What If Your Company Had an In-house Smile Detector?

2009 July 29
by Grace Boyle

Tokyo‘s Keihin Express Railway Company has one to measure its staff’s smiles.

Employees of the railway are required to smile into a camera and have their smile and facial structure analyzed by software to detect their happiness. The device analyzes the facial characteristics of a person, including eye movements, lip curves and wrinkles, and rates a smile on a scale between 0 and 100% using a camera and computer. Employees that fail to meet the smiling requirements, will be adviced to look less serious and more cheerful. Yikes.

The Japanese value customer service and BBC emphasizes that it’s “standard practice on trains (in Japan) for smartly dressed conductors to bow deeply as they enter or leave a carriage.” Does that mean analyzing a smile as a measure for objective customer service isn’t much different?

Luckily, I smile a lot. I think I would pass the test frequently, but that’s an interesting and mechanical approach. I believe it’s largely cultural and wouldn’t be able to fly in a U.S. workplace. I can say that working in the service industry, your approach, looks and amicable personality is imperative so I see where they’re going but I’m a little weary that we now have machines to detect smiles instead of a friendly reminder from your boss.

How would you feel if you had to use a smile detector?  Do you think this is beneficial practice for companies to implement or not?

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  • jacquelinemalan

    So interesting. I would have never thought

  • jackieadkins3

    I'm not too sure if I'd like this implemented here just because it seems a little bit over the top, but I definitely think the concept behind it should be encouraged in service oriented businesses. I know some of the places I've been to, an employee who just comes off as pissed off gives a bad vibe for the business as a whole, and, on the other hand, someone who is very cheerful and sounds happy to help you leaves you with a pretty satisfied experience.

    So, smiles are good. Machines scanning your face measuring your smile…eh.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Jackie I feel the same way. It seems pretty forceful and almost judgmental to a fault (your facial lines?) However, I think that smiles should ALWAYS be encouraged and I too, leave with such a sour taste in my mouth when a service employee is rude to me. I'm the one paying for the service, why can't they smile and be nice? That's how I feel at least…

    I can only imagine how people would react if they were in the U.S. workplace!

  • jackieadkins3

    Ha some of those Japanese businesses would have a COW if they went to some fast food places in the US and saw how thrilled the employees were to be at work.

  • http://www.opheliaswebb.com Elisa Doucette

    Hrmm…I'd love to see this in call centers. Smiling when you are on the phone with someone increases the tone of the entire call exponentially. It's super hard to be angry, irritated or mean while you are smiling…unless you are one of those few extremely fake people!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Elisa I've heard that before and a co-worker used to manage a call center. He said they would always say, “customers can hear you smiling,” so they highly encouraged the non-visible action due to the reaction it can have on the other end of the line.

    So you wouldn't mind seeing a smiling detector in the US?

  • http://www.opheliaswebb.com Elisa Doucette

    I know some companies that hang mirrors above the phones “reminding” people to smile when answering. I don't know that I'd advocate for the detector, I guess it would depend on the usage of the results. I mean really, it's just another way to determine customer service and approachability. Rather like an electronic mystery shopper or “this call may be recorded.” My how technology changes EVERYTHING in business…

  • http://socialmediarockstar.com Brett Borders

    That's pretty far out. I don't think I'd want to have my smile measured unless the company was going above and beyond in their commitment to my true happiness (not doughnuts on Friday and a $20 gift card at the holiday party).

  • http://www.owlsparks.com/ Carlos Miceli

    I think this is terrible.

    How can we let technology rule what we should feel? So, if you lose your family in an accident, you better show up happy or you are fired.

    I agree that attitude is important, but that's something that people should judge.

    What's interesting, is the effect this could have on society if it scales. Are you feeling miserable? Let's see how you feel once we let you go.

    How is this progress, I just don't get it…

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Brett Far out is right. I'm not sure I would ever want that smile detector, it's far too mechanical and as @Carlos said, what if something horrible happens to you and you're judged in that moment when you're just struggling to get by on that day. It's an interesting thought and it also shows what we are willing to compromise for work. Thanks for stopping by!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Carlos Great perception and view. “How can we let technology rule what we should feel?” We shouldn't. There are so many things that could pop up in life and sometimes, you just have a bad day. This smile detector was viewed a progress in the workplace, but I agree with you, that it's not progress for human to human interaction. Why let a machine dub how humans should interact? It doesn't have a heart and it's mechanical without feelings…

  • http://www.jonbishop.org JonBishop

    People will get better at learning how to pretend to smile is all. You can't control the mood of a person who is just having a bad day. But then again, maybe pretending to be in a good mood will attract others in a good mood therefor putting you in a good mood.

    Either way, I would win that game constantly. I want to try so I can go for the high score :)

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Jon Well it's good that you're an avid smiler! Do you think they will learn to pretend how to smile? Is a forced smile better than a genuine one? Maybe. It depends on how good you are at reading people and faking it doesn't always go over too well. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.jonbishop.org JonBishop

    I think we can learn to pretend to smile like we can learn to pass lie detector tests. Genuine smiles are obviously best but I am still curious if a fake smile can in turn draw real smiles and turn that fake smile into a real one. Understand what I'm getting at. I fake smile around my parents significant others all the time. They real smile back at me and I smile at the fact my parents are smiling.

    I would never require anyone to smile if they didn't want to, but it's an interesting thought.

    (Too much smiling happening here for me, lol)

  • http://www.jonbishop.org JonBishop

    People will get better at learning how to pretend to smile is all. You can't control the mood of a person who is just having a bad day. But then again, maybe pretending to be in a good mood will attract others in a good mood therefor putting you in a good mood.

    Either way, I would win that game constantly. I want to try so I can go for the high score :)

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Jon Well it's good that you're an avid smiler! Do you think they will learn to pretend how to smile? Is a forced smile better than a genuine one? Maybe. It depends on how good you are at reading people and faking it doesn't always go over too well. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.jonbishop.org JonBishop

    I think we can learn to pretend to smile like we can learn to pass lie detector tests. Genuine smiles are obviously best but I am still curious if a fake smile can in turn draw real smiles and turn that fake smile into a real one. Understand what I'm getting at. I fake smile around my parents significant others all the time. They real smile back at me and I smile at the fact my parents are smiling.

    I would never require anyone to smile if they didn't want to, but it's an interesting thought.

    (Too much smiling happening here for me, lol)