(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)
How nice should you be to your customers? The answer, according to two recent university studies, is a little conflicting.
If you’re too nice, you may find yourself excessively drinking. That’s the conclusion of one study conducted by researchers at Penn State University and the University of Buffalo. The researchers combined phone interviews with other data from the National Institutes of Health to survey more than 4,500 workers across the country and zeroed in on employees working in service industries such as food, healthcare and education.
The study found that when workers there regularly faked or amplified positive emotions such as smiling while at the same time suppressing negative emotions like rolling one’s eyes, those employees tended to be heavier drinkers after work.
Why? No one really knows for sure. But the lead theory is that when people are forced to control their negative feelings at work, they need to have some sort of outlet afterwards. “Smiling as part of your job sounds like a really positive thing, but doing it all day can be draining,” Alicia Grandey, professor of psychology at Penn State, said in a statement. “In these jobs, there’s also often money tied to showing positive emotions and holding back negative feelings. Money gives you a motivation to override your natural tendencies, but doing it all day can be wearing.”
Does this mean the next time our employees are getting an earful from an abrasive customer we allow them to let down their guard and give it right back? Well, not so fast.
That’s because another recent study, which was conducted by a researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of South Carolina, found that small businesses are held to a higher level of customer service standards than big companies and that we suffer more consequences from not being nice. Why? It’s because our customers expect a warmer relationship with a smaller company as opposed to a faceless corporation.
“We often romanticize small businesses,” says co-author Pankaj Aggarwal, a marketing professor at the University of Toronto. “We are drawn to them because they are unique, offer locally made items or create an authentic experience. But because they lack relative power in the marketplace, they have to be nicer to their suppliers, their vendors and most importantly, their customers.”
Let’s summarize: if our employees are too nice they may tend to drink heavily, and that’s not a good thing long-term. But if they’re not nice enough our companies could suffer bigger consequences than our larger competitors. So what’s the answer? How about just being … professional.
I would never ask an employee to be sugary sweet to an upset customer. It not only seems disingenuous, but doing so clearly has an emotional impact on the employee. On the other hand, I would never tolerate an employee treating a customer with anything less than professional courtesy. Be firm. Be polite. Be yourself. Just be of service so that the customer gets what they want and we get what we want: a returning customer.