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Go for the Laugh: What You Need to Know About Using Humor in Customer Service

July 13th, 2017 | Isabella Steele | Customer Service
Go for the Laugh: What You Need to Know About Using Humor in Customer Service

Humor is a multi-billion-dollar industry, saturated with actors, stand-up comedians, humor authors, cartoon artists, filmmakers, comedy writers, late-night TV hosts and more. A “sense of humor” is something we actively seek in a partner, and in our closest friends. Our favorite people, characters, and memories are often the ones that make us laugh.

Why is humor so lucrative, loved, and sought after? The answer is, because humor makes us feel good. And it can make your customer feel good too.

In life, humor has positive benefits such as strengthening social relationships, decreasing stress, speeding up recovery, and strengthening our immune systems, to name a few. In customer service, humor can help alleviate tension, grow trust, and create bonds between you, the company, and your customer.

This blog post will go over why you should consider adding humor to your customer service strategy, and will explore some of the ways that you can use humor to create a pleasant, memorable experience that will keep your customers coming back.

Why Use Humor in Customer Service

There are several reasons why using humor in customer service can lead to a positive outcome. Here are some of the main reasons:

  1. Make Your Customer’s Day

    Contacting a customer service support number is for many people, a dreaded interaction, which comes accompanied by fear of not being properly assisted or cared for. But imagine what’s possible if suddenly that interaction becomes one that makes your customer’s day.

    AllBusiness writer Glenn Ross illustrates this in a personal example, where he tells about an interaction where a customer service representative used humor successfully:

    Me: “I’ve lost my battery charger to a 12-volt cordless drill, style # 2466. Can you tell me what a replacement would cost me?”

    CSR: “Yes sir, it would cost a bazillion dollars.”

    Me: “(Stunned that a CSR would have a sense of humor and use it with a customer) Well, I hope not. Can you give me a discount?”

    CSR: “Let me see what I can do. (Several seconds pass as she scrolls through screens.) Good news! I think I can get you a sizeable discount. How does $17 sound including tax and shipping?”

    Me: “Well that sounds better than a bazillion dollars. I’ll take it.”

    CSR: “How would you like to pay for that? We take Visa, MasterCard, and Discover.”

    Me: “Determined to even things up I reply: What, you won’t take my Starbucks gift card?”

    CSR: “(She laughs.) I’m sorry sir.”

    Ross and the customer service agent finalize the shipping and other details, and end the call. He remembers the interaction fondly, saying that, “It’s the first time I’ve ever been surprised by a humorous customer service representative. I wouldn’t be surprised if she wasn’t practicing the Fish! Philosophy. Two of their principles are ‘Have fun!’ and ‘Make their day!’ She sure made mine.”

  2. Make Agents Feel Good

    Like every professional, customer service agents do a better job and are happier when they feel like their work has a purpose. Making a customer smile or laugh can give them that sense of purpose and helps make their work feel meaningful.

    Not only that, but studies show that the sounds of laughter have a direct effect on the listener, inducing positive emotional responses that mirror the emotional state of the laughter. This warm “feel-good” high means that hearing a customer laugh could make an agent’s day, too.

  3. More Productive Agents

    Delivering customer service with a sense of humor can be a lot more fun for agents than traditional service, and can even make them more productive. Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job, says that “Humor creates an upbeat atmosphere that encourages interaction, brainstorming of new ideas, and a feeling that there are few risks in thinking outside the box. All that leads to greater productivity.”

  4. Bond with Your Customers

    Humor is a crucial stepping-stone in building new relationships and solidifying social bonds. Humor can help your relationship with your customer go from cool and formal, to friendly and comfortable. It opens up the channels to honest communication and can help your customer trust you. As a result, if a customer has to call back in the future, they will be able to start the conversation more lightheartedly, without having their guard up.

  5. Introduce a Human Element

    Customer service can oftentimes seem robotic. Humor helps bring the human element back into the game and opens up person-to-person connections. According to corporate humorist Tim Washer, using humor can help humanize both your agents and your brand. “Humor demonstrates authenticity,” Washer says, “It cuts through the noise.” By letting your customer service representatives play with tasteful humor, you’re helping your brand, not hurting it.

  6. Make Your Company Stand Out

    Memorable and unique experiences make your business stand out from the competition, and can be great for word of mouth advertising. Today, nearly every interaction with a company can be turned into a viral video, condensed into a popular screenshot, or make rounds as a social media post. This is great for some companies, whose customers’ positive experiences can become free advertising, and a disaster for others , who let poor customer service go on record for the world to see.

    One company that knows the power of humor is Southwest Airlines, which is why they give their flight attendants creative freedom when making their announcements. The success of this policy can be seen in a video of one of their flight attendants rapping the announcement before the flight takes off. The video, which went viral, dubbed him the “world’s coolest flight attendant,” generating free publicity for the airline, and plenty of praise across social media.

