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
    BobKerns (profile), 31 Jul 2009 @ 7:52pm

    You can't optimize what you don't measure

    While anyone who has spent time working in Japan will see that it is different, and viewed differently than by workers in the US, I'd like to make a different point.

    You can't optimize what you can't measure. And the Japanese are very big on optimizing processes for quality. They took Denning's views seriously, while Detroit did not, and transformed themselves to the top of the heap in terms of industrial quality, and they're quite justly proud of that accomplishment.

    In order to do this, one thing that is required is to MEASURE the quality -- and everything that goes into that quality.

    So, if the COMPANY wants to know how they're doing, and to optimize it, if they have an object measure, that's good. If they're making their employees miserable, and it's affecting their happy appearance, that should show up, and they'd know they were going in the wrong direction!

    And likewise, the employees want to make the company successful and to visibly play a role in that success. So, to the extent it's a tool used to help everyone do a better job, it's a good thing.

    Of course, it could be used badly. But there's a deeper potential problem -- measuring the wrong thing. If they device measures the facial expression in a certain way, that's what they'll optimize -- making the software happy.

    That may not translate into making customers happy! A common pitfall is to measure the WRONG THING! That can be tricky.

    I don't know how this will work out. Probably the novelty of the idea will produce some good results at first, and any problems will only come to light later.

    But I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that it will produce unhappy workers. Done right, both in terms of the work environment, and what the software measures -- and in an environment that encourages feedback from workers about what works and doesn't -- it stands a chance of working out well for all concerned.

    But I hope they do some followup validation of the concept.

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