How improv training enhances customer service interactions

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Improv, formally called improvisational theater, is a popular form of live theater where dialogs and interactions are unscripted. Lines are made up spontaneously and are based on people's real-time reactions. This technique is used by actors to add fun or depth to a scene.
These days, however, improv is applicable not just in theater. Some companies include it in leadership trainings to help executives communicate with their employees better. And it can be used as a customer service technique as well.

"Yes, and"

Improv revolves around the concept of "Yes, and." By saying yes, you affirm or acknowledge what another person said. You then add "and" to provide your thoughts and keep the conversation going.

Take for example this customer support scenario. When a caller says, "There's a problem with my product right now," you can reply with a "Yes, and" phrase, such as:

"Yes, and I'll do everything I can to fix this in no time."

This technique adds positivity to an interaction, which is exactly what you need in customer service. Using this phrase, you're able to validate the customer's ideas or messages and add new insights to improve the situation. In a nutshell, therefore, you're able to acknowledge the customers' situation and empathize with them (the "yes" part), then offer solutions or alternatives (the "and" part).

Here's how training your agents in improv can benefit your call center.

1.   It sharpens agents' listening skills.

Improv requires concentration. To do it successfully, you need to listen carefully and intently to what the other person is saying. Training your agents in improv enhances their active listening skills, which ensures that they can clearly understand what a customer says.

2.   Improv can sharpen your agents' problem-solving skills.

Using improv techniques during customer support interactions opens the path for solving problems in creative ways, as it allows agents to go off-script in some situations. This encourages them to think of new ways to solve a problem and gives them the power to make decisions that best suit a customer's needs.

3.   It lets agents add a personal touch to the conversation.

Customer service expert Shep Hyken once said that you can't script sincerity during interactions. You have to show genuine concern and empathy toward your customers. Improv, therefore, allows agents to act in ways that are appropriate for the situation. Instead of following a script religiously, you can use it as a guide in improvising dialogs and making them sound authentic and human-like.

4.   It leads to customer satisfaction.

All the previous benefits mentioned lead to a better customer experience. Customers appreciate services that are efficient, results-oriented, and humanized.

Improvisation can also lead to engaging and free-flowing interactions. Just like in improvisational theater, a customer support interaction may veer into a different direction once this technique is used.

Take for example this Dollar Shave Club customer who promised to order a one-month subscription of razors. But there's one condition: A company employee must solve a Rubik's Cube in less than two minutes. The employee rose to the challenge and thus gained applause from the online community. Of course, as promised, the customer placed his order as well.

Training your customer service agents in improv can help them gain important skills. It will encourage them to be authentic and flexible when tackling customers' concerns. Comedian Jen Kirkman puts it succinctly: "Improv requires one thing I lack that I think most mothers need—the basic instinct to put someone else first."