Customer Disservice

What’s Your Face Saying?

It was a typical Monday morning beehive of activities at the airport. My flight was on time, and because of frequent flier privileges, I was able to board early with an upgrade to the premium cabin. As I boarded, I was expecting the usual smiling and welcoming face of one of the flight attendants at the door. But it was different this time.


Waiting for me at the door was a tall, stern-looking flight attendant. I’ll call him Joe. At best, his “welcome aboard” was delivered with a frown. In reality, it was scary; delivered with scorn. It was a complete departure from what I was used to. So much so that I had to do a double-take. I quickly walked past him to my seat lest I get a slap just for boarding! Yes, I’m exaggerating a little here. But his expression definitely made me not want to slow down around him as I walked by.

For many people with customer-facing job responsibilities, it could be tough to present and maintain a cheerful attitude at all times. It may even be more difficult for those whose roles demand that they keep a smile on their faces most of the time. But when you’re the customer on the other side of that face, you usually don’t take the time to think of the reasons why the person doesn’t seem to be cheerful. After all, you have a lot on your mind too. Your first thought could be, “what’s wrong with him?” But the reasons for the expression  on his face could be as myriad as the number of seats on a jumbo jetliner.

Joe could be having a bad morning. It could be a carry-over from something that happened to him over the weekend. It could have stemmed from an unpleasant discussion he just had with one of the pilots or another flight attendant. Maybe he’s just worried about how he’s going to pay the huge credit card bill he just received in the mail. Or the IRS is after him for a backlog of unpaid taxes!

On second thought, it could also be that that is what his face normally looks like. That may be his resting face. I’ve heard “resting face” defined as the expression on your face when your thoughts are neutral; when they’re neither sad nor happy.

Now, I’m not one to comment on another person’s resting face. I’ve been told a few times that my resting face is a frowny one. As a result, I’ve tried over the last few years to smile when I’m meeting new people. Yes, sometimes I forget and I get pre-occupied with my own thoughts. But I’m trying to get better at it. The fact remains that a smile usually brightens someone’s outlook and communicates that you’re welcoming and approachable.

As a leader, I know I have to maintain a positive and cheerful attitude for my teams, despite my frowny resting face. Just as Joe’s facial expression made me not want to engage him in any way, no team is motivated or engaged when the leader appears unfriendly, even if he’s bubbling inside. I’m almost certain that what Joe’s face reflected, is probably not what he meant to communicate to me. Or maybe it was! I watched him throughout the hour-long flight, and he had the same stern expression all the time.

So, what’s your resting face like? What does it communicate?

If it’s a frowny one like mine, what will you do about it?