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Is a Real Smile Too Much?

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.


Of Tightropes, Humility, and Self-Promotion

Walking a tightropeLast week, I participated on a panel discussion about the changing landscape of women entrepreneurship with Susan Penta and Rudi Scheiber-Kurtz at the NAWBO Boston chapter event. That’s not the cool part.

The cool part was during the question and answer part of the presentation. Susan Penta of Midior Consulting and adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Northeastern University strongly urged us to consider that women are too humble and struggle with self-promotion. During the conversation, participants noted that sometimes their ethnic backgrounds had rules about how much attention you draw to yourself while others noted that they were given gender-based messages. You know, the “nice girls don’t do that sort of thing” message. 

There was a great deal of energy during this conversation as it spoke about an experience that many of us struggle with when we have an opportunity to sell our businesses. This is the tight rope that many women entrepreneurs walk. However, if your venture is going to succeed, you must promote it. Since entrepreneurs start small, promoting one’s business is really self-promotion too. Really small businesses know the old sales adage about people doing business with those they like, know, and trust. This is about the sole proprietor. But being aware of promoting oneself is not limited to small business. In large corporations, there is a trend to treat one’s career as if it is a small business. Highlighting your talents and accomplishments is important to moving into your desired position. One participant who is a C-level executive noted that she is in a larger organization that works in teams. It is not her style to point out publicly her performance within the team and she asked if she was making the right choice by subsuming her performance into the team’s performance. Another tightrope.

The conversation seemed to dance around the dilemmas of balancing one’s ethnicity (which is perhaps more of an American dilemma than anywhere else), one’s gender identity, and where one is in the organizational system. The  antidote, according to Ms. Penta, is to be passionate, honest, and act with integrity as this is truly what brings people to want to do business with you. 

Yes, Michael, we talk about this sort of thing in Boston. Just imagine!

But what is humility really? When I think of humility, it is usually in a religous context but I suppose it serves. Real, true humility has little to do with one’s confidence levels. Neither men nor women have a lock on humility. It seems to come from a deeper, more sure type of confidence. I am often inspired by my clients who speak of their businesses as its own entity and less about their prodigious skills at creating a valuable and stable business. They are confident in their promotional messages and the quality of their work but have a detachment that it is not a referendum on their person whether or not someone buys their products or services. These same intentions go into all of their conversations.

On sites like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, we are given a stage to present our expertise if we desire. Some people take the stage and ham it up. Or perhaps I should say spam it up. A lot of others take the stage, say their piece, and go onto engage with their followers in conversation. This way the self-promotion carries more weight. There are several on-going conversations on transparency and authenticity on Twitter but a blog post seemed to describe the tightrope between humility and self-promotion in a pretty funny way. In The Great Gatsby’s Last Tweet, Michael Benidt (@michaelbenidt) noted that there were many people who really ought to know better were just jamming their tweets with messages of how awesome they are. 

So, I left a comment:

In a different and yet not so different vein, Shakespeare wrote the line about “all sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

This blog post is part of a theme I’ve been experiencing this week. There is the on-going discussion about transparency. This past week , at the NAWBO Boston chapter event, we had a great discussion about humility and self-promotion. The crux of the conversation was to eliminate hyperbole and be yourself.

Integrity, particularly when one is not face to face, becomes important currency.

Michael Benidt (@michaelbenidt) of Hidden Treasures of the Internet ( was so taken with my comment, he urged me to write a blog post about the conversation at NAWBO about humility and self-promotion. So, what’s really the point about humility and self-promotion? I think Kneale Mann of YouIntegrate (@knealemann) may have gotten it right in his comment in Shakespeare and Shelley Take On Twitter ,

“To butcher the cliché, humility and starvation make strange bedfellows. I wrote recently about trust – do you trust your social network? That’s another tricky one. And it was best answered by someone who commented that our online trust network is no different than the one in person – it depends on the situation. With specific regards to social networking, we often see the “salesman” get attacked immediately if he/she “sells their wares” but how do we let others know what we do or what we are good at? It’s a delicate dance and humility cannot be forgotten – but neither can confidence.”

Over-confidence is really arrogance and contains a high level of insensitivity. There is most certainly a tightrope when promoting on-line. You cannot see with whom you are speaking. It can be difficult to meaure the effectiveness of your message. So what are the rules of promoting oneself in social networking? Well, it seems pretty straightforward. Do what you would do if you were face to face.

What does humility mean to you?

How do you define self-promotion?

What role does authenticity and integrity play in how you conduct business?

Would you throw your business card at everyone you meet without qualifying them in some way?


Are you WYSIWYG?

WYSIWYG is one of those terms thatWindow and chair made me chuckle when I first heard it. It seemed cute. Actually, it is pretty clever when you realize that it refers to “word processing or desktop publishing in which the screen prints text exactly as it will be printed.” (according to The term stuck with me as a computer thing for quite some time but recently it took on another dimension. Two things started a thought process. On Twitter, there have been numerous conversations about transparency. Some of the questions center on what is transparency, how much is necessary, and how to use it when marketing. To add more depth, Chris Brogan, a social media marketing expert and president of New Marketing Labs, ( posted “Cafe Shaped Conversations.” The blog post centered on the importance of the human touch when conducting business. This post follows a consistent theme that Brogan writes about how being yourself as an effective business tool. This is illustrated by Carol Jordan of You Are Here Books. His point is to connect with people through social media the way you would connect in-person in a focused and genuine manner. Many of us have rules about how a business person should look or act. Even if you have been in business in one capacity or another, you may have set up some rules or guidelines which begin something like, “people in my position must…” Fill in the blank. Now, what would happen if you broke this rule? Would you appear more genuine, more at ease? Would your business development be less strenuous and less stressful? Is it okay to be “what you see is what you get?” As I look back at the early days of my business, I had rules about what I thought a business owner should be like. Certainly, I was anxious to appear competent, contained, and serious.While this is not the first business I have started, it is the business that best suits me and my talents. Frankly, I did not trust my abilities or my knowledge base. I tried to cram myself into an elevator pitch. I began to feel like I was wearing someone else’s clothes. Looking at yourself, how would you describe your style? Your business? Being comfortable in one’s skin exudes confidence that we are okay no matter if we are succeeding or failing. It enables us to be authentic and connect with people. We have heard sales trainers and coaches talk about the “know, like, and trust” factor in converting prospects into sales. Instead of a transactional process, what would make doing business more about being yourself and acknowledging the person who wants your products and services? By using “what you see is what you get,” you cut out silly rules that cramp your natural abilities and personality. What makes you comfortable in your own skin? It is a common fear that someone will find out you are a fraud. However, this is usually an unfounded fear held by extremely competent, intelligent, and ethical people. As entrepreneurs, we continuously push ourselves out of our circle of comfort. Remembering that we come with great abilities and a record of success enables us to settle into our authenticity. Check your rules. Are they supporting you or thwarting you? Get rid of anything that interferes with your natural connection with people. Dare to be WYSIWYG!