown. You may have heard this version of the tale,

Scientists have told us that it takes 41 muscles to frown and 17 to smile this leads to two conclusions:

  1. Scientists have WAY too much free time on their hands!
  2. Frowning uses more muscles, and therefore burns more calories.

The numbers of muscles may vary ( I have seen 13, 17, 36, 41, 47, 50 and 60) yet the story has been around for years. Actually most Professors of Anatomy I have talked too say we use approximately the same number of muscles to do both and probably (depending on the effort put into to both) the same amount of energy. But, it is very difficult to actually tell as there is no real definition of what is a smile and what is a frown. The maxim has been handed from generation to generation because of its enduring value as implied advice rather than its being an authoritative tally of a parts list. More simply, the story persists because of what it says about people, not their anatomy, so to get lost in the metrics would be at the expense of losing sight of its far more important component.

Well if that was a partial myth, we surely know that customer service is a highly important part of every small business? Right? Well it amazes me how many companies get it wrong day after day. Companies that are unable or unwilling to properly service their customers stand to lose the customers’ business.However, several key variables or characteristics set excellent customer service apart from mediocre customer service. A company that best demonstrates these excellent customer service characteristics will have a distinct advantage over its competition.

In survey after survey the British public, and even staff in these organisations, tell us too often that service in this country is still poor, attitudes are wrong, complaints are not handled well and the service provided is not keeping up with increasing customer demands. Regardless of the type of contact that you have with customers, whether it is over the phone, face-to-face, in a restaurant or shop, in an office or financial institution, in the entertainment or tourist industries, good customer service skills help everybody.

There are certain customer service skills that every employee has to master if they are forward-facing with customers. A happy, satisfied customer is likely to return and/or tell others about the good experiences (think social media x 1000) that they had when dealing with your company – word of mouth recommendations from friends and colleagues are very valuable.

Luckily, there are a few universal skills that every member of staff can master that willdrastically improve their interactions with customers. You can start reading or listening to the Pursuit of WOW ( fantastic book (although ageing gracefully) by that Master of Service, Tom Peters). So when your staff (or you) interact with the customers on a daily basis they can become heroes of service.

We could steal time, just for one day
We can be Heroes, for ever and ever
What d’you say? – David Bowie

So here are my top 6 tips for Excellent Customer Service and creating your WOW!

1. The Good Old Fashioned Genuine Smile

  • This is the most simple and often the most powerful tip for customer service and most other interpersonal interactions.
  • Smiles are contagious – usually when you smile at somebody they’ll smile back at you. Whether the myth of it being physically less exhausting to smile than to glower, it is certainly beneficial, and thus there is something to this ancient exhortation to put aside negative emotions long enough to turn a frown upside down.
  • In a 2002 study performed in Sweden, [Goleman, Daniel. “A Feel-Good Theory: A Smile Affects Mood.”The New York Times. 18 July 1989 (p. C1).] researchers confirmed what our grandmothers already knew: that people respond in kind to the facial expressions they encounter. Test subjects were shown photos of faces — some smiling and some frowning — and required to respond with their own smiles, frowns, and non-expressions as directed by those conducting the experiment. Researchers noted that while people had an easy time frowning at what appeared to be frowning at them and smiling in reply to the photographed smiles, those being tested encountered difficulties when prompted to respond in an opposite manner to the expressions displayed in the images — they instinctively wanted to reflect what they’d been exposed to, answering smile for smile and frown for frown, and could not easily overcome this urge even when they were quite consciously trying to.
  • Because we humans are wired to instinctively respond like for like, facial expressions are contagious. When taken, the homily’s implied advice to put on a happy face does work to benefit society in that smiling people cause those around them to smile.
  • Do not pretend to smile, or produce a false smile since these are easy to spot and send the wrong messages. Instead relax, gain eye-contact and smile naturally. This will help the customer or client to feel at ease and welcomed, and you’ll come across as friendly and approachable, setting the scene for a more positive interaction.
  • If you are talking to somebody on the telephone then you can still smile – your voice sounds different when you smile and are happy. Clients and customers are more likely to want to talk to a cheerful person with an enthusiastic personality and by smiling while you talk you can help to project this.
  • Smiling makes us feel happier. It is not a cure-all for every situation, that is, don’t look to it to remedy overwhelming grief, but in terms of getting us past a small dose of the blues, it can help to lift the sense of sadness being experienced. It makes a differences to customers and to staff.

