Japan's Smile Scanners A Classic Misuse Of Technology

from the smile-for-the-scanner dept

As pointed out on the Freakonomics Blog:
Japan's Keihin Express Railway Co. has set up "smile scanners" at 15 of its stations, where railway employees have their smiles assessed by software in the hopes of perfecting a customer-friendly look.
This is such a classic misuse of technology by a corporation. The goal of the company is to provide more positive and friendly customer service but its technique of using a "smile scanner" is going to have the opposite effect. Nobody likes to be forced into happiness, and the employees will end up resenting the scanners, their bosses for making them use the scanners and the customers for expecting them to smile.

Instead, a smart company would try to figure out how to make its employees genuinely happy so that they smile because they want to smile. This would create endless positive outcomes for the company, the employees and the customers.

Sometimes technology can look like it provides a quick fix when, in fact, it is just an illusion.

Cross-posted from MyMediaMusings.com
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Filed Under: employees, japan, motivation, smile
Companies: keihin express railway


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  1. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 30 Jul 2009 @ 11:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    AC. I agree with your argument, but disagree that "it's something that most westerners would never get".

    Really, just a one-day trip to Japan would show how differently they view customer service. You as much as say that with your MacuDonaldoru example. I agree.

    Scarr, here are some examples of how different things are:

    - The taxi drivers wear white gloves. They are very polite. (does that sound familiar). And there is a tradition of opening the door for passengers, limo style. But that tradition has been modernized, so they have installed remote-arms to control the passenger door, and the driver can open your door for you like a school bus driver does it in the US.

    - walk into any retail store, you will immediately by set upon by about 8 young ladies yelling "konichiwa" across the floor. You will have one approach you and ask if you need help, then ghost you around the store. When you leave, not having bought a thing, as you are about to pass the door, 8 young ladies will yell out "arigato" or such, smiling big all the time, and seeming very pleased that you graced their store with your presence. BTW, I'm not talking some high-end jewelery store - this could be any store, like a postcard and trinket shop. Every store, every time.

    The culture of service is different (and I think better there). I the US and the UK, the "all men are created equal" notion pervades the service sector. You, and the guy behind the counter at Wimpy's are equals, he just happens to be working and you just happen to want a burger. But in Japan, so long as he is working and you are a customer, you are the king and he is your humble servant. When he takes off his Wimpy's outfit, and you're both on the train to go home, only THEN are you equals.

    Sounds like class warfare to Americans but it is the SERVICE industry, no? Why not make an effort to live up to that promise.

    Like I said, one trip to Japan, and you would understand.

    BTW, I worked for Disney (as an wireles exec) and marveled at the rules for appearance put on the cast members. There were rules for facial hair, make-up, etc. I wasn't too keen on those, but there was also a rule about smiling. And I'll tell you what, it worked very well. It's a theme park, it's the service industry, it's marketed as the "happiest place on earth". The smiles were contagious. The guests felt a positive energy. There are dozens of reasons why you want your paid staff to smile or fake a smile. It delivers a measurably better experience to the customer.

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