Smiling On The Phone: Does It Really Work?

September 20, 2012
Smiling on the Phone: Does It Really Work?

If a smile widens on a phone call, and no one is there to see it, does it make a sound?

As it turns out, it does.

Smiles over the phone might be unseen, but they are most definitely heard.

The Power of Smiling on the Phone

It is standard advice in sales and customer service to smile while talking on the phone. In fact, there is even a term for this when applied to outgoing calls: “Smile and Dial.”

While this advice has been around for years, it is amazing how many people have still not been exposed to it. In addition to people who have never had foundational sales or customer service training, newer entrants to the workforce have almost never been given this advice. It’s not exactly the kind of thing they teach in school.

The ironic thing about this advice is that I’ve never trained anyone who questioned it or thought it was a joke. No one has asked whether there was research to back up the concept or stated that it was some sort of New Age hokum.

Smiling on the Phone

Why? Because intuitively the advice makes sense. We all just sort of know it to be true.

Of course, I am one of the people who did wonder whether there was some research to support what seems obvious to all. Happily for me and other data geeks, there is some science to support the validity of smiling on the phone.

According to an article on Discovery, human beings can differentiate vocal intonation not only between a smile and a non-smile but among different types of smile.* “Smiling affects how we speak, to the point that listeners can actually identify the type of smile based on sound alone…”

And since 84% of the message over a phone is your tone of voice, making sure that “smiling tone” comes through is imperative.

So, if smiles can be detected over a phone, what can we do to remind our teams to smile before picking up the phone and saying hello?

Making Smiles A Habit

Besides teaching your team the importance of smiling on the phone, what can you do to help them develop the habit?

I learned a great tip in this area from Michael Coburn, Director of Customer Service at Nestle USA, during last year’s Secret Service Summit. Coburn’s tip:

Nestle places branded mirrors at each phone reps’ station so the reps can see if they are smiling when they are talking on the phone.

Another method is to paste simple reminders on computer monitors or on the phone itself with messages like…

Are you smiling?


Shoulders back. Smile. Dial.

There are a number of techniques for giving “great phone.” Personally, I find it helpful to stand up and move around on important calls — it instantly changes the energy level in my voice. However, no matter what your approach to customer service on the phone is, a smile should be the foundation of it all.

Now, say cheese.

* NOTE: The original citation for this quote is no longer active.

28 thoughts on “Smiling On The Phone: Does It Really Work?”

  1. It’s a good thing one of the many nicknames I have is ‘Mr Happy,’ huh? I seem to smile for no reason, so I guess it works well for me I suppose.

    I too will stand up on a call that requires engagement, passion and energy. I probably talk a little louder too but try to keep it conversational.

    Smile and dial, even though ‘cold calling’ is dead we still live and die by it. Sometimes it is just a numbers game and you have to wade through a bunch of garbage to create a very few opportunities.

    We’ve also been taught if it’s obvious the call is going nowhere, then drop into low risk practicing and try out something different. You would be surprised when you change the premise of the call how it can create dialogue.

    1. How could you not smile when all social media is falling at your feet. 🙂

      Yeah, I can’t remember where I picked up the standing up trick, but it really does help. It’s amazing how many nonverbal actions can still affect our voice and what is received on the other end of the call. I like what you said about changing the premise of the call.

  2. Holy Moses! Absolutely! When you smile, your voice smiles, your personality smiles, your giggles erupt, and the tone and ‘tude ON THE PHONE all go your way!

    But, standing up on the phone…hmm, haven’t tried that @BillDorman!

  3. I’ve been told this, and at times, I know I have a ‘rushed, you totally interrupted me’ tone of voice. I shake it off, breathe, maybe smile.. and I can tell a difference. Standing, not sure I’ve made a point, but I can see how it could. Other thing I’d beg phone reps (esp. call center tech support) to put down the script, speak like people; maybe turn off the distractions and rather than just fill out form, the data entry fields – stop and actually listen. That I’d like to hear. FWIW.

    1. Listening — the lost art. I had a post awhile back helping customers by shutting up, because just like you are saying, when you talk to the phone support you so often feel like they are going through a checklist without even listening to what you are saying.

      Standing up really does work — or at least, it feels like it does. 🙂

      1. I hate the typing.. I can hear it in the background and like you said, checklist. I get people have quotas and deadlines, but it’s the difference between actually listening.. or just waiting for your turn to talk. And yeah, think smiling helps.

  4. This post is a great reminder that little things do matter. Taking the time to collect your thoughts, take a deep breathe, and smile before calling a client or prospect can make or break your opening words.

  5. Hey Adam,
    Great tips on non-verbal cues. I spend an equal amount of time on the phone as I do talking to people directly or face to face and I find mood translates directly. Smiling will certainly affect that in a big way. I will certainly try that technique even if it is simply smiling in my mind. I wonder if that would work as well?

    1. You know Ralph, on second thought, I should have started the post “If a smile happens in someone’s mind, and no one is there to imagine it…” 🙂

      It really is stunning how much effect body language/non-verbal can translate over the phone.

  6. Smiling on the phone makes a big difference – the person on the other end somehow knows what kind of mood your in and smiling automatically makes you happy. I’m also a big believer in walking around whilst on the phone because it makes the conversation a whole lot more energetic and I feel much more engaged in the conversation.

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  8. I think that smiling even when you’re not talking directly to a person, smiling helps you talk to people with a calming aura and it speaks through even when talking over the phone. And that can make a big difference!

  9. So in a nutshell, this article just want to express how to keep a positive tone with your voice. In order to develop your positive tone you have to act positively while working too? I am definitely trying this.

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  13. You should not be afraid to smile to being with. A lot of people have trouble because of some problems with their teeths instead of visiting their dentist, they prefer to frown…

  14. I didn’t realize that smiling while on the phone can help you keep a more polite and even tone of voice. That does seem like something a good phone service should know. After all, that could make a huge difference in the level of customer service you get.

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  16. Aaron Clarence E. Lazaro

    Based on my experience, I agree with the technique to smile while taking calls it helps to enhanced the mood of the call flow. Also, smile is one of the advantage to change the tone of the voice to jovial because it is opportunity to become friendly to the customers. Lastly, after reading the article about “smile on the phone” I will try to leave a note to my computer like, ” Are you smiling?” to give myself a heads up to always smile while taking a call.

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