Smiling – we all do it. Some of us do it more than others, but it is very likely that we will all smile at some point today. There are actually some very interesting facts about the facial expression we take for granted:

  1. Forcing yourself to smile can improve your mood
  2. Smiling boosts your immune system
  3. Smiling is contagious
  4. Smiling relieves stress
  5. It is easier to smile than to frown
  6. Smiling is a universal sign of happiness
  7. Smiling uses between 5 and 53 facial muscles
  8. Babies are born with the ability to smile
  9. Smiling makes you look prettier
  10. Smiles are the most easily recognisable facial expression

It is difficult to find anything ‘not to like’ about a smile. It is difficult to disagree with these well known facts. Whenever we are greeted by a warm, genuine smile, we feel good. Smiling is so simple – it is also the easiest and cheapest ingredient to put into your customer experience strategy.

Last week I was fortunate enough to enjoy a summer break in Menorca. Just thinking about going on holiday makes us smile and I am no different. The thought of sun, fun, food and relaxation instantly leads us all to start sensing the upward curling of the corners of our mouths. However, thinking about going on holiday also leads many to think about the more stressful and complicated elements of the experience. From getting to the airport; to parking; to checking in; to getting through security; to boarding the plane – holidays are filled with ‘touchpoints’ that can cause blood pressure to rise.

The Golding summer holiday to Menorca featured all the usual ‘travelling’ touchpoints as described. Some of them were not particularly pleasurable (the travelling touchpoints that is). Our first negative experience was at the bag drop. Flying with Thomson Airways, the first sight greeting us at Manchester Airport’s terminal 2 was a queue snaking around half of the terminal building. After forty minutes of walking backwards and forwards, we were greeted with indifference – no apology for the wait and definitely no smile. I refer you to points 1, 3 and 4 of my interesting smiling facts – a simple smile would have made the experience feel significantly less stressful. It would have been so easy for the lady at check in to give us a big smile to improve our mood. Sadly none was forthcoming.

The airport queue - a sight destined to help you lose your sense of humour

The airport queue – a sight destined to help you lose your sense of humour

Smiles at airport security are also sadly lacking. We were fortunate to be able to use the ‘fast track’ security. If we had not been, we might still be in the queue now (a week later!). Once again though, there was a significant lack of smiling going on by any of the staff manning the security gates. Is it not possible to do a serious job and smile at the same time?

We finally got to the point of boarding the aeroplane – excitement was building. The kids had big smiles adorning their lovely faces. The first face that greeted them at the door to our plane did not share their mood. No smile was present as we were told where to find our seats. Other cabin crew made up for the lack of smiling, but I could not forgive the downbeat mood of the lady on the door. In fact as soon as a different cabin crew member started to engage in conversation (with a beaming smile on her face), we felt so much better.

On arrival in Menorca, we gave each of our three children their own passports to show to the man at passport control. Having been to this beautiful Spanish island many times before, we knew they would not let us down – they ALWAYS smile at children! Not this time. The grumpy old man simply grunted and shoved the passports back in their hands. What was wrong with everyone?!!

I do not want this post to sound all doom and gloom. We had a wonderful holiday with amazing weather and plenty of very nice and smiling people along the way. The point I am trying to make is that a simple smile can make such a big difference in the experiences we have in life – let alone as customers. No-one likes seeing an unsmiling face. However the lack of a smile is becoming more and more common in the experiences we have – far too common in fact.

On our return from Menorca, I had convinced myself that I would not see any friendly smiling faces during any part of the journey. I am delighted to confirm that I am/was wrong. The staff in the airport in Menorca were lovely. From the minute we entered the terminal building, everyone we met smiled at us – the bag drop lady; the staff at security (yes, even them!); the staff in the shops and cafes; and the lady at the boarding gate. The crew on our Thompson flight were all very smiley as well. What a difference it made to the return trip. Coming home is always a slightly sad experience – the people we interacted with made it feel much more pleasant. The difference between the airports in Manchester and Menorca was immense – same touchpoints, same processes, completely different experience – made all the better by smiling staff.

The piece-de-resistance though came at Border Control in the UK. My recent experiences of UK Border Control have not been good. Ridiculously long queues, unfriendly staff and definitely no smiles. The man who checked our passports on Saturday afternoon could not have been more different. Not only did he greet us with a warm smile, he was lovely with the children and happy to engage in conversation. I was shocked – I should not have been. What this lovely chap did is what every customer facing employee should do. It is unfortunate that I should be surprised by something that should be the norm. This man made an experience you expect to be unpleasant a pleasure. Why so many of his colleagues find it hard to do is beyond me. It did not cost him anything to do. My main regret is that I did not notice his name – he deserves recognition for the way he goes about doing his job.

The natural human action of smiling is so simple yet so effective (and it costs nothing). Sometimes you just need to look at your colleagues and observe whether or not they do it or not. If you have ever watched the BBC programme ‘The Call Centre’, you will know that Neville Wilshire’s catchphrase is ‘happy people sell’ – the man is bang on. Smiling is such a simple and cost effective customer experience ingredient, you have to wonder why people do not do it more often.