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Jay Clark
 
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The power of smiling

29 May 2014, 12:08

As a student, I routinely frequented a fast food establishment more often than a super-sized documentary suggested I should.

On one visit, a particular employee at McDonalds did not find my “funny” to be in-line with conventional humour. McDonalds had a sign – which I don’t see anymore – stating that smiles are free, so I ordered one. I was met with a look that induced panic, and I ordered a side of nuggets out of absolute fear of being the first person in South Africa to be beaten to death with a quarter-pounder.

It has always stuck with me that what I did was cocky, but it wasn’t wrong. I would never have asked for a smile if my holder of quickly prepared mass produced “food” was actually smiling at the time. I was pushing for a response that I believe every customer deserves.

I was employed as an air steward in the land of sparkling aplenty. Dubai, and certain cities in middle-east, are business playgrounds. What you perceive as crazy and over the top ideas because they seem to defy logic. In that part of the world there is someone willing to fund those ideas into reality. Top minds in all industries are looking to expand market share in cities that are a giant anthropological study of expatriate convergence. Top brands are flocking from every continent, fighting for a slice of the newly baked rich but often tasteless pie.

Service just so happens to be “meh” which is polite for “shit”. There are highly trained staff members working slave like hours. The robotic training employees are subjected to is painfully apparent. Blank faced, uninspired responses or just a simple “no sirs” are free. Personality is extra.

Brands are sentient. You interact with them and trust them because you trust their products and services, you want a pleasant experience. Choice is a prerogative, and smiles are the gatekeepers to that hallowed land. And it’s free.

America has its flaws. In-and-out Burger refuses to move to the East coast and they should probably look into more gun laws. But walk into a store in a major city centre and the personalities of the staff will bemuse you. Jokes are made, compliments are given and smiles cracked. Sales get made –  probably why the housing market collapsed the economy, too many smiles and free cookies.

I served lard infused meals and coffee to countless numbers of pleasant and horrible people alike in my hospitality years. I always smiled and aimed to be personable. It was my go to offensive to handle customers. Did it always work? Honestly no – some people are just rude. But when it did work (a high percentage), I had more fun with my mundane routine tasks.

I interacted with customers. When things went wrong – which is how life works, I was given the benefit of the doubt to fix it – because I had a smile on my face.  I created my own set of rules to operate. And I used my own personality to do it. The brand received the plaudits of hundreds like me.

Customers interact with uniforms and brands, rarely enough with people. They pay for a service, not attitude, nor a negative outlook. A positive attitude should be free. Problems arise at every turn – but it’s how you deal with them that matters to clients. If staff members smile, my problems seem to lessen. I relent from being a possible problem to receptive of the proposed path forward. I have seen staff at terrible places be amazing, and amazing places be terrible.

Like social media, it is a free and powerful tool every business and brand should be using. Very few brands base their hires on personality over skill. Hire people that add to your brand identity.

Brands train employees to be efficient and not themselves. Hire and train those that you are happy to let their personalities take centre stage.

A brand is a promise to your customers, and you should always smile. Find and surround yourself with those that do smile to build your brand. If your staff are not smiling – find out why.

Life is stressful, business is tough and your favourite sports teams tend to lose more than they win. But it’s like that for all of us. Friendly dispositions are the first step in creating the feel to your brand people trust and enjoy.

Employees are brand ambassadors, so why not let them add to what you are selling. Remember, smiles are free. And if someone orders one, you are already too late.

- Jay Clark

www.schoolforbetterment.co.za


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