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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What are you smiling for?

I would admit that when I walked into the Banani branch of Standard Chartered Bank in Dhaka, I was not expecting that the lady at the reception would smile and greet me in. As a reflex I also did smile back, quickly lost eye contact and moved on to fill up the pink slips, still thinking in the back of my mind, 'why did she smile at me? Am I looking funny? Does she know me? Do I know her? Have I seen her before somewhere? Which mela? Which mall? Pink City? Bashundhara Mall?'
Nevermind....I noticed slyly if she was extending the same smiling service to all customers who walked in or was I special, or was she suspicious? My brief 'participant observation' established the fact that she was naturally and willingly smiling at almost every customer walking in, depending on her preoccupations from time to time at her workstation. On the other hand, I tried to notice how the 'smile struck' customers were reacting to this smiling receptionist. Majority of the customers who walked in during my half an hour stay were male, students, business men, young and middle-aged men mostly. Other than a handful of them, most of the king customers either remained indifferent or just pretended as if she did not exist in that side of the room. However almost all of them, like me, didn't forget to throw a sly glance at her from different corners of the office space...probably posing the same questions as I did..trying to figure out the mystery of an unknown Bangladeshi woman smiling at unknown men, who she could be, what could be her family background etc. and all those unquenched curiosity, never realising just simply that its the very basic a staff at reception can do....smile, which does not cost anything...every company in the world asks, trains, teaches, preaches their staff to do this...at their customers....but many of them just forget to do it...or just don't do it because of some peculiarities on ground.


Female staff are deliberately kept at receptions not only in Bangladesh but around the world for variety of reasons. Having a sexist discussion would be something to discuss in a different post perhaps, but it is argued that you don't see many female staff smiling at you 'for nothing' when you walk towards the reception at any office premises in Bangladesh. Most of the time I have found staff at reception, both male and female, rather indifferent, cold, uninterested towards whoever is walking in to them. Many times, female staff are not very interested to make eye contacts too...perhaps wary of me smiling at her 'for nothing' :). Well I have heard arguments from both sides on this. Men say that many female staff think that they nearly were crowned Miss World in last year's beauty pageant but due to a twist in fate, they ended up at the wrong place of doing this job at the front desk or at the bank counters. Many also claim that some female executives carry the notion that some male customers might fall in love at first sight if they prefer to smile, act nice and easy with all of them. So to pre-empt and fend off any unsolicited advancement, the female cadre prefer to remain cold and appear as much formal, emotionless as possible.

Female staff on the other hand also argue that due to some peculiar perceptions towards women at work place in Bangladesh, most of the male customers, even colleagues are not 'properly' oriented with how to deal with female staff, colleagues etc. So many of the male customers, colleagues, who sometimes happen to be 'part time losers and lovers in their own right', try to express overflowing emotions of interest, mating and dating in the very first or few instances of receiving so called 'hints' from their female counterparts in the form of smiles, eye contact, showing signs of being comfortable etc. Women at workplace even in developed economies carry an extra burden of consciousness and identity, its no exception in Bangladesh, infact they perhaps carry a heavier load in that respect. However all these are mere hearsays which brings us to ask if there exists or not any research on 'gender issues while providing customer services' in Bangladesh..may be I will ask Parveen Apa.



Have a look at this article which I came across recently which discusses how women can crack the gender code at work place. Its a pretty interesting piece of work where highlights include when the author recommends women to 'dress for success, not for access' at work place (LOL)...also contradictory to what I have been trying to say in this blogpost...the author however advises working women 'not to smile too much' at work place. Not sure if you would agree with all this or not, but its worth giving a thought.



In fine, I think some men at work should realise that there is a right place for everything and every thoughts in the back of the mind...professional environment is perhaps best suited for work related issues only...so better take a casual 'professional' smile as its supposed to be. On the other hand...some women at work better accept the fact that not all approaching men wear dodgy looks and creepy personalities...so its advised to ease up. In the end of the day, it all falls on how one carries oneself...a 'smile' is harmless enough to cause any major trouble...but powerful enough to create that first link of 'putting at ease' with the customer. So smile, smile back and move on. :)))))))))))))))))))))


Image: That is a 'ficture' of a 'bideshi issmiling afa' taken from here




1 comment:

Nasif Abdur Razzaque said...

Nice post, really enjoyed it...