Service with a smile….sure, but what lies behind the smile!


It's a pleasure to serve you Sir...please come and vist us again...X*@@TWXZY !!!

It’s a pleasure to serve you Sir…please come and visit us again…X*@@TWXZY !!!

“What’s up with you, go on, give us a smile”

That was a good humoured comment made to me recently by a regular customer, and yes, it made me smile. As I looked at her, standing on the other side of the counter, I thought of all the years that I’ve been in the customer  service sector, (39 yrs +)and how, all to often, whilst under severe pressure of time and workload, it has been so hard to raise a smile

Puzzled by such an intro, well, look at the image on the left of this post?

Do you recognise him or her?

I’ll bet you do, for he is the guy, or lass of course, standing at your front door with a pizza, standing behind the bar at your local waterhole, waiting for you at the checkout, or forlornly waiting for you at your local petrol or gas station.

He or she is the one who has been told to smile, and smile, and smile

Yet what lies behind the smile, what is going through his or her mind as you stand before them, and if they were given the opportunity to be absolutely honest with you; what might such an individual say?

This post, in fact this whole category of service  with a smile, is all about such an individual as he or she stands in front of you, as it will be an insight into what really goes on within a servers mind and what really goes on behind the scenes.

Back to this post though, what lies behind the smile?



For some within the service industries there is nothing but happiness, and the satisfaction of a job well done and the knowledge that the management team is both fully supportive and highly proactive throughout the working day.

I would love to meet them, I would love to greet them, but all to often, in our market driven and rationalised economy, they are very hard to find

For other workers however there is less reason to smile.

So what, I ask some readers of this post commenting. The individual concerned, and for a point or reference I will now call him “He”, signed a contract of employment. He knew what he was letting himself in for, and all about the negatives of working for the service industries, so what has he got to complain about. The customer is always right, that’s the golden rule of the service sector, so there is no excuse for dropping such a smile

All of this is true, but there are one or two complications, and these can be summarised as below

  1. The customer is not always right
  2. On entering such employment you are to often told of career opportunities within the company, none of which turn out to be true.
  3. Even if such opportunities do open up before you, the road to using then is long, rocky, and hard, and finally
  4. regardless of contractual obligations, you are still a human being, and at times it is very hard to smile

Not too sure what I mean, well read on and it will soon become clear.

The Customer is not always right

Like many in my shoes I was brought up to believe that the customer was always right, and upon entering the service industry sector at the age of 16, I can say that, overall, they were right, and it was correct for us to give them the respect that they deserved. You called them “Sir” and “Madam”, they respected your attentive service, and a reasoably good time, or at least an aceptably good time, was had by all

These days things are a little different, and it is very hard to maintain such standards of service, when so much else has gone by the board.

I never recall being someones “mate”, “Matey” or Buddy,  when I was younger. Up until recently I never had to warn staff against aggressive or abusive customers, and in the past I never had to reassure staff, female staff especially, that they were at work to work, and not to be chatted up by some unwelcome sleaze ball. Finally, when you, as the customer, ask as a stupid or a nonsensical question, please be aware that it is very hard for us to smile.

Employment opportunities

Look at the following, top grade management training spiel from a top drawer company. It looks good, now doesn’t it, but what lies behind the gloss and glitter, the bumff and the bovine excreta, and how likely is it that a new trainee manager can really succeed

The Programme

Our fast-track programme can launch retail management careers in less than 12 months.

Join the programme and you will receive immediate responsibility, combined with excellent on and off the job training whilst you are gaining invaluable, hands-on experience.

We’ll expect a lot from you throughout the programme, so you’ll need to be hardworking, passionate about retail and committed to delivering the very best for our customers. However, you’ll receive full support from the senior managers in your store to help you realise your potential.

Programme Structure

Upon joining the programme, you will attend a two day Corporate Induction will all of the Management Trainees from across the …….. On your first day in your new store you will commence your three week Store Induction, which will help you understand how our stores work. As part of your Induction, we will also expect you to spend a week working nights, so you can fully understand the 24-hour retail operation.

Following your Store Induction, you will start your Line Manager development. You will receive both on and off the job training, as you develop the technical and leadership skills required for the role. Once you have successfully completed all of your training, you will commence your Line Manager placement. During which, you will hold the full accountability of a manager, including managing a team of people.