    Another company that has quickly gained internet fame thanks to their sense of humor is Wendy’s, whose witty social media accounts have generated a mass following. Wendy’s has taken on several competitor fast food chains such as Hardee’s and McDonald’s in a trade of clever insults on Twitter. Their “beef” has been written about in numerous blog posts, shared on social media, and has even inspired fan art, as millennial fans took to redesigning Wendy’s as a smug anime girl. But Wendy’s didn’t stop there. The fast food chain has been responding to almost all of the Tweets that it has received from fans and haters alike, “roasting” them on social media. By using humor in its interactions with its customers, Wendy’s has shown that consumers want to laugh, and that they appreciate a company with a sense of humor.

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How to Use Humor in Customer Service

In order to successfully execute humor in customer service, you must know how to use it. The following steps will show you how to add humor into your customer service interactions:

  1. Know Your Audience

    To effectively use humor in customer service situations, it is important to know your audience. You can use account information, a customer’s voice, or typing cues over live chat in order to know or guess a customer’s age group. This is important to note because humor for older customers might be different than humor for millennials.

    If you work at a multinational business, it is important to also consider how and when humor is appropriate in different cultures. Live chat makes a customer’s geographic information available, which you can take into account when making these considerations. The rule of thumb is, if you’re not sure, don’t go there!

  2. Watch Out for Cues

    While a customer’s age and location information might give you a general sense of the groups that your customer belongs to, they don’t exactly provide much insight into your customer’s personality or mood. That is why it is important to watch for cues that will show you if this customer should be blessed with your bedazzling sense of humor.

    On the phone, listen for cues in the customer’s voice that might alert you as to whether or not it appropriate to use humor. Over live chat, you can also look for certain typed cues, such as smiley faces, or an added “haha,” following a description. When communicating via video chat, you have the advantage of using visible cues such as expressions to get to know a customer.

    Many customers use friendly, light-hearted jokes naturally in conversation—this is a sign that it is okay or even encouraged to use humor with them. Another telling factor is a customer’s tone. While humor can be used to alleviate negative emotions in some cases, it’s worth mentioning that an angry customer is probably not the best person to practice your humor with. Some customers may view humor as an attempt to undermine the situation, and it’s important to pick up on cues that will tell you when to avoid humor altogether. Instead, try your luck with a customer who has a calm, easy-going, or cheerful tone.

    Conversational cues are also important because they let you know how your sense of humor is being received. It is perfectly alright to test the comic waters with a light joke, only to be signaled by a fake laugh or an awkward silence that it’s best to save your humor for another time.

  3. Serve Humor with Kindness

    There are two kinds of humor: aggressive humor and non-aggressive humor. Historically, laughter used to have an aggressive connotation (i.e. laughing at someone) and was used as a social shunning tool. It wasn’t until the 18th century that middle-class British society began to emphasize the importance of kindness, benevolence, and sympathy in people of refinement. With this change, laughter became largely humanitarian as opposed to aggressive, and began to bring people together with a “fellow-feeling.”

    Using humor in customer service is supposed to foster a connection with customers, not alienate them. If you use humor, be sure that your customer knows that you are laughing with them, not at them. You can make sure that this is clear by serving humor with kindness.

    Before you make a joke, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Is there any way that this joke could be taken the wrong way, or come off as an attack rather than funny? As much as you may be the master of sarcasm, avoid this and other kinds of antagonistic humor when talking to customers, and opt for something more neutral. And remember to keep it light-hearted. You want your customers to have fun, not be made uncomfortable, and serving humor with kindness will put you on the right track.

  4. Avoid Obscure or Politically Charged References

    You’re prepping a clever one-liner that you hope will land. Avoid the confused silence or the feigned chuckle by steering clear of obscure references that most of your customers might not understand.

    When it comes to references not everyone is going to understand everything, and that’s alright—a pity laugh ever now and again is a fair trade-off if most of your laughs are genuine. Remember that customers from different age groups, cultures, and even genders often relate to or understand different references. Try using certain niche or popular references for the customers that are most likely to get it (for instance, you can save your Harry Potter-inspired jokes for millennials and your Patton-inspired jokes for baby boomers).

    Remember to avoid political jabs or other polarizing jokes that could potentially rub a customer who shares a different opinion the wrong way. Don’t be afraid of keeping it current, but try and stay neutral with your humor for the biggest punch, and the smallest chance of a conversation going sour.

  5. Poke Fun at the Competition

    Companies who can use tastefulness and good delivery to poke fun of the competition often get a win in their customer’s eyes. Remember how we mentioned that Wendy’s Tweets gained a huge following after they took on McDonald’s and other fast-food chains? And the rapping Southwest flight attendant ended his rap by saying, “Thank you very much for my beat, I appreciate that. You will not get that on United Airlines, I guarantee it.” At the Horror Makeup Show in Universal Studios, Orlando, one of the most well-received parts of the show’s routine is a bit where the host jokes with a kid in the audience: “This isn’t Disney, I don’t have to be nice to you.”

