Smile, It May Be the Boss Calling

By Nancy Friedman, the Telephone Doctor

There’s rarely a program that I present where someone doesn’t ask me if smiling is really that important – either on the phone or in person. People actually ask me, “Nancy, can you really hear a smile?” Yes, Virginia, you can really hear a smile, and your caller can hear the lack of a smile as well.

So this is a column about smiling and the reasons for it. If you happen to already be a smiler, you might want to pass this article on to someone who isn’t or doesn’t know that you can hear a smile.

First, let’s take the word smile from Webster’s dictionary:

Smile: To smile, be astonished; to have or take on a facial expression showing pleasure, amusement, affection, friendliness, irony, etc…characterized by an upward curving of the corners of the mouth and a sparking of the eyes.

See, smiling is something most everyone can easily do. Since it is so easy, do you wonder why more people don’t do it? Have you ever been in a store or just been walking around and noticed that people weren’t smiling, even when you start talking with them?

Certainly we all know that failing to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is usually considered rude, but the list of rude behavior is much longer than those offenses. I’m not sure why we constantly need to be reminded to smile, but we do. You’d think it was common sense to smile when you’re with a customer. Unfortunately, common sense is not all that common now, is it?

Will a smile help? Well, as my mother used to say, it couldn’t hurt. I suggest keeping a mirror by your desk. That is yet another good reminder to keep a smile on your face when you’re talking with callers.

My husband and I are in airports a lot. We’ve made a conscience decision to keep a slight smile on our face when we walk through them. Why? Because when we looked at the faces coming towards us, we saw mouths turned downwards, looking worse than sad – almost mad. We decided we didn’t want to look like that. Sure, it may feel a little funny keeping that little smile on our face, but we both know we look better for it.

A recent New York Times book review written by Roxana Popescu of the book, A Brief History of the Smile by Angus Trumble, asks a very good question, “Why do English speaking people say ‘Cheese’ to make you smile, but Chinese speakers say ‘Eggplant’?” Trumble wrote, “The spontaneous smile of the little child is essentially truthful.”

I am reminded of a story a skycap told me a few years ago. You’ll enjoy it.

Joe, our friendly skycap at the St. Louis airport was walking through the airport a while back and came upon a woman sitting hunched over on her luggage – mouth turned down as far as it could be turned down. She looked terrible. He decided to go over and ask her if she was okay. “Excuse me, M’am,” he said, “are you okay?” The woman looked up – mouth continuing to be turned down and grumbled a mean, “Yes.” “Well,” Joe said, “Notify your face.”

So remember, if someone comes up to you and asks, “Are you okay?” it probably means you don’t look very happy.

Now say “Cheese.”

Nancy Friedman is President of Telephone Doctor, a customer service training company in St. Louis, MO.

[From Connection Magazine October 2004]