2. Have Patience but Don’t Make Your Customers Wait

  • Patience is a virtue, but don’t depend on it when interacting with customers. In one survey conducted, 69% of those interviewed defined good customer service as receiving a quick resolution to a reported problem.
  • 72% of respondents blamed their frustrations on having to address an issue to multiple employees at different times. If you’ve ever had a similar experience, then you know how aggravating it can be to call back or be transferred only to re-explain your problem over again (and again), while seemingly never actually getting any closer to a solution.
  • Customer service representatives who have neither the authority nor the ability to resolve problems on their own, and are thus forced to take those problems to higher levels, run the risk of alienating customers. Unfortunately, this is a common problem. In fact, 26% of consumers have experienced being transferred from agent to agent without any resolution.
  • This makes me sad (see also my article on Customer Service) so I have on my wall Tom Peter’s 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence:

3. Build Trust and They Will Come Back (Time after Time)

  • Only ever offer a customer or client something that you are sure you can give them – delivery of small things matter.
  • It is better not to mention a delivery date and then deliver tomorrow than it is to say you’ll deliver tomorrow and then don’t.
  • It is better to tell your hotel guests that the fire alarm system is being tested in the morning than let them find out for themselves.
  • Stick to deadlines, make sure you turn up promptly for any appointments and never make promises you cannot keep. If situations change then let the customer know as soon as possible.
  • If your company is answering a phone by the first ring, is straight forward with all pertinent buying information, and is giving customers a personalized experience when they need it, then congratulations, you are building much-needed trust.
  • Your product or service will attract them initially, maybe even bring them back a second time, but what consistently entices customers to return is trust that they’re going to have a good, barrier-less customer experience.
  • If you can provide the customers what they’re looking for, when they need and expect it, then that trust built between your company and the customer will evolve into invaluable customer loyalty.

4. The Emotional Signature: Be Memorable For the Right Reasons

  • We tend to remember positive and negative experiences more vividly than average day-to-day ones. Try to make every customer’s experience a positive one that they’ll remember and talk to others about.
  • Be helpful, be courteous and polite – give a little extra if possible, even if it is just some advice or extra information about the product or service they are buying or interested in buying.
  • If appropriate, and you need to be careful here, try telling a joke or introducing an element of humour; if successful you will add to the positive experience of the customer.

5. Clear Communication Skills Require Excellent Listening

  • You are unlikely to be able to help all your customers effectively if you don’t listen to their needsExcellent customer service requires effective listening and communication skills.
  • A company’s customer service representatives should listen carefully to what the customer needs. The answer or solution to the problem or question should accurately address the nature of the call or question. excellent communication skills are crucial.
  • A customer should be able to easily understand what the customer service representative is saying.
  • The representative must speak distinctly, and use common terminology that everyone understands, not highly technical language.
  • Excellent customer service means acknowledging a customer’s question in a timely manner.
  • Excellent customer service means having more experienced people or supervisors available to answer more difficult or technical questions
  • For customers not listening can become very frustrating and may lose a sale or repeat visit.
  • Listen to the customer’s needs, empathise and find the
  • Work on the ability to use Positive Language.

6. Learn Your Business – Know Your Product – Be The Expert

  • One of the most important elements for achieving excellent customer service is training. Customer service employees must be trained on product features, prices, warranties and even the various technical aspects of products.
  • If you are selling cars then learn the features and specifications of the models you have (and those of your competitors).
  • If you work in a hotel learn about the business, how many rooms there are, the history of the building, when breakfast is served.
  • If you work in a bank then learn the advantages and disadvantages of the various products you sell and which product suits which type of customer the best.
  • Make sure that you know more about your business than the customer does, be able to answer questions about your business or organisation even if they are not related to your normal field of work.

