Real smiles and customer serviceWhile I was doing my graduate degree, I worked at a jewelry counter. During the sales training, they explained that many customers could appear rough around the edges and not well dressed. They emphasized that the most unlikely people could be the big spenders. The organization training me was based in the the middle of the country so they spoke about farmers and factory workers. The community I lived and worked in included old time New England types, immigrants from India, Central America, Russia and transplants from other US states.  Unfortunately, the trainers didn’t explain how we were to make a connection with these particular customers so we were left to our devices.

Smiling seemed a natural way to start building rapport. It was fun to hear the back story and look for an everyday watch or that perfect set of earrings with my customers. Creating these mini-relationships seemed logical to me and it certainly was a positive strategy as I was a top commission earner in the department.

We’re all in customer service

No matter if you’re selling jewelry, consultancy services or smartphone apps, we are all customer service representatives. Tom Asacker has written extensively about how everyone in an organization communicates the brand. This exhibits the authenticity of an organization.  We have so many potential moments to connect with another person when we speak with prospects, colleagues and other professionals. Some, if not all of these moments could have you smiling at another human being. Jeff Toister has a great post of what happens when you leave the smile out, even over the phone. We are all points of reference for people outside of our organizations.

So all I need to do is smile, right?

Partly, yes. Are you seeking to engage with the other person and why? Answering this question reverts you back to your organization’s executive summary. Yes, seriously. It’s about the organization’s values. Are you smiling at this person because they are a revenue source or something else? Is it inauthentic on your part to want to make the sale?

Authentic customer service is more than a smile

The current messages about authenticity state that people are seeking “real” people to do business with. We’re told how to write content, biographic profiles and frame sales pitches so they build relationships. There is nothing inherently wrong with these messages. But we might be creating something that doesn’t exist in business. Perhaps we’re faking authenticity the way we fake our smiles. The face moves but we’re left feeling like something is off base. (Want to see if you can spot fake or genuine smiles? Take this test on this BBC site.)

Tom Asacker writes, “engagement is the first step in an evolving process that ultimately leads to belief, adoption and support of the organizations’ brands.” Feelings prompt purchases. This is true whether you’re selling business to business (B2B) or to consumers. The way you make me feel is what prompts me to want to do business with you. And…how you make me feel, particularly during a conflict, prompts me to want to continue doing business with you.

Conflict is the greatest test of authentic customer service

At some point, you will have a clash with someone over your product, service, ideas or price. Smiling may not be literally the most appropriate response to a situation but bear with me for a moment. Your value system includes how you want to be treated by others. This is the human element that is a potential chaotic agent. When someone approaches us with a complaint, it is natural to feel defensive and attacked. This complaining person has attacked our value system. Chaos is introduced when we forget how we want to treat others.

A real smile may be worth a lot of money…or not

The current emphasis on being authentic may be a trend and not significant in the long term. On the other hand, there is a lot of energy in conversations about making work meaningful and more human-centered. As we interact with customers, prospects and other professionals, we are the snapshot of our organization. A real smile could be an invitation and gift embedded in your authentic customer service.

Beyond the  current vogue definition of “authenticity”, how would you honestly describe it?

How do you train customer service representatives to naturally exhibit organizational authenticity?

What are our choices really saying when we fail to treat our clients/customers as if they matter?

If businesses are ultimately about making money, could authenticity be irrelevant?Why or why not?

*Consider yourself invited to join us as we talk about customer service & authentic connection “Is a Smile Too Much?”” on the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog on Friday, October 14th at 12pm ET/5pm BST/9am PT so I hope you can join us. If not, please add your thoughts below.