Karate lessons: superior service with a smile

Smiling can offer instant benefits – as a recent bout of martial arts demonstrated. And although front line service staff generally don’t need to be black belts, an ability to smile is a great asset.

I returned to my Saturday-morning karate class this weekend after a 5-week absence and, as my 5 weeks away had been fairly indolent, the pain of urging my ageing frame through various routines was pretty intense. Halfway through the class I remembered a comment that the sensei (teacher) had made previously – that in Japan it was customary to perform the moves whilst smiling. As I thought I must be looking a bit stressed I replaced the expression of mild agony with a slightly synthetic grin. To my surprise I found the aches and pains immediately subsided – not completely but certainly to a more tolerable level than before.

I’m moderately sceptical about a lot of new age health ideas but I have always felt that a positive attitude in the mind translates into benefits in the body – and vice versa. This little experience reinforced that belief.

As the pain subsided I began to think about the benefits to customer service (yes, it’s true – I think about it that often). Most service industries don’t require a competence in martial arts but do require those in the front line to have a cheerful disposition. ‘Service with a smile’ is a well-known cliché but actually offers benefits to those who adopt it.

It’s possible to complain about smiling being enforced – Disney Corporation includes it in its guest service guidelines for example – but it seems to me that not making an effort is detrimental to both customer and service representative.

The best approach is therefore to create conditions where front-line staff feel happy and more likely to smile at customers. And as customers we have an equal part to play in this: approach a transaction with a smile and you’re more likely to get one in return.

In the interests of balance, I feel I should point out that occasionally this natural approach can backfire. One contributor to The Weekly Gripe – an oh-so-British repository of moans and whinges – complains about a Tesco employee reprimanding her four-year old daughter for not responding when she said hello to her. I’m glad to report that the store’s management were supportive of their employee’s good attitude to customers when the customer complained.

So if you can get through life with a smile you’re less likely to need martial arts training but if you still need a regular session in the dojo there’s one additional benefit to smiling: it keeps your head up and you’re therefore less likely to be hit!

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