The obvious truth is that the so called secret of service excellence is actually very simple. It requires clear and consistent leadership from the top, the right culture, great people, and customer-focused systems, processes and tools. If your company can achieve a positive and efficient service experience wherever your customers happen to be, and can scale it, then you’re on your way to defining what good customer service means to your company.

Excellence, always. Smile.

With massive acknowledge and thanks to the wonderful insightful Tom Peters.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Are You Ready for Service Excellence?


Organisations Exist to Serve. PERIOD.In December I had a problem with a well known ‘new’ UK bank. In their flagship local London store, my cards were cloned and overnight, all my money was extracted in Guatemala and Honduras. Their USP claim is that they don’t have traditional bank rules and poor service. It was a car crash of system to get my money back; I was on hold for 3 hours. Consider Howard Schultz talking about Starbucks,

At our core, we’re a coffee company, but the opportunity we have to extend the brand is beyond coffee; it’s entertainment.

It’s 2015 and we really do live in a service economy. In most western countries, service accounts for more than 75% of GDP, a share which will continue to increase. Service is therefore important for all types of companies, because they now compete primarily on the service that they provide.

So why is there so much bad service? Why do so many companies struggle to deliver even the most basic services let alone give great entertainment (except in not doing what they claim is their USP)? If all companies effectively compete on service, the key differentiator then lies in the service management model and the ability to execute it. The key reasons why a service company fails to deliver excellent service are:

  • The Knowledge Gap. They don’t know or understand what the customer expects.
  • The Design and 
Standards Gap. They don’t have the right service designs, processes or systems to execute a plan.
  • The Performance Gap. They are not delivering to its own service standards and rarely show Excellence, always.
  • The Communication Gap. They are not matching performance to service promises – expectations and values are not explained.

So what is the basis of service excellence? Leadership and culture now play a greater role in effective service organisations today than ever before. Many claim to have cracked this particular problem. Some suggest that excellent service is where service is:

  • reliable
  • timely
  • personalised
  • memorable
  • unnoticeable
  • remarkable

The trouble is that this has such a narrow focus on how service is delivered (the internal processes ) or on the service itself. It is also very short sighted and exists in a world that no longer exists. Service Excellence can be understood by this simple function (taken from Service Management 3.0 – the next generation of service by Morten Kamp Andersen and Peter Ankerstjerne)

Excellent Service Customer Perception minus Customer Expectation

When customers evaluate a service they will compare their perception of the actual delivered service to what they think it should be. This process is often done at a sub-conscious emotional level. So try this de-stilled formula (with help from Tom Peter’s Excellence Paper ) and apply a small droplet of wisdom:

  • Excellence, always. From now on do nothing less than excellence behaviour. The small stuff matters and you can change everything with this philosophy.Don’t forget to tuck the shower curtain into the bath tub. Conrad Hilton
  • Great Execution of the Emotional Signature Do more than is required, and remember Drucker’s view on great leadership: They do … ONE BIG THING at a time. 
  • Positively Engage with your customers at every opportunity. Your plan for engagement is meaningless without excellent execution.

Execution is strategy —Fred Malek

  • First Class Communication is vital because your customers want to feel valued and respected. They’re also looking for peace of mind that they can trust you will deliver what you promise
  • Understand Your Market and anticipating your customers’ changing needs will enable you to think and stay ahead of the competition. Monitoring the wider economy and analysing how changes will impact your customers. They should be your number #1 focus always.
  • Get Current Feedback from survey and asking great questions so you get an honest assessment of your business from the people that matter – your clients.
  • Flexibility and Innovation so your clients get exactly what they want, in their way, every time. Exceed expectations and make their lasting memory amazing.
  • Mentoring encourage staff members at all levels to mentor newer team members. Not only does it give them pride and drive to unlock other people’s talents, it develops stronger teams.

If you want staff to give great service, give great service to staff —Ari Weinzweig

  • Have an Amazing Training Programme so that staff can see how their development will progress step by step. Service companies who desire to be excellent, do not only have great people, they also have great processes for how to induct, introduce, train, manage, develop and promote these people.They have a system and a culture of processes which are founded on a great respect for human character and a belief that an individual can do wonders if he/she is just provided with the right tools and management processes.

