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Asia

Smiling is all part of the job

Japanese companies have come up with a some creative new ways to pamper their customers. Some companies have started giving their staff friendliness and smile training.

In Japan, the customer is king. Customers there expect to want for nothing. Should there be any complaints, the staff is expected to suck it up with a smile.

True to that tradition, Japanese companies are always coming up with new ways to make their customers feel better.

Keikyu - a private rail operator in Tokyo - started to use so-called "smile check" for the first time three years ago. Before starting work, the staff has to smile into the camera and, in the best case, collect 100 points.

Tokyo city view

Visitors to Tokyo might at first be overwhelmed, so a friendly smile doesn't go amiss

"I only got 62 points this morning. There were delays and I was a bit tired," says 29-year-old Yabe Asuka.

Say 'cheese!'

"We usually have a lot to do in the morning. And when this was originally introduced, I thought, 'great, another thing on my plate.' I was very skeptical. But since I have started doing it, I have noticed that it does actually improve my mood. So I think it is a good thing now." The program, from the company Omron, has proved popular with Keikyu and is installed in nearly all main train stations.

"For us as a railway company, it is important that the customers traveling with us feel safe," says Keikyu spokesman Taiichi Takahashi.

"A smiling staff plays a big role in that. We also travel to Haneda Airport. For many foreigners, Keikyu is the first train they will encounter in Japan. They arrive in the country and might not feel very secure. They are probably worried about where they need to go and at which stop they need to get out or where to get their next connection. We can help them by putting on friendly smiles. That can make them feel safe."

Friendly technology

Keikyu is not the only company in Japan that trains its staff in friendliness. Omron has sold its "grin-o-meters" to insurance companies, banks, hospitals and even government agencies. So far, it has sold 370 of them. The prices vary according to the number of licenses bought.

Thousands of people form massive lines to ride the Keikyu Line (Photo: EPA/CORY LUM)

Computers with the program are installed in almost all Keikyu Line stations

The cameras are equipped with face recognition technology. Each face and each smile is saved in the system and each time a member of staff smiles at the camera, it is compared with their best-ever smile.

But the staff need not fear if they don't get 100 points. Keikyu management says the smile points do not count towards the general rating of their staff members.

And the smile cam can be fun, too, according to Taiichi Takahashi. "Two people can sit together in front of the camera and both faces are scanned. In this mode, it is like a game or competition to see who has the happier smile."

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