A study of consumer perception of smiling customer service within the airline industry
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Smiling customer service has been the gold standard for American businesses since the early 1900s when “service with a smile” became a popular slogan for many businesses. Today, cutbacks, add-on fees, and airlines’ struggle to survive have placed unprecedented stresses on airline employees who deal with the public. Since 9/11 the airline industry and its shortcomings have been in the spotlight. Travelers often arrive hostile at boarding gates, feeling taken advantage of despite low fares. A smile seems a fragile defense against an angry public, yet a smile has power. This paper proposes that smiling while serving customers is a visible manifestation of the core values of respect, compassion, and hospitality, the foundations of excellent customer service. Patience and courtesy show themselves in the outward behavior of smiling while helping customers, and customers usually react well when attended by frontline staff whose smiles demonstrate they are putting the customer first. Smiling customer service works as airline employees show understanding, patience, attention to details, excellent listening skills, a willing spirit, resourcefulness, etc. In other words, service providers or frontline staff are willing to go above and beyond their job description to ensure total customer satisfaction. This research paper presents the results of an empirical study of customer reactions to smiling customer service. For purposes of the study, the smiles involved were considered both literally and figuratively. The aim was to discover the results when service providers or frontline staff actually did “smile” when handling or resolving explosive customer service issues.