Office Space waiter scene Office Space waiter scene That's 37 pieces of flair, exactly. (Photo: YouTube screenshot)

How nice is too nice when it comes to customer service?

A new study examines what happens when 'service with a smile' becomes too much.

Buyer beware: Your shopping experience depends very largely on the mood of the salesperson you're dealing with. It can decrease your trust, your satisfaction with customer service, your expected satisfaction with the product and even whether you actually use what you buy.

That's the conclusion of a new study from researchers from Israel and the Netherlands. The team conducted a series of experiments with both simulated and real-life customer service scenarios and found that when a salesperson is too happy in their interactions with customers, it can have a more damaging effect on the sale than if the salesperson is too sad or neutral.

couple buys a car from a happy salesman Pleasure doing business with you. Or is it? (Photo: Nestor Rizhniak/Shutterstock)

The researchers – Gerben A. Van Kleef from the University of Amsterdam, Arik Cheshin from the University of Haifa, and Adi Amit from the Open University of Israel – used video, voice recordings and text to simulate customer service experiences. They included either an intensely sad display from the salesperson, a mildly sad display, a neutral display, a mildly happy display or an intensely happy display. After the interaction, participants were asked to rate the salesperson’s appropriateness and authenticity, trustworthiness, their own satisfaction with the transaction and their expected satisfaction with the product.

Next, the researchers entered the real world, to see if an emotional experience with a salesperson would affect the purchase and use of a DVD. They offered participants membership in a movie recommendation service that would send them a free movie for filling out a survey. Before the DVD was sent, they received a message from a customer service agent named “Robin,” who expressed either intense happiness or sadness, mild happiness or sadness, or no emotion. The participants filled out a survey after reading "Robin’s" email, then again 10 days later to determine if they had watched the movie.

customer service frustration Can we just get to the part where you do what I ask you to do and we can hang up? (Photo: YouTube screenshot)

Sure enough, the participants who experienced an intense emotional display didn’t watch the movie as often as those who had experienced a mild or neutral reaction.

"Our research constitutes a first step toward understanding the role of intensity in shaping the effects of emotional expressions," the researchers wrote. "Our findings indicate that intensity matters and should be incorporated in theorizing and research on the role of emotions in organizations to enable a more complete understanding of interpersonal emotional dynamics."

In recent years, the Israel-based Cheshin has worked on all sorts of studies related to emotions and authenticity. Readers at From The Grapevine will recall his research on using emojis at work, how bosses apologize as well as how reading a pitcher's expression may give a batter an edge in baseball.

As for his most recent study, let this be a lesson on both sides of the transaction: emotions are everything. Furthermore, if the customer is in a hurry, an inappropriate display of happiness or intensity can actually sabotage the sale, as comically shown below:

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How nice is too nice when it comes to customer service?
A new study examines what happens when 'service with a smile' becomes too much.