Service With a Smile: The Function of Mirror Neurons

Service with a smile is one of the most famous mantras in customer service, possibly only second to “the customer is always right“. The requirement for service providers to smile is a practical wisdom that is intuitively true.

Sceintists have confirmed this practical wisdom and they have linked genuine smiles to increased customer satisfaction and repurchase intentions.1

Responding positively to smiles is part of our mind’s software. When we see somebody provides service with a smile, your mirror neurones are activated. These neurons form part of the same pathway as the neurons that we use when we smile. In other words, seeing somebody smile activates the same parts of the brain we use when we smile ourselves. These neurons are the scientific explanation of why smiles are so contagious and why being around happy people makes us feel happy as well.

Many managers are aware that smiling staff increases their chances of achieving business objectives. However, some managers do not fully understand the theory and try to coerce their employees to smile. They post written reminders on kitchen walls to remind their employees to provide service with a smile.

These managers know that they work in a theatre and segregate the ‘front stage’ from the ‘backstage’ employees, who are are actors in play. Forcing people to smile is not very effective and can create a lot of emotional labour. There is, however, an effortless and cost-effective way to make sure your staff treat their customers very well.

The most effective and cheapest way to make your staff smile is by smiling at them and provide a fun workplace where people feel free to joke with each other.2 Why not use the same principle of psychology you want to use on staff on your employee. Smile at you staff will make the smile. No need for expensive customer service seminars and propaganda, just being nice to your staff is the best investment a manager can make. Only genuine smiles will provide a genuine service with a smile.


  1. Sandra Gountas, Michael T. Ewing, John I. Gountas (2007), Testing airline passengers’ responses to flight attendants’ expressive displays: The effects of positive affect. Journal of Business Research (60) 81–83.
  2. Managers with a “STAR” in their personality inventory will find it easier to behave this way.

3 Replies to “Service With a Smile: The Function of Mirror Neurons”

  1. Great post Peter! I know a number of managers who’ve tried (for good reasons) to ‘coerce their staff to smile’ – I’ve never seen it work yet! Here’s my twopenneth on how to make your staff smile ‘Four Ways to Delight Your Employees’

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