While I enjoy TV shows like “Whose Line is it Anyway” that use improvisation techniques to deliver some fun comedy moments, the thought of doing something similar myself had never crossed my mind. I’m happy standing in front of an audience telling stories as part of my presentations, as long as I know what my story is before I start, but improvising? I didn’t think it was my sort of thing.
Until I went on an off-site management retreat meeting a couple of years ago. The first two days of the retreat were devoted to training led by Second City Works, the corporate training arm of the renowned improv comedy club in Chicago. I’ll be honest I was a little uncomfortable at the thought of this sort of training, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying the experience and I learned several things to use in future public speaking engagements, as well as in the daily interactions we all have in the work place.
In the days following the training I began to realize that several of the lessons and techniques from those two days could also be applied to the way that companies deliver the customer experience. Below are just a few of those ideas that when applied to interacting with customers at any point, be it digitally online, physically in person in a store, or conversationally over the phone, could add up to an overall improvement in the customers experience.
This may seem obvious, but listening is not something that we, either as individuals, or companies, are very good at. I recently wrote an article on how companies are good at collecting data about customers, but not that efficient at using the data to really understand customer needs. As individuals, we focus on our own work, needs, and the processes that drive them. Consequently we tend to position any interaction with others into our own framework. We need to learn to listen, and understand what customers really want, what are they trying to achieve, and how do we fit into their framework of needs and processes.
Acknowledging an interaction with someone is probably the easiest way to improve a customer’s experience. We all feel better when we walk into a store and someone makes eye contact with us and acknowledges that we are there. A simple “Thank You” goes a long way, be it in person, or online. Those can be anything from a simple pop-up when you complete an online form, to a personalized follow up email that shows that we listen, and understand the customer’s problem, or to thank them for a purchase and welcome them to our customer community.
No one likes to be told “No.” It sends the wrong message to customers and can bring a halt to the customer’s journey. There is a strong chance that overuse of negative statements will mean your customer will go elsewhere to solve their problem, or fulfill their need. Even if you don’t know the answer to a particular issue, or your system doesn’t have the information needed, there is nothing wrong with saying “we don’t know.” Instead of “No” how about serving up a response along the lines of “Yes, we understand your problem, and while we look into it why not try these few other things we can do for you…”
Understand where you are in the story
The basic structure of any story is that of three acts. The first is the set-up when a need or obstacle is identified. The second is the journey of discovery towards meeting the need or overcoming the obstacle. The third act describes the new reality once that need is fulfilled, or obstacle overcome. If you think about that in business terms, the classic story structure is also a description of the customer journey, awareness of a need (Act 1), research, selection, and purchase (Act 2), post sales ownership and support (Act 3). If you are mapping your various customer interaction points to the customer journey (and you should be), you also need to understand at what stage in the customer’s story those interactions happen. This will provide context and help define what you can do to help the customer continue along that journey.
Know who is the hero of the story
As I mentioned earlier we tend to look at any interaction from our own viewpoint, we see it as part of our own journey, or story. Yet we need to realize that the customer is the hero of his own story, not ours. When the two stories intersect we need to be able to empathize with the customer and see the journey from their perspective. If you know who the hero of any given story is, you can start to see the journey from their perspective, anticipate their needs, and help them solve their problems.
That sounds like exceptional customer experience to me.