A Smile is Free! – by Sarah Barnett

A swim instructor is in the pool with a little girl. The little girl is floating on her back as she opens her legs to propel her.

A swim instructor is in the pool with a little girl. The little girl is floating on her back as she opens her legs to propel her.Manassas Park Parks and Recreation Operations Manager Sarah BarnettSomething as simple as a smile can change your whole perspective on things! Imagine walking into a store and finding all of the employees who work there looking miserable and unpleasant. As you go through the checkout, the cashier does not smile and does little to interact with you. It would probably give you the impression that you were not welcomed in the store, or worse – that the employees do not care about you at all. Something as easy as a smile or a wave can go a long way in making customers feel welcome.

Imagine that you are checking out in the express lane that says for 15 items or less. However, you have 17 items. An employee walks over to you and says, “You cannot use this lane, go to the next lane!”  They do not greet you, say excuse me, or explain why; they just dictate which lane you can use. I am sure that most customers in this scenario would be pretty frustrated by that demand. Most people, if given the option, would choose not to ever shop at that store again, while others may choose to argue back. Either way, the customers will not feel good about shopping at the store.

Now picture going to the same store, but being greeted as you walked in. Every employee that you came across is smiling and saying hello. As you go to check out, you take your 17 items into the 15 item or less express lane. An employee approaches you and says, “I am really sorry, but this lane is for under 15 items only. Let me help you at this other lane!”  With an interaction like that, I don’t think many customers would find a reason to argue with the employee. They would probably also leave the store feeling good about their shopping trip. They will leave feeling valued and cared about.

The smile and greeting costs the store nothing, but it will help them retain customers. As customers receive the smile and greeting, they may become more happy shoppers who won’t try to argue with the employees or cause issues. The customers’ smiles then in turn make the employees happier and their work environment much more pleasant. The smile and greeting become a win-win for all parties involved!

I know I have mentioned in several of my blogs that I am an avid runner. You can often find me spending my lunch hour pounding out some miles in the Wellness Center treadmills in preparation for whatever my next race is. During my last marathon training cycle this past spring, I consulted with a chiropractor, who is also a running expert, on how I could improve my running efficiency and become faster.  I was contemplating spending almost $300 on fancy racing shoes that were guaranteed to increase my running efficiency by 4%. I asked my chiropractor his thoughts on the shoes. He informed me that research has shown that smiling while running improves your running efficiency by 4%. He told me to save my money and focus on smiling while running, which is hard to do when you are running 26.2 miles, but it’s worth it!

Have you ever smiled at a baby and received a smile back? Smiling is an innate response to being happy. When a baby sees a smile, they often smile back. While showing up to work may not make everyone smile, it could help improve your work environment and customer satisfaction. With everyone smiling at each other and giving friendly greetings, who wouldn’t feel happy?

I thought about how I could apply this lesson to our operation at the waterpark. Most of the employees there are young and this is the first job for a number of them. They may be shy and uncomfortable interacting with customers, because they don’t know how yet.

I told my employees about my desire for the Waterpark to be the Disney World of Manassas Park. I encouraged (or mandated, however you want to look at it) everyone in the division to make it a priority this summer, to smile and greet as many customers as possible. I reminded them how important a FREE smile will make their job easier. If they greet every customer at the waterpark with a smile, not only will our customers be met with more pleasant staff, but staff will be met with more pleasant customers!

This season we have had very few customer complaints and a drastic increase in customers reaching out to give positive feedback! To say that something as simple as a smile has changed our whole season would be an understatement. Even feedback from our employees at the waterpark has been positive. It was hard for them to remember to smile at first, but it quickly became second nature!

Imagine the impact that a smile could have on your daily life. Stop by Signal Bay Waterpark to see if you notice a happier environment. Try to focus on smiling as much as possible while you are there and see if it naturally continues after you leave the waterpark!

Sarah Barnett is the Operations/Aquatics Supervisor for the City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation. She can be reached at 703.335.8872 x1482 or via email at s.barnett@manassasparkva.gov.

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