Believe the difference the little unexpected extra can make. It can come in different shapes and forms, such as a smile, a positive and fun remark, random acts of kindness or the additional effort by the service professional going the extra mile. The old models of service are are no longer sufficient. Their future focus should be on the service delivery system and the power of the human touch. Frontline service employees should be empowered to create appreciated service moments and through their service performance influence and preferably leverage the purpose of the customer organisation.

Maybe take on board Tom Peter’s wonderful formula:

K = R = P (Kindness = Repeat business = Profit.)

EXCELLENCE. Now. EXCELLENCE. Always. Thanks Tom.

Be Amazing Every Day.

New Superpower: Appreciative Intelligence

New Superpower: Appreciative Intelligence

Appreciative IntelligencePraise them like you shouldRecognition and praise are the rocket fuel for the soul; the basis of a new superpower.

We've come a long, long way together, Through the hard times and the good. I have to celebrate you baby, I have to praise you like I should. – Fat Boy Slim

You may remember the story of a President Kennedy’s visit to the NASA Space Centre in 1962. Allegedly he noticed a cleaner carrying a broom (seems unlikely, but let’s continue with the metaphor). He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, ‘Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?’

Well, Mr. President,’ the cleaner quickly responded, ‘I’m helping put a man on the moon’

I love this story because (even if it isn’t true*) it highlights the true team ethos that was developed by NASA. The cleaner understood the importance of his contribution. He truly felt he was a valuable part of something bigger than himself and his attitude created a feeling of self-confidence in his mission. He wasn’t merely a cleaner; he was a member of the 1962 NASA Space Team. Certainly the details are likely apocryphal, but sometime in the 60's at the Space Centre in Houston was a cleaner, or receptionist, a cook, or a purchasing agent who felt as though their small effort was part of the larger team contributing to something phenomenal.

It turns out that great leaders (including JFK) all have (had) a superpower: Appreciative Intelligence. They have the rare ability to see the mighty oak in the tiny acorn. Successful leaders and innovators I have met, see more than a acorn that some of us might just step over.They see the possibilities for a strong, healthy tree with future generations of oaks and acorns.

Leaders often talk of the challenge of motivating and inspiring people in their business, organisation or company. However there is new research highlighting the way ahead for all business leaders. When we receive an authentic compliment, we all experience an inner glow (some people cannot accept compliments, but that is another story). It's a warm, magical feeling that makes us break into a smile. It makes us want to go the extra mile for the person who bestowed that sincere compliment. It is an ability to give praise that is interesting scientists.

Researchers Professor Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzker, found that individuals with Appreciative Intelligence can reframe situations quicker, appreciate the positive in others (and give praise) and see how the future works from the present moment. Their brilliant book is called “Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the mighty oak in the acorn".

You may have heard of Emotional Intelligence and Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. In a way, Appreciative Intelligence is the first cousin of Emotional Intelligence and Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Intelligence and Appreciative Inquiry are not the same things, although they both focus on what is valuable or positive. Appreciative inquiry is a model for analysis, decision-making and the creation of strategic change.

Appreciative Intelligence has widespread potential to be amazing, powerful toolfor both large and small businesses. Tojo’s research demonstrated four consistent traits of AI leaders:

  • Persistence,
  • Belief and actions matter,
  • Tolerance for uncertainty, and
  • Resilience.

The 2104 entrepreneurial environment has begun to facilitate the full expression ofAppreciative Intelligence. Seeing a situation from multiple perspectives allows the tuned-in entrepreneur to deal with obstacles with courage and resilience. They quickly reframe situations and recognise opportunities and act decisively to transform their dreams into reality.

They can see how their desired future will happen, which gives them the capacity to face future adversity with resilience. High-level Appreciative Intelligencepredisposes leaders to see the bigger picture and make the connections between diverse elements. That was the legendary ability of Steve Jobs to ‘join the dots’. He actually said,

‘You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.’

Those like Jobs, with strong Appreciative Intelligence seem to display the following skills or qualities:

  • The ability to reframe quickly – seeing situations, people or things in a new way – so that something good is visible and can be encouraged.
  • The ability to see what is good now it can grow into a great future (see also Edit and Amplify).
  • The ability to appreciating what is good in an individual or situation and telling them so (praise).

