Don’t Blame the Happiness

IMAGE: A shout out to the Happiness King, Mr. Shawn Achor

“Your employees are too happy.”

I recently spoke with a bank manager whose location had received feedback to that effect. The comment obviously caught his attention because it seemed to contradict everything he knew about customer service. Really, what do you do with that feedback?

First off, resist the urge to throw your hands up and call it quits because “there’s just no pleasing people!” Usually it’s the feedback that we don’t expect or even want that teaches us the most—and I definitely think there are a couple of great lessons to be learned from this.

LESSON 1 Every customer has their own story, their own expectations, and their own needs. And all of it is subject to change on a dime. Depending on what’s going on in your customers’ lives, they may not want to chat with an overly cheerful bank teller; they may want to make a quick transaction and leave.

The real challenge of the customer experience isn’t simply being able to appear perky and enthusiastic all the time—it’s being able to understand each customer on a personal level, and letting them dictate the mood.

LESSON 2 I hope you noticed that I never used the word “happy” in the first lesson. I did that because I honestly don’t believe that employees (or anyone for that matter) can be “too happy.” Happiness is an inward emotion that different people express in many different ways. True, it is understandably associated with a smile, cheerfulness, and even sometimes talkativeness—but those aren’t the only ways happiness manifests itself.

I find it unlikely that the customer who gave the above feedback would actually prefer employees to be unhappy. On the other hand, it is understandable for the customer—based on their personality and story for that day—to want an employee to be less chatty, grinning, and inquisitive.

Our inward emotions strongly affect our behavior and expressions, but just because we’re feeling really excited and happy about something doesn’t mean we should be indiscriminately hugging every customer who walks through our doors. Yes, by all means, we should be having those emotions, but we should be channeling them in a way that delivers the experience our customers want.

MY ADVICE Continue to encourage your employees to be happy. Teach them to be kind. Teach them to be understanding and caring. But also teach them to tailor their outward actions, and even their mood, to the individual customer.

Employee happiness is never a negative thing.