25 October 2023 527 words, 3 min. read

Don’t smile too much if you want to be perceived as competent

By Pierre-Nicolas Schwab PhD in marketing, director of IntoTheMinds
How can you increase your chances of turning a prospect into a customer? Closing the deal also depends on how competent you feel. Research unravels some of the mysteries.

Sometimes, convincing a prospect to sign a contract requires little. Personality plays a role, not least the salesperson’s perceived competence. Research shows that how you smile has a major impact on perceived competence, and smiling has unexpected effects on sales. These findings are also important if you would like to improve the quality of your service and the satisfaction of your customers.

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The role of the smile in human relations

The research authors developed their hypotheses using the stereotype content model (SCM). More specifically, they used this recent model (2002) to understand how interpersonal judgments are formed.


Cordiality + Perceived competence = Overall assessment of an individual.


It shows that the human species, during its evolution, has judged 2 dimensions to be important for its survival:

  • Cordiality/sympathy
  • Competence

These two dimensions sum up entirely how a person is judged.

Keep this in mind. It’s a fascinating result: Perceived Friendliness + Competence = Overall assessment of an individual.

Don’t smile too much if you want to be perceived as competent

In the world of retail, interpersonal assessments are commonplace. Every time a customer speaks to a salesperson, they assess their friendliness and competence based on external experience.

The research draws 3 important conclusions:

  • wider smileprojects you as warmer but diminishes your sense of competence.
  • In a low risk purchasing situation (typically in a supermarket), a wider smile from the salesperson leads to stronger purchase intentionin the customer.
  • In a high-risk situation (at a car dealership, for example), a wider smile from the salesperson will lower the customer’s purchase intent.

The wider your smile, the friendlier you are seen to be, and the less competent you appear. This first impression will have little impact in low-risk environments (e.g., supermarkets). Still, it will be much more significant in a high-risk environment (advice, banking, insurance, car sales). In such an environment, you need to be reassured about the skills of the person in front of you and their ability to help you make the right decision. The financial implications are far greater than in a supermarket.

Of course, these conclusions can also be applied to the B2B world. Although decisions in the latter are considered more rational, interpersonal relationships play a key role. First impressions are crucial, and we’ve already pointed out how, in our sector, certain factors considerably increase the likelihood of signing contracts. These include the speed with which you respond to a prospect.

Conclusions and Marketing Implications

The intensity of your smile directly influences how people perceive you: more or less warm, more or less competent.

Like any other, your smile is a clue for people who don’t know you to form an initial impression. Isn’t it said that you get an idea of someone in a fraction of a second? However, more than just a smile conveys the perception of competence. Humans unconsciously consider many other factors when forming an opinion on a person’s competence. In my university research, I have shown that grammatical and spelling errors significantly influence perceived competence.

If you’d like to learn more about improving your service quality and your employees’ perceived competence, please contact us; we’ll be happy to help.



Posted in Research.

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