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

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How you picture yourself to customers and prospects, and in particular how you smile, has important consequences that you may have overlooked until now. Fortunately a scientific study clarifies the impact of a smile on a potential buyer in different settings, online and offline. This has important consequences if you want to improve your service quality level and your customers’ satisfaction.

How smiling affects our interpersonal relationships

The authors of the study apply the stereotype content model (SCM) to develop their hypotheses. Specifically this relatively recent (2002) framework has been applied to understand how interpersonal judgments are formed. Warmth and competence are two dimensions assessed by the human species for its survival.

Together these two dimensions “account almost entirely for how people characterize others”

Keep this in mind. This is absolutely fascinating. In short Warmth + Competence = Evaluation of others.

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

In retail environments such evaluation of others occur very frequently, i.e. at each encounter with a salesperson.
The study shows that :

  • a “bigger” smile increases the perception of warmth but decreases the perception of competence
  • in a low-risk purchase situation (in a supermarket for instance), a broader smile leads to stronger purchase intention
  • in a high-risk setting (for instance in a car dealership) a broad smile will lead to lower purchase intention


The intensity of a smile directly influences how people perceive you as a warm and competent person. The broader your smile the more warm and less competent you’ll be perceived. This may have little consequences in an environment where the risk is low (for instance in a supermarket) but has huge consequences in an environment with high risk (consulting services, bank, insurance, car dealership). In a high-risk environment you need to be reassured that the person you have in front of you is competent and will advise you well. This is crucial because making a mistake will have financial consequences for you.
However, perception of competence is not only conveyed through smile. Many other cues are assessed. In one of my academic research I showed for instance that grammar and spelling mistakes also influenced the perception of competence. If you want more insights about how to improve service quality, just get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help. We have many insights to share.


Image : shutterstock

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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