We’ve all been given that advice at one time or another. But I work in the humor industry and when it comes to making comedy audiences laugh, the opposite is often true. Adults and children laugh when a more important person is the victim of a joke. That’s why comedians poke fun at royalty, politicians and famous celebrities – and get away with it. They’re not picking on someone struggling, down on his luck, or without the ability to put up a good defense.
That wouldn’t be funny.
When I work with students, from junior high to college, it’s important for me to emphasize the importance of being positive in productive communication skills. It’s common and trendy today to be sarcastic, insulting or cutting edge. It’s easy to point a finger of blame at the recent generations of stand-up comedians, but this is nothing new. In fact, it’s still the way my college pals and I communicate. I’d be shocked to receive an email or phone call from one of the guys that didn’t open with an insulting comment about my intelligence, age, looks, weight – or whatever is trending on their mind at that moment.
It’s how we communicate on a personal, as close friends level. It’s also very acceptable in the comedy world and why a pie thrown in the face of “the boss” is just as funny in the movies today as it was when Charlie Chaplin was the brightest star on the silent screen.
But what’s considered cutting edge in the comedy industry is not usually funny or productive when it comes to customer service. Using negative humor for laughs outside of a close friendship can send the victim on a defensive course by feeling inferior or unwanted. And as we all know, that’s not a way to build or continue a business relationship.
Keep the customer satisfied.
As a consumer, my business is earned because the product or service is what I’m looking for. I’ll become a repeat customer because I’m a happy customer. In the best scenario, the people I’m dealing with make me feel important; even if I know very little about how they give me good results (in my case, anything to do with cars). I don’t feel inferior or unwanted and that’s good customer service.
Is the customer is always right?
No, of course not. Sometimes they misunderstand what they are buying or being promised. It’s usually a miscommunication. But when dealing with a product or service, even when terms are written out or explained by a sales representative, misunderstandings might occur.
There’s a game we’ve all played at one time or another where your friends or classmates would sit in a circle. One person whispers something in the ear of the person sitting next to him. Then that person whispers it in the next person’s ear, and it continues around the circle until it comes back to the one that started it all. Usually the original statement has been misunderstood, changed and shared in various ways until it’s completely different than what was said originally.
I remember playing this with our teacher when we were in first grade. The teacher started by whispering something very innocent to the first student. By the time it went around the circle and back to the teacher, it had turned – either through a misunderstanding or one player’s attempt at being funny in a negative way – very, very insulting to the teacher. I distinctly remember her turning a bright shade of embarrassing red and the game was over.
In fact, the game was never played again in our classroom.
That’s a good lesson in customer service. A misunderstanding or miscommunication can quickly turn a positive situation into one that is negative, embarrassing, or even to the point of anger. The best we can do to prevent this is to listen and try to understand.
And of course, stay positive.
In my training seminars I play a game with two audience victims… I mean volunteers. They come to the front of the room and the audience assigns each an alternative career. Since I always insist on creativity and imagination (elements of good humor) some fun examples have included an astronaut, pro surfer, television game show host, and… well, use your imagination.
I ask the two volunteers to have a simple conversation as if they were in the profession given to them. Every once in awhile during this conversation I’ll shout, “Stop!” and ask one to reach into a basket and pick a notecard that has a printed random (funny) sentence. They read this as their next line in the conversation. The astronaut, pro surfer, game show host – or whoever they are – has to reply and keep the conversation going.
It’s all about listening.
Of course it always takes the conversation in a completely different direction and often ends up like the “whispering around the circle game” with the ending nowhere near what they had been talking about at the beginning. The main difference between a group of mischievous first graders and our training audience is that I insist we stay positive. When it comes to customer service, the goal is to have your customers return satisfied and happy, rather than leaving with a bright shade of embarrassing red on their faces.
Listening to what was said and being positive are the first steps in productive communication. This is a solid foundation for good customer service and can lead the way to the ultimate goal of keeping the customer satisfied.
Musical interlude: Keep The Customer Satisfied by Simon & Garfunkel (enjoy for the fun of it!)
Dave Schwensen has designed and instructs university courses in communications and presentation skills. He is an author, speaker, trainer, consultant, nationally-recognized comedy coach, and two-time CILC Pinnacle Award Winner “For remarkable quality of educational content and exceptional skill at program delivery.” For information about scheduling Dave’s interactive training programs and breakout sessions for your next event, visit www.TalkingForSuccess.com
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