What I love about this model is the beginnings of a science of appreciation; authentically telling people, so they know that their work, no matter how far removed they are from the top of the pyramid, are important to the organisation (remember the NASA cleaner from earlier). It is about making everyone feel like an owner and helping them understand how their work contributes to the overall purpose of the company.Studies have proven that your brain lights up when it hears your name and some praise. If you start to use people’s names not as a greeting, but in the middle of your praise message, it becomes more personal and less likely to be ignored.

Appreciative Intelligence acknowledges that there are some powerful words that have a massive impact on others. These work by directly inspiring and motivating your staff or team. You could use this as part as your journey to Excellence, always.

You (note it’s use in this paragraph) by the way, is one of the most powerful word in the English language and probably, (when translated) the most powerful words inevery language.

Then you should introduce in to your language of praise, the word because, which always precedes a proof point. It means you are backing up what you have to say with concrete facts, which makes it more credible and more powerful in prompting repeat behaviour.

Now you can be really old school and actually say thank you. You may be surprised how few people actually use the word thanks, or thank you.

Finally use the word results. Using this word shows that the action your employee did something that had a measurable impact and that you recognise their hard work in pursuit of that outcome. Try prefixing praise statements with these great AI words (and yes they can be repeated):

Great Words for Praising Effort

Passionate, resilient, resourceful, powerful, focus, outstanding, determined, overcome, achievement, generate, develop, design, accomplish, discipline, creative, triumph, complete, stunning, proud, masterpiece, conquest, initiative, delivery, powerhouse.

Great Words for Praising Quality

Excellence, always; curious, innovative, unique, passionate, powerful, challenging, brilliant, exceptional, striking, aware, brilliant, elegant, eloquent, intuitive, strong, outstanding, talent, distinctive, enabler, curator, stylish, editor.

Great Words for Praising Attitude

Passionate, positive, persistence, tenacity, thoughtful, inspired, responsible, creative, energetic, enthusiastic, motivated, dedicated, innovative, vibrant, wisdom, flexible, versatile, consistent, considerate, commitment, confidence, compassionate, teacher.

Great Words for Praising Leadership

Passionate, appreciative intelligence, courageous, caring, exceptional, capable,entrepreneurial, awareness, collaborative, extra-ordinary, innovative, strategy, planning, delivery, communicative, visionary, charismatic, dynamic, impressive, involved, above and beyond.

By using this powerful language, taking time to praise and appreciating others we change everything. Using the framework of Appreciative Intelligence it will develop new leaders. It provides an exciting answer to what enables successful people to dream up their extraordinary and innovative ideas. Why employees, partners, colleagues and all stakeholders follow them, on different, innovative paths to new goals; how they achieve these goals despite obstacles and challenges. It begins to explain why authentic praise works.

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

People with Appreciative Intelligence are realistic and action focused. They have the ability to identify positive potential and to devise a course of action to take advantage of it.

Appreciative Intelligence is a mental ability found in top leaders throughout history. Imagine if all leaders in an organisation proactively and mindfully practicedAppreciative Intelligence and praised people? What would be the profound impact that this would have on an organisation's culture? Such a culture could skyrocket employees' motivation and inspire innovation. It is all about practicing Being Amazing Every Day and the skills of Appreciative Intelligence. Excellence, always involves everyone.


Be Amazing Every Day


*Snopes saysDoubtful. The is an old story, re-told; from Christopher Wren and St. Paul's Cathedral, but the story probably goes back to the pyramids or maybe a Sumerian ziggurat. It is unlikely because cleaning crews work late at night, when there are fewer people around, and areas can be closed off for cleaning. I imagine NASA never really sleeps, but trying to get things done in the middle of a Presidential visit seems a little futile to me. In fact, I would think the cleaning would have been done before the President got there.Secondly, nobody cleans a floor feverishly. If you care anything about the job, you clean the floor methodically. That's why you're not going to see a janitor moving quickly while cleaning a floor. It just stirs up the dirt and makes you miss areas…..

I have to celebrate you baby, I have to praise you like I should. – Fat Boy Slim