Smiles are Free – What’s Your Team Doing?

Great Customer Service (or the lack of) has always intrigued me.  How some companies simply get it and others can’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to this critical attribute for business success.

One of the things that baffles me the most around the topic of customer service is the vast majority of the actionable items in providing “great customer service” add no significant cost to the business.  Yet the leaders of the business don’t see the importance of encouraging, training, and coaching their employees to give it.

Recently I attended a conference held at an Omni Resort in Southern California.  As I was completing my check-in, the desk clerk offered me a complementary bottle of water.   He followed up by saying, “It’s the last thing you’ll get for FREE while you’re here.”   It struck me as one of the oddest comments I had ever heard from a desk clerk as he was handing me the room key.   I thought to myself, someone is totally missing the mark in training if all the employees around here don’t think there is anything they can provide customers for free other than that bottle of water.

I’ve never been in the hotel business (though I have stayed at a  Holiday Inn Express) but I am pretty sure the following list is all basically free for that desk clerk to give away all day long and it wouldn’t cost his employer a dime.   Coincidentally, most of these apply to just about any business so feel free to “plug and play” and use them where applicable.

  • Make eye contact when you greet a customer. There is zero cost in greeting a customer even if it is just in passing.  When you’re in retail stores and restaurants, how important do you feel as a customer if the staff is too busy swiping on their phone to greet or acknowledge you?


  • Phone Communication: If your interactions are over the phone, smile when you talk – it comes through in your voice on the other end.   Have patience in conversation, don’t speak too fast or interrupt.  Focus on listening so you aren’t cutting your customer off in conversation.


  • Email or Texting: Be careful that you aren’t too direct, especially if you don’t know the person that well, words can be misunderstood or taken out of context.    It is very easy to misunderstand tone and intent when reading text.  If you are concerned that a customer or client is confused by the content; considering calling instead.  DID YOU MEAN TO TYPE IN ALL CAPS!?


  • Open Doors: You don’t necessary need to have someone standing at every door, but if a customer is approaching a door and it’s convenient for the employee; hold the door or open it….and greet them in the process.   This takes all of about 5 seconds and makes a big impression.


  • Offer Assistance: Can I help you carry that?  Do you need directions?  Let me get that for you?  Hold the elevator.   Do you have any questions?    Part of this one is being engaged with your customers, often you know what question to ask by their actions.


  • Do What You Say: If you make a commitment to a customer, honor the commitment.  It is always better to under promise and over deliver.   In business this is one where it is easy for the heart to over promise what the mind & body is able to accomplish.   If you find yourself in a situation where you over-promised, communicate status updates as promptly as you can.


  • Smile: It’s a universal language.  Anyone can use it and everyone understands it and you can give them out all day for free!   The amazing thing is that it’s scientifically proven that you feel better and are healthier when you smile.  Give them away all day!


“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do”    – Mother Teresa


In all fairness, I’ll never know exactly what the desk clerk was trying to convey when he made his statement about the free water; I do know how it was interpreted.   I am also hopeful he is aware of a few of the suggestions listed above.

The bottom line is regardless of your business, make Customer Service a priority.   Yes, there will be times when providing great customer service will cost your company money to correct an error, to right a wrong.  That is part of business.  But, great customer service doesn’t start with “things” it starts with your “people”.  Coach them up, be clear on expectations, and most importantly lead by example.  Smiles are Free! 🙂   

As always we value any thoughts in the space below – we’d love to hear from  you.

Chris Steinlage    Kansas City Business Coach