"How can I help you today?"

Those familiar words ring out over phone lines, customer service lines, and chat messages throughout the world. And, while they are meant to be engaging, oftentimes they fall short.

Customer service has changed drastically in the last few decades. With the advent of technology, much of traditional customer service has replaced human interaction with artificial intelligence and automated assistance. While this has made customer service less labor-intensive and more efficient, it has left many people craving the human side of service.

Too often, customer service agents, chained to a script, sound like humorless automatons, making it difficult to tell if you're speaking to a person or machine.

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 humor.

Humor can be a powerful antidote for improving the customer experience. The key is knowing when and how to use it to deliver extraordinary results.

In my experience at my company, I've learned 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 humor within your customer service team. We will discuss the do's and don'ts of humor.

How to Develop a Sense of Humor in Customer Service

Customer service can at times be viewed as dry as old kindling. So how can you motivate your workforce to develop a sense of humor?

The great news is that humor can be learned. From delivery techniques to gauging each circumstance, you can train your team to exercise humor skillfully throughout any situation. Take the time within your training sessions to show customer service agents the kind of humor that is acceptable, and the situations in which they can use such humor.

Here are a few expert tips and tricks to developing a sense of humor that fits in well with customer service.

  • Be yourself. This can never be emphasized too much. If you try to be something you're not, it's just going to make the conversation awkward.
  • Steer clear of inappropriate or unclean humor.
  • Think about what kind of humor you would appreciate in a given situation.
  • Make it relevant to the conversation.
  • Don't be ambiguous -- the customer should know it's humor.
  • Be kind -- although there will always be that one person who takes it the wrong way, kindness will help your humor to hit the right mark.
  • Stay away from humor 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 humor, it will only make you come across as lax and even unprofessional.

Whether you serve as a customer service rep over the phone, over live chat, or in person, these techniques can help you to meet any situation that crosses your path.

But why exactly does humor work well in customer service? Let's look at six powerful reasons that you need to nurture a sense of humor among your customer service representatives.

6 Reasons a Sense of Humor Is a Must in Customer Service

1. It makes you memorable.

When the majority of customer service experiences are notably dry and automated, a sense of humor can stand out as a ray of sunshine through dark clouds. 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 encounter a customer service representative who is refreshingly witty and humorous, it can change the whole experience. Instead of feeling like you've lost a half hour of your day, you leave feeling pleasantly refreshed.

3. It makes for happier reps.

And the good news is that humor isn't a one-way street. At the end of the day, your representatives are going to feel better about their work. A smile or laugh from a customer can add a sense of purpose that creates loyal employees.

And when people are happier, they are more productive. One study found that happy employees are up to 20% more productive at work.

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 reps and customers see beyond the problem.

When people call or come in to speak with a customer service representative, it may involve a problem they couldn't solve on their own. This often sparks feelings of frustration or resentment. Well-placed humor helps people to see beyond the immediate problem, reduces stress, and enables constructive reasoning.

What began as a whirlwind of tense emotions can be pacified into friendly agreement and even appreciation.

6. It puts customers at ease.

Customer acquisition can be a tough time -- especially if your products and services sell at a high price point. Humor can make this process a little easier, help to relax a new customer, and set the person's mind at ease about your brand.

Caution: Not All Humor Is Created Equal

Humor 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, humor 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 humor? And how can they decipher such situations on the fly?

There are a few things you need to remember when using humor in your customer service exchanges:

  • Timing: If their emotions are too raw at present, it's not a good time to crack a joke. Perhaps wait until the problem is resolved to introduce humor.
  • Situation: If it's a particularly stressful or grave situation, such as a death in the family, refrain from humor.
  • Limits: Everybody has their limits, so feel out each customer to see where those limits are.
  • 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 humor.

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.

Examples of Using Humor Effectively in Customer Service

1. Zappos

This example hails from the famous online shoe and clothing store, Zappos. When a customer wrote in about a recent purchase that was falling apart, Zappos did more than simply refund the money. The customer rep wrote back as Captain Anomaly, who has "some totally awesome WOWing powers" to take care of the problem.

While, yes, this customer rep could have simply apologized for the inconvenience and refunded the money, this email went above and beyond. By describing the return process in character as a superhero, he was able to turn the experience from an inconvenience into a funny story.

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Source: Reddit

2. Skyscanner

This example shows how customer service through social media can come alive with humor. A customer of Skyscanner, a UK-based airline search engine, found a glitch in its system where a flight with a 47-year layover popped up. Tongue in cheek, he contacted Skyscanner on social media, asking what they recommended he do during it.

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When she saw this comment, the customer support rep could have written the same old, corporate, canned reply, "I will report this problem immediately." But she didn't. Instead, she took a humorous approach that led to a very memorable exchange, with several playful suggestions.

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Later, Skyscanner followed up with some gifts -- which is never a bad route to follow when trying to make up for an error or misstep with a customer.

Source: Facebook

These examples show more than just funny customer service exchanges. They demonstrate how humor can be used in a tasteful way to boost brands and resolve issues.

In the end, the benefits of a good sense of humor go beyond a simple laugh or smile. Think about introducing humor as a vital tool for your customer service representatives. You may be laughing all the way to the bank.

To learn more about this topic, read about how the DiSC model can improve customer service.

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Originally published Nov 8, 2018 8:00:00 AM, updated November 08 2018

Topics:

Customer Service Skills