Service with a Smile? Oh, Please...
I always thought it a little silly that we asked our customer service agents to post a "Smile" sign on their cubicle wall or hang a big mirror to reflect their happy (or grumpy) faces while answering the phone. We cajoled them with constant reminders to "Be sure to smile when answering the phone - the customer will hear it in your voice." I was never quite sure why we were so adamant with what seemed like such a childish admonition.
Well, recently I discovered the "why." According to research there is a positive relationship between the emotion displayed in the service encounter by the agent (whether through facial expression, voice, gesture, or body movements) and the emotion of the customer. Research refers to this as "emotional contagion."
Evidently customers are not aware of the emotional impact the agent is having on them. We all tend to automatically mimic the other person in any interaction because we want to converge emotionally. We literally "catch" our partner's emotion.
Now that I understand "why," I believe we can develop ways to teach and reinforce this desired behavior rather than to simply ask agents to smile. I also understand that there are other critical issues surrounding emotional contagion (e.g., what if the agent doesn't feel positive - won't the "real" emotion leak through even if he or she makes a conscious effort to put a "smile" in the voice?).
I'll deal with some of these issues in future entries (smile!).