“SMILE – YOU ARE IN SHARJAH” stated a signboard that was installed in Sharjah’s Al Arouba Street, the main street, by the late His Highness Sheikh Khalid Bin Mohammed Al Qassimi, the Ruler of Sharjah back in 1971. His wish was to see a smile on everyone’s face who lived in or came to Sharjah. This positioned Sharjah in the whole region as the smiling city. Later, when His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi took over in 1973, he supported the idea by laying down a bed of roses, with‘Smile, You are in Sharjah’ engraved on it.
Thank you Your Highness for positioning Sharjah as the city of smiles. I strongly believe that smiling is the most peaceful yet powerful language on Earth that does not need any medium of translation to be conveyed. Max Eastman said it right, “A smile is the universal welcome.”
LET US ALL SMILE
A smile is a curve that sets everything straight! It’s a free therapy that gives an instant facelift, so let us all smile. Little do we know about the power of a smile. It can make someone’s day, it can turn around someone’s life and it can soften the hardest of hearts. In a working environment the smile is of vital importance and SEWA understands this. It enlivens everyone and sets the pace of a good day’s work leading to productivity and efficiency. We could ignore the importance of such a seemingly trivial thing, but it is backed by scientific research. Who doesn’t want a boss who smiles with his employees?
A leader’s most important asset is a smiling face even in a time of difficulties. At SEWA we bring a smile to each other’s faces because we work towards fostering the culture of togetherness and coherence. With a smile on our face and a vision to be among the best authentic organizations in the world. We are a smiling winning team.
You might ask, why have I put the smile as the first principle out of my fifteen? The apt answer is that it was one of the toughest challenges. My organization was facing frustrated and unhappy customers. The customer satisfaction survey carried out at SEWA revealed a very low satisfaction index compared to the industry trends.
So, I started with the ‘smile’ for two main reasons. First, to restore the vision of His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan that whosoever comes or lives in Sharjah should be happy and, second, to build a customer-oriented organization where the customer’s voice is heard loud and clear.
In one of my early speeches I was quoted saying, “We are a customer-driven organization, for us the customer comes first and whatever we do should satisfy the customers, whether residential, commercial or industrial. Period."
THE SMILE ENIGMA
The other day, I was reading a New York Times article which was actually a Sunday book review of the famous book Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (an influential psychology professor at Harvard University). It really fascinates me to see how the subject of happiness has emerged today as an inter-disciplinary field that has attracted psychologists, economists, and other empirically minded researchers.
Out of all the basic human expressions, the smile is perhaps one of the most widely studied. A recent research has shown that a smile is actually a potential predictor of both a person’s current emotional experience and a host of downstream life outcomes.
WHAT RESEARCHERS DISCOVERED ABOUT HAPPINESS
An important aspect revealed about the hidden potential of our smile is that people with the most intense smiles have an elevated subjective wellbeing compared to those with less intense smiles. Whoa! So if you want to live a longer, healthier life, the secret code is right under your nose!
This makes me happy, as these kinds of studies give us the ray of hope that happiness (how ever elusive it may be!) is the most sought after aspiration. The world is moving towards happiness and, for me, the journey begins with a smile.
A big signboard with a smiley on it welcomes people right at the SEWA head office’s entrance. I had it installed with the intention of strengthening His Highness’s vision of spreading smiles and happiness. It is my effort to enliven the customer’s, as well as employee’s face with a smile when they enter or leave SEWA.
You can’t imagine the positive feedback I received from both employees and the community. I received many posts with the smiley sign in social media (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook) with complimentary comments. That put a bigger smile on my face.
There are motivational and encouraging quotes hung along the office corridors to bring a smile to people’s faces and uplift their morale. Furthermore, we also have smiling portraits of real employees that showcase their achievements and triumphs in and around their office cubicles. I believe light-heartedness is the key to achieving any goal and winning hearts. I am sure that if we win people’s hearts then success will come to us eventually.
THE POWER OF THE SMILE WINS
As they say, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” Here’s an interesting anecdote. One day I was leaving the office on my way to the Government House for an important meeting when I saw an angry and frustrated customer who was complaining about his monthly electricity bill at the reception desk. I approached the customer with a big smile and requested him kindly to sit down in our waiting lounge, which calmed him down. We talked about different subjects and the gentleman eventually felt better and started to smile.
Relieved to see him smile, I asked his permission to leave for my meeting. The gentleman stood up, shook hands with me and couldn’t believe his ears that I was the chairman of SEWA – yet I had refused to leave without solving his problem and restoring his smile!
Such is the power of a smile. The angry and upset customer ended up smiling and thanking me for making his day! What a wonderful, beautiful and marvellous tool.
