Great Customer Service Depends on Smiles and Systems

My formula for a great customer experience is three words long: systems and smiles. This framework has served me well as a company builder and in my work as a consultant and keynote speaker on the customer service experience.

I offer it in gentle contrast to the great car dealer and customer service philosopher Carl Sewell, who proposed ‘‘Systems, Not Smiles’’ in his classic, Customers for Life. Sewell explained his point as follows: If the food in a restaurant is lousy, no matter how much the staff smiles and apologizes for it, you’ll likely not eat there again.

Of course, Carl’s kind of right. But the flipside is that without those smiles, nobody wants the service experience in the first place.

As restaurateur Danny Meyer puts it, the two things people want from the hospitality experience are a sense of acknowledgment and, on returning, a sense of being remembered.

Both of which, I would say, are best delivered with a smile.

The Movers from Hell (or thereabouts)

Although my systems plus smiles formula is simple, it’s not easy. And not too many companies are good at both.

To wit: A few years back, my family was planning to move just a few miles and a local moving company was recommended to us. The movers’ smiles were as broad as the day is long—I assume that’s why the company got those recommendations.

Somehow in the sea of smiles, I missed a fact about its operating procedure: Our dozens of boxes had approximate names scrawled on them like ‘‘girl’s bedroom,’’ ‘‘his office,’’ etc. But there was no numbering system, no real tagging system. In other words: no way to prove if every box had made the move. Or hadn’t.

This situation seemed all right (the smiles fooled us, in other words), until we found ourselves missing something, a small work of art we’d bought years ago, precious to us for nostalgic reasons.

Could the sweet little local moving company help us? Uh, no. There was no way to trace where, or when, or even if a box had gone missing. There were no smiles anywhere once this reality sunk in.


Systems and smiles—the two will take you a long way. More than twice as far as one or the other.

Micah Solomon is a customer experience consultant, customer service speaker, trainer, and bestselling author.