The Power of Humour in Customer Service
"How can I help you ?"
This question ring out over phone, chats and email messages of service desks throughout the world. And, while they are meant to be engaging, oft it is presented as a cold conversation opener.
Customer service has radically changed in the last decade. With technology, much of traditional customer service has replaced human interaction with artificial intelligence and automated assistance. While this has made customer service more efficient and saved human costs, it has left many customers craving for the human side of service.
Too often, customer service agents, chained to a script, sound like humourless automatons, making it difficult to tell if you're speaking to a person or bot.
Yet, good customer service is an essential principle of a winning business.
How do you combine efficiency with effectiveness?
No kidding aside, one answer is humour.
Humour can be a powerful skill for improving the customer experience. The key is knowing when and how to use it to deliver extraordinary experiences.
At our company, we ‘re deliberately learning when to tickle a customer's funny bone -- and when to keep the conversation serious.
Let's dive into some of the ways you can encourage the right kind of humour within your customer service team.
How to Develop a Sense of Humour in Customer Service?
Customer service can at times be viewed as dry as a thatch of straw . So how can you motivate your service team to develop a sense of humour?
Good news, research shows that humour can be learned. From delivery techniques to gauging each circumstance, you can train your team to exercise humour skilfully throughout any situation. Take the
time within your training sessions to show customer service agents the kind of humour that is acceptable, and the situations in which they can use such humour.
Here are a few basic suggestions that may quickly develop a sense of humour that fits in well with customer service.
Be authentic. Be yourself. If you try to be something you're not, it's just going to make the conversation awkward.
Steer clear of inappropriate or unclean humour.
Think about what kind of humour you would appreciate in each situation.
Make it relevant to the conversation.
Don't be ambiguous -- the customer should know it's humour.
Be kind -- although there will always be that one person who takes it the wrong way, kindness will help your humour to hit the right mark.
Stay away from humour if you're discussing such things as death, mental health, or serious injuries.
Don't force it. If you try to push the conversation toward humour, it will only make you come across as lax and even unprofessional.
Whether you serve as a customer service rep over the phone, over chat or in person, these techniques can help you to meet any situation that crosses your path.
But why exactly does humour work well in customer service? Let's look at six powerful reasons that you need to nurture a sense of humour among your customer service representatives.
6 Reasons a Sense of Humour Is a Must in Customer Service
1. It makes you memorable.
When most customer service experiences are notably dry and automated, a sense of humour can stand out as a gush of fresh air. It may even be a conversation that a customer shares with his family and friends -- a word-of-mouth endorsement that is invaluable to your brand.
2. It makes the customer experience more enjoyable.
Let's face it -- none of us look forward to calling customer service. It usually means being put on hold or waiting in a line, potentially explaining your issue to several people before getting an answer. And some encounters leave you unbelievably frustrated.
But when you have a customer service representative who is refreshingly witty and humorous, it can change the whole experience. Instead of feeling like you've lost time, you leave feeling pleasantly refreshed.
3. It makes for a happier service force.
Humour isn't a one-way pathway. At the end of the day, your executives are going to feel better about their work. A smile or laugh from a customer can add a sense of purpose that creates loyal service force.
And when people are happier, they are more productive, and successful too.
4. It helps forge loyal customer relationships.
The traditionally formal, stony tone that has become the trademark of many customer service encounters is counterintuitive to customer loyalty. Think about it: who wants to have a relationship with a cold person? The same holds true when it comes to relationships with brands.
On the other hand, a warm voice, friendly personality, and sharp wit feel like the perfect recipe for a long-term customer relationship. An appealing tone will keep customers coming back to your brand for years to come.
5. It helps executives and customers see beyond the problem.
When people speak with a customer service executives, it may involve a problem they couldn't solve on their own. This often sparks feelings of frustration or anguish. Well-placed humour helps people to see beyond the immediate problem, reduces stress, and enables constructive reasoning.
What began as a whirlwind of tense emotions can be transformed into friendly collaborative behaviour and even appreciation.
6. It puts customers at ease.
Soliciting renewals and new business from customers can be tough -- especially if your services sell at premium. Humour can make this process a little easier, help to relax a new customer, and set the mind at ease about your brand.
Disclaimer: Not All Humour Is Created Equal
Humour is a powerful force. When leveraged correctly, it can be used to diffuse tense situations and help forge a bond of union between people -- we have a whole comedy industry to prove this. For example, think for a moment about how recent serious situations in the political arena have been made a little less grievous with the help of popular comedians.
However, humour can just as easily be a destructive force. Unfortunately, we've also been witness to how it can demean individuals and intensify their anger. It needs to be well-placed and well-timed for this strategy to be successful.
How can customer service agents walk this fine line and deliver a better customer experience? In what situations should they avoid or limit their humour? And how can they discover situations on the fly?
There are a few guidelines to remember when using humour in your customer service exchanges:
Timing: If their emotions are adverse at this point of time, it's not a good time to crack a joke. Perhaps wait until the problem is resolved to introduce humour.
Situation: If it's a particularly stressful or grave situation, such as a death in the family, refrain from humour.
Tone: Are they angry or just frustrated? Are they asking a question or do they have a major problem on their hands? Learn to read the tone of the customer and let that guide your level of humour.
Limits: Everybody has their limits, so feel out each customer to see where those limits are.
Such factors can be difficult to gauge within the first few seconds of a conversation, especially when you're just beginning to use this technique. But with time and patience, you will find that you are more than equal to the task.
A couple of decades back, I encountered a lady who seemed to be loud and rude while describing her problem. She was feeling so, as her DVD drive stopped functioning, and she could not entertain a house full of guests with a new movie screening.
It was a minor mechanical glitch and got sorted out in a fraction of the hour. To give her further peace of mind, I replaced it with a new drive.
While handing over, I smiled and said, ‘Here’s your new movie theatre. And if you wish, it can also serve as a coffee cup holder.’
She laughed at the cue, appreciated the gesture and wrote a hand-written note saying ‘When things are not straight, you curved a smile’.
It remains one of my decorated possessions.
The author is a customer service veteran and an avid practitioner of conversational humour.