HIGH-TOUCH CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
High-touch customer service is a type of interaction with your customers that requires human intervention. Organizations/companies need to optimize this situation and it should be considered as a golden opportunity to tie-in your customers. Simply put, “complaint is an expression of dissatisfaction.” I see the flip side of it, to me Customer Complaints are opportunities to:
✑ Evaluate how well you are doing
✑Identify weak points in your systems and processes and put them right
✑ See situations from the customer’s point of view
✑ Improve customer satisfaction
✑ Create long-term loyalty
This is where our smile journey begins. Where it ends – well, it will never really end. Our new focus on customer experience has no final destination; rather it represents a relentless effort to make tomorrow’s experience even better than today’s.
CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE EXCELLENCE
Customer satisfaction is one of our key success factors and I have made it a priority for the whole organization, and not just a department. I want to ensure that everyone at SEWA gives their best to spread a smile in people’s lives. Naturally, I celebrate great service by sharing exceptional stories with the entire organization. A smile brings kindness and as Henry James rightly said: “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”
This reminds me of an interesting book in my library that keeps motivating me to offer superior service to customers. It’s titled The Experience and is written by Bruce Loeffler and Brian T. Church. The book delves deep into the 5 Principles of Disney Service and Relationship Excellence.
The Experience talks about ‘I. C.A.R.E’ Principles, and the Experience Quotient offers a path and the advice to help you do exactly that:
I. IMPRESSION: The first and lasting imprint on people’s minds; this is the catalyst to build a great relationship.
C. CONNECTION: The pivotal point between contact and relationship. Striking the right chord to convert clients and customers from consumers to ambassadors (those on a mission to tell the world specifically about you). All this rests upon the ability to create a deep intellectual, emotional and personal connection.
A. ATTITUDE:Attitude is the lens through which you see the world. It’s the outlet of the outer expression of your inner feeling. It’s the manifesto of everything you think, say and eventually do.
R. RESPONSE: The hallmark of customer service and an exceptional experience is the response. The motto of service is to respond and not react. The crux lies in the response time, tone, and talent.
E. EXCEPTIONALS: The management team and employees must be prepared, empowered and endowed to have the Exceptional experience living and breathing within them.
GIVE SOMETHING MORE
The essence of successful customer-centric thinking is to evolve a customer’s needs and associated behavior. This means offering products and solutions that not only meet their expectations and fulfil their needs, but also create new ones, anticipating their behavior. This is the point where “blue ocean strategies” meet “customer-centricity”.
Here are some classic examples: Organizations like Ritz-Carlton implement this by striving to achieve excellence in each and every point of contact with their customers. On the other hand, BMW practices excellence in customer-centricity by creating experiences for its key customer groups (for example, VIP parking at major events, factory tours in Germany, BMW magazine subscriptions, exclusive digital access to BMW lifestyle content etc.). Mercedes Benz’s customer strategy ‘driven to delight’ by examining and refining every touchpoint is another great example.
SMILING CUSTOMERS, STEADY GROWTH
Modern organizations need to understand the importance of a smile that leads to kind and empathetic interaction with the customer. It doesn’t cost a thing! Lending a patient ear to a customer is the best one can do for his/her organization and the benefits are long-term. There are instances wherein your most angry customer becomes the most loyal customer. Just listen and cooperate! Kindness could also be a stunning profit enhancement tool. So just go those extra ten miles to bring that staggering smile! Will you?
As mentioned earlier in this chapter, the slogan Smile, you are in Sharjah was initiated by the Ruler of Sharjah almost more than three decades ago and it is still relevant today. How outstandingly it has survived the test of time! As Thich Nhat Hanh so beautifully said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
In fact, the latest research has revealed that a smile can directly affect your body and brain! Ronald E Riggio, in one of his blogs, mentions that we are actually better looking when we smile. We are attractive. People treat us differently when we smile. We appear to them as reliable and relaxed. In his words, “each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your brain.” So, wear that wide smile right away.
We at SEWA will never give up on our pledge to delight all our customers and give them THE BEST experience.To create an effective and consistent way to capture customer feedback with the right customer listening tool, I created two things:
1. My voice (anyone, sitting at any corner of the world can lodge his/her complaints, grievances or innovative suggestions by accessing our website www.sewa.gov.ae The concerns are directed to my desk).
2. Toll free number-800 SEWA (around-the-clock service for all our customers).
I would like to leave this principle with a great quote that I love, “Successful people always carry two things on their face. Smile & silence. Smile is the way to solve many problems, and silence is the way to avoid many problems.”
So, smile and enjoy reading the second principle.