Customer Service Is No Laughing Matter. But Laugh Anyway.

PHOENIX — Joel Zeff thinks your customer service is a laugh riot -- or at least it should be. As one of the presenters at this year's Annual Call Center Exhibition, held at the Phoenix Convention Center here this week, his speech, "The Strength of Laughter: Energizing Your Spirit with Humor" -- though a bit of a departure for an industry show -- touched on one of the conference's main themes: how to keep customer service workers striving for excellence in the face of constant change and rising consumer expectations.

As part of his presentation, Zeff, a humorist, motivational speaker, and author of Make the Right Choice, engaged the crowd in several improvisation exercises not only to make the crowd giggle and slap their knees, but also to drive home the essential elements that make any routine -- even customer service processes -- run on all cylinders. "Improv games are just microcosms of contact center teams," he said. "I want you guys to have fun. You all work hard, and you deserve to laugh."

Noting the rampant evolutions taking place every day in the contact center, Zeff said that change is a necessary evil. "We all know about change, and it's hard to do something new, different, and out of our comfort zone," he said. Still, he added, "we have to change to be better and more productive."

Zeff went on to argue that even those with a passion for the work they do have days in which they become frustrated. It's how you deal with that, he continued, that's important. "Your passion may run low, and that is the key to everything -- success, teamwork, you name it," he added. "If you don't have that fuel, your stress level will rise and you won't be able to do your work well."

This stress isn't always generated by large systemic changes, but rather little problems that pile on and weigh people down. Zeff said that everyone should ask themselves two important questions when unexpected change starts to crop up:

  • Does this change affect my ability to be happy and successful in what I do?; and
  • Does this affect the ability of the people around me to be happy and successful?

If the answer is no, then let it go -- now. "Don't wait until two days later," Zeff said.

To keep the passion alive in the contact center, Zeff urged the crowd to give their coworkers, customers, managers, and vendors two essential things: an opportunity and positive support. During Zeff's improv skits, he said the positive support came through applause and laughter. And while Zeff admitted that professional environments can sometimes make it more complicated to communicate appreciation, it's no less necessary. "We all want it but we don't give it to each other enough," he said. "Go home and ask yourself if you gave people positive support. If not, send a voicemail [or] email, or say thanks face-to-face." This takes just a few seconds, he added, and doesn't require any money or strategy meetings.

Zeff urged the crowd to embrace change, because it's not going away anytime soon. He stressed that it's OK to have some roadblocks along the way, but quitting because things get tough is not an option. "Contact centers are always looking for ways to try to be more effective and productive," he said. "If we stay in game, we are guaranteed success. We only fail when we quit."

His final recommendation was to create an environment in the contact center that would make others successful -- and, unintentionally perhaps, in doing so he reframed President John F. Kennedy's famous 1961 inaugural address as "Ask not what your contact center can do for you": "Normally people go to work and ask, ‘What can everyone do for me?' " he recalled. "Instead, we need to shift and ask ourselves what we can do to help others. If you do that, the benefits will come back to you ten- or even a hundredfold."

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.


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