    If you can find a way to make a friendly, funny, swipe at the competition while assisting your customer, you may find yourself and your brand winning fans.

  6. Play Off Your Customer

    Sometimes, your customers make a wise-crack first. Other times they respond to your joke with another joke, or maybe just a chuckle. Either way, using humor in customer service is a back-and-forth interaction that requires some level of participation from your customer in order to succeed.

    Ultimately, there are three types of humor that you can use with your customer:

    1. Jokes (pre-packaged humor that people memorize and pass on to one another);
    2. Spontaneous conversational humor (humor that is created intentionally by individuals during the course of an interaction, which can be verbal or nonverbal);
    3. Accidental or unintentional humor.

    Each of these types of humor are viable options for getting laughs in customer service and in life.

    Professional comedians tend to use a mix of jokes and spontaneous conversational humor, which they fine-tune based on their audience feedback. To make the best use of humor in customer service it is important that you do the same with your customers. Depending on your customer’s feedback – be it laughter, a return joke, an encouraging remark, a disapproving comment, or silence – you can keep editing jokes that need improving, throw out jokes that no longer serve you, and/or recycle jokes that do well.

    Spontaneous conversational humor isn’t exactly revisable; however, it is improvable with time. The more you practice your creativity and your ability to use spontaneous conversational humor, the better you will be at knowing when and how to use it. And if you are often the subject of accidental or unintentional humor, just keep being you.

  7. Deliver Superior Customer Service

    Poor customer service is no laughing matter; humor won’t make your customer’s day if it doesn’t come with a solution to their problem. That is why quality customer service and resolution must always come first.

    Don’t let humor become a distraction from your number one goal: customer satisfaction. If you are too concentrated on making good jokes, you might end up missing something that a customer says, putting your needs before your customer’s, and letting opportunities for customer satisfaction pass you by. Humor should be used as an asset – not a burden – and should influence the customer and their relationship with you and your company for the better.

    That being said, if humor is not winning your customer over or creating a quality experience for them, it’s likely time to drop it. No matter how much fun you may be having, customer service is still first and foremost about helping your customer, not about practicing your one-man/woman comedy show. Remember to use humor to one-up an already positive customer service experience – not to make up for poor service.

  8. Use Humor Sparingly

    Like how seasonings are used in the kitchen, humor can be used to spice up customer service. However, if you over-season a dish, you might end up with an unpleasant taste in your mouth, rather than a positive culinary experience.

    Remember to use humor sparingly in order to create interesting moments; avoid the overkill. One tasteful zinger is better than a conversation full of poorly delivered comments that are “supposed to be funny.”

  9. Be Yourself

    It’s okay to be mildly amusing or simply playful rather than laugh-out-loud hilarious. As long as you’re having fun, your sense of ease will most likely transfer onto the customer.

    If you’re not in the mood to use humor, or if you’d rather keep things simple today, don’t force it. Your customers will appreciate you simply listening, being kind, and helping them solve their issues.

  10. Keep it Appropriate

    The last thing you want is for a well-intentioned joke to upset a customer who you were just trying to make laugh. While raunchy jokes might garner praise from your friends, be sure to keep your sense of humor with customers work-appropriate.

    You can decide what is appropriate based on your company’s culture and public image. Some businesses tend to stay within the realm of serious service, while others cultivate a light-hearted image. Some companies cultivate a bad-boy image, while others have a client-base made up almost exclusively of families.

    By looking to your company culture and keeping your content appropriate, you will know not to make the mistake of using a “PG” joke in a “G” environment.

  11. Trial and Error

    With some customers, a joke might land; with others, it might land flat. The important thing is to remember that no two customers are alike, and it’s okay if not everyone laughs at everything you put out there.

    If you are comfortable with using humor in customer service, you will be able to fine-tune your comedic timing through trial and error. Just give it patience and time, and have fun! If a joke or a funny comment doesn’t land the way you had hoped it would, there is no need to shrink with embarrassment. You can light-heartedly tell the customer something like, “well, that one doesn’t always work,” and continue to move forward towards resolution.

Conclusion

Humor in customer service can be a great asset if you know how to use it properly. Ultimately, humor shows your customers that you are having fun serving them, and providing them with the best experience you can.

We hope that these tips help give you the confidence and inspiration to begin to introduce humor as part of your customer service plan.

And in case it doesn’t go over well, check out our blog post on How to Apologize to Your Customers.

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About 

Isabella is a freelance editor, writer, and blogger at Live Chat 100 and Comm100. She is passionate about helping people, teams, and organizations grow into their full potential, and excel in their service. In her spare time, you can find her traveling, painting, or drinking copious amounts of coconut water. Connect with Isabella on LinkedIn.

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