Improv Your Customer Service

My youngest son, Adam, is a student at Second City, the school of improve in Chicago, the springboard for so many of the Saturday Night Live cast. Finally people who can appreciate what his high school teachers could not—his comedic genius! (How many trips to the principal’s office for entertaining his classmates?)

Recently I asked him how he was applying his lessons at Second City to other areas of his life (hoping that my tuition dollars were getting the most bang for the yuck, so to speak). I was pleasantly taken aback by the wisdom he has acquired. He works evenings waiting tables (as many starving artists do) at a local restaurant/jazz club: Andy’s Jazz Club. (For those of you living or visiting Chicago, definitely check this place out—great food and great music [and amazing waiters—at least on certain nights…]).

He explained that the two most important rules of Improv are 1) Never say no. Whatever the situation, say yes—take whatever situation you’re given (especially the unexpected) and go from there—run with it.

2) Make the rest of the ensemble look good. It’s not about yourself—it’s about the others on your team.

So… how does that apply to waiting tables??? Adam explained to me that every seat, every patron is a “scene” and whatever request is made, the answer is always yes. (Oh, that all the waiters and waitresses in my past could have said “yes,” rather than—“we can’t substitute,” “it’s not our policy,” “you’re not my table” and other statements sure to ruin one’s appetite!)

Secondly, being a very funny guy, his tendency in the past was to entertain those at his tables—not a bad thing. But what he’s realized is that there’s always at least one person in every group that enjoys being funny, too. Thus rule #2: Make the other person look good. Adam loves being funny, but now his goal is to make someone at his table appear funnier than him. “When I’m funny, I get good tips. But when I make the other guy look even funnier, I get great tips.”

Wow! The answer to almost all customer service challenges wrapped up in the first two rules of Improv!

Say yes to the customer’s request and run with it—make it work using creativity, imagination, humor and whatever it takes.

It’s about the other people, not us. Making our customers, patients, coworkers, bosses, spouses, family members, friends, classmates—whomever!—look good. As my mom always said, “what goes around comes around.”

Way to go, Adam. Go to the head of the class.


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