Prove yourself during your placement and you could be attending your sign off meeting by March, ready to be appointed into a permanent Line Manager position. Where you will then be responsible for managing your own department.


Throughout the programme you will have a strong team around you to support you at all times. However, the programme has to be driven by you. We will expect you to proactively seek feedback, complete your development folder and plan your time effectively.

To support you throughout the programme, you will attend weekly informal reviews with your Line Manager and formal four-weekly reviews with your Store Manager to monitor your progress. Your Line Manager will also support and guide you through the programme as your mentor.

Where is this from, anywhere will do; and where is such a company located; everywhere, but to be balanced about such things, some applicants can and do succeed in their ambitious climb two glory. Yet for many others, too many others, what you see above falls on their ears like cherry blossom in the Spring.

It sounds great, it looks great, and it hold a promise of long rich warm summers to come, but then comes the wind and the rain.

The antisocial hours, the worn out support teams,  and the everyman or woman for him or herself. The anger, the despair, the endless reams of paperwork, and the look of indifference from the demoitivated, disillusioned, and embittered store “team” in front of you.

None of this is included, but sucked dry, overworked, and tossed aside so as to be replaced by the next kid on the block, this wonderful reality all to often lies before you, and by the time you realise it, there is often little that you can do.

The Long Hard Rocky Road

If you do get onto the management treadmill, or even if you are a humble grunt or gofer, there are several attributes you will need to embrace or deploy

  1. Your life will no longer be your own
  2. You will have to sacrifice the needs of yourself and your family
  3. You will work antisocial hours and, if you are unlucky, every festive holiday
  4. You will have to become  a practised liar
  5. You will need to accept having a heavily bitten tongue, and an inexhaustible supply of patience; and
  6. You will need to be more flexible than the great Houdini

All this, and so much more is true. This is life in the service sector, this is the reality of working the tills, tables, and other services. By signing a contract of employment, we have chosen this career path, and therefore we must face the consequences, but believe me when I say it isn’t always fun

It’s hard to always smile

So putting all such facts together you may well understand why I say it is often very hard to smile. It’s not that we want to be as sour and as sharp as an unripe sloe berry, it’s just that, at times, it’s hard to raise and maintain a smile. In essence, to paraphrase  Alfred Doolittle in Pygmalion or My fair Lady

 we’re willing to serve you. We’re wanting to serve you. We’re waiting to serve you.

But, at times, we also need to drop that cursed smile

Even so there is humour to be had under such circumstances and I leave you with a  classic Monty Python video, and an anecdote, both of which I hope you will enjoy

The Video speaks for itself, as there is so much to enjoy within such a short sequence, but see what you make of the anecdote below

A man and his 7 yr old daughter came in shopping recently, and he picked up a large tear and share brioche. His daughter looked at him and frowned, then came the following immortal words

“Daddy, you can’t have that. Mummy has that, and that’s why she’s got such big fat thighs!

Her voice was true and clear, and fairly high in decibels, and watching that poor hot sweaty man spinning round like some whiling dervish, I must admit I laughed and smiled

So have fun folks, but as you shop, please bear with us poor servers. We are on your side, as we are also customers, but, at times, it’s oh so hard to smile!


Categories: Service with a smile

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Hi Chris, here’s a little anecdote about the customer not only NOT being right, but being chased out. I work in a Museum – the only forestry museum in South Africa – and as such have a lot of visitors, both local and international. One day an Australian visitor, with his mates came into the Museum. When I told them – perhaps not with a smile on my dial – what the entrance fee was, he said that he wouldn’t pay, and proceeded to walk towards the display. Now I am known for a very short fuse, so I called him back and told him that either he pays, or he leaves. Matey grew obnoxious, and then I pointed out to him that there is a notice proclaiming that we have the right to refuse admission, and that I was thus exercising that right. He still didn’t want to listen, so I did what any normal person would do, I pressed our panic button and minutes later, Matey was hustled out of the Museum by two burly security guards who were all but gentle with him. Bottom line; the customer isn’t always right.


    • Well done you, if only we could do that with some of our customers. Mercifully most of our duds tend to be just plain thick rather than obnoxious, but it would still be good typo bew able to speak our minds. This post is but the first of many within this catagory, so watch out for more classics to come. Including, by the way one imortal question of

      “What’s a half chiken?”


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