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Humor in Customer Service and How It Can Help Your Business

Aug 17, 2007
Now, wait a minute. You are not a stage comedian or an actor. Your job is to sell something, not put on a clown act. How does humor fit into customer service?

And that's exactly why this works: Everybody thinks just like the above paragraph. Because everybody thinks that way, nobody uses humor to ease a customer transaction. This causes the business world to take on a droning, monotonous tone: "How are you?" "Would you like a receipt?" "Thank you for shopping with us." "Can I get you anything to drink with that?" "How may I assist you?'

It goes on and on, a routine that everybody sleepwalks through. Clearly, you don't have to be very funny to break up the rhythm. Even a little, tiny bit funny does very, very well in the jet stream of flowing consciousness that is the consumer's day. And they will remember it for the rest of the day.

Here is one of the best examples I've ever seen from real life. Do you like calling a business and hearing one of those droning phone menus that tell you to push a button for each option? Well, here's another one:

Welcome to International Discount Brokerage!
This call may be recorded or monitored for quality assurance.
For stock trading, press 1.
To order a new account kit, press 2.
For stock quotes, press 3.
For other customer service, press 4.
If you are a netware points benefits customer, press 5.
To hear more about our easy-buy program, where you can secure future stock credits, press 6.
If you would like to hear a duck quack, press 7.
If you know your party's extension, press 8.
To return to the main menu, press 9...
Or stay on the line for the next available customer service representative.
Thank you.

By the book, isn't it? This is a real example from a real business. When customers pressed seven, they got exactly what they asked for: a recorded sound of one, routine duck quack. Then the menu came back. Believe it or not, this simple, silly trick led to millions of additional calls and eventually a 75% increase in new accounts! No really logical reason, except that people tended to view the business favorably if they could be a serious business and yet still have the grace to make a little fun of their own menu. This also helps to alleviate the tension of customers calling, since many people report that they don't like automated phone menus.

Another co-worker had an interesting, amusing story he could tell. It was just something funny that happened to him. It took two minutes, tops, to run through, was very simple, and had no possibility of offending anyone. Those of us who worked with him heard it so many times that we got to memorize it ourselves. The handy thing was that he could bring it out to keep a customer occupied for two minutes while they were waiting for a transaction to be completed.

He could use it to break tension, lighten a customer's mood, make a new friend, and sometimes he even changed it a little in order to work it in. To those of us who heard it all the time, it sounded almost like a recording, but the first time everybody heard it, they laughed or at least smiled, because he could tell it so naturally. I never once heard a customer complain about this employee; in fact, he got bonuses and good reviews all the time. It was simple, and yet brilliant in its simplicity.

You must always be careful not to have the possibility to offend anyone. Make sure that if the joke must poke fun at a target, the target is you. The shorter it is, the better. People who simply have no time or aren't in the mood won't mind that way, but the rest will smile or laugh. You, yourself might get tired of hearing yourself say it, but professional comedians do this all the time; they can memorize a spiel and tell it naturally and fluidly, from years of practice. The point is that you lightened the mood, made somebody smile, they subconsciously like you a little more, and you have also headed off a potential bad mood if the customer was already feeling a little stress.

Computers are a popular target. Stress from the inadequacies of dealing with computers are something any of us can identify with. And we all have computers at point-of-sale transactions, waiting for them to bring up an account, print out a receipt, or get an order loaded into the database. When working with computers behind a counter, I always took advantage of a hesitation on the machine's part. Again, this is just something fast, simple, and silly. Pick up the mouse and talk into it like a microphone, as if trying to wake the computer up, or move your hand by the side of the monitor as if you were turning an imaginary crank to make it run faster.

When it did what I wanted it to do, sometimes I'd pat it on top of the monitor and say "Good boy!" before turning back to the customer. This quick, silly gestures help to establish that I couldn't control everything, that slowness on my part was due to the machines and not my lack of trying. And it almost never failed that customers would launch into a remark or story about their frustrations in dealing with computers as well. It just helps to lighten the mood a little and everything goes more smoothly.

Sometimes, as in the phone menu example, it is also helpful to make a little light fun of your company's own bureaucracy. We all have to deal with filling out complicated forms: stamp this, staple that, file it somewhere, sign something, and so on. Be sure that you have your manager's approval for this one, and be sure you aren't putting down your own employer. The key here is to make a light poke at the system itself, so that your customer understands that it's the best way you have of dealing with something, but you realize it's not perfect. Paperwork, like phone menus and computers, is another minor hassle that we all have to put up with, and so this also helps to identify that you empathize with frustrations the customer might have with the inadequacies of your system.

Surprisingly, humor in customer service isn't actually so silly at all. It is serious business, costs nothing to implement, and in most cases can show an improvement on the bottom line. You just might laugh yourself right into a promotion!
About the Author
Freelance writer for over eleven years.

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