Positive listening keeps the customer satisfied

Stay positive.

We’ve all been given that advice at one time or another. But I work in the humor industry and when it comes to making comedy audiences laugh, the opposite is often true. Adults and children laugh when a more important person is the victim of a joke. That’s why comedians poke fun at royalty, politicians and famous celebrities – and get away with it. They’re not picking on someone struggling, down on his luck, or without the ability to put up a good defense.

That wouldn’t be funny.

When I work with students, from junior high to college, it’s important for me to emphasize the importance of being positive in productive communication skills. It’s common and trendy today to be sarcastic, insulting or cutting edge. It’s easy to point a finger of blame at the recent generations of stand-up comedians, but this is nothing new. In fact, it’s still the way my college pals and I communicate. I’d be shocked to receive an email or phone call from one of the guys that didn’t open with an insulting comment about my intelligence, age, looks, weight – or whatever is trending on their mind at that moment.

9T4AGEETEIt’s how we communicate on a personal, as close friends level. It’s also very acceptable in the comedy world and why a pie thrown in the face of “the boss” is just as funny in the movies today as it was when Charlie Chaplin was the brightest star on the silent screen.

But what’s considered cutting edge in the comedy industry is not usually funny or productive when it comes to customer service. Using negative humor for laughs outside of a close friendship can send the victim on a defensive course by feeling inferior or unwanted. And as we all know, that’s not a way to build or continue a business relationship.

Keep the customer satisfied.

As a consumer, my business is earned because the product or service is what I’m looking for. I’ll become a repeat customer because I’m a happy customer. In the best scenario, the people I’m dealing with make me feel important; even if I know very little about how they give me good results (in my case, anything to do with cars). I don’t feel inferior or unwanted and that’s good customer service.

Is the customer is always right?

No, of course not. Sometimes they misunderstand what they are buying or being promised. It’s usually a miscommunication. But when dealing with a product or service, even when terms are written out or explained by a sales representative, misunderstandings might occur.

circleThere’s a game we’ve all played at one time or another where your friends or classmates would sit in a circle. One person whispers something in the ear of the person sitting next to him. Then that person whispers it in the next person’s ear, and it continues around the circle until it comes back to the one that started it all. Usually the original statement has been misunderstood, changed and shared in various ways until it’s completely different than what was said originally.

I remember playing this with our teacher when we were in first grade. The teacher started by whispering something very innocent to the first student. By the time it went around the circle and back to the teacher, it had turned – either through a misunderstanding or one player’s attempt at being funny in a negative way – very, very insulting to the teacher. I distinctly remember her turning a bright shade of embarrassing red and the game was over.

In fact, the game was never played again in our classroom.

That’s a good lesson in customer service. A misunderstanding or miscommunication can quickly turn a positive situation into one that is negative, embarrassing, or even to the point of anger. The best we can do to prevent this is to listen and try to understand.

And of course, stay positive.

In my training seminars I play a game with two audience victims… I mean volunteers. They come to the front of the room and the audience assigns each an alternative career. Since I always insist on creativity and imagination (elements of good humor) some fun examples have included an astronaut, pro surfer, television game show host, and… well, use your imagination.

I ask the two volunteers to have a simple conversation as if they were in the profession given to them. Every once in awhile during this conversation I’ll shout, “Stop!” and ask one to reach into a basket and pick a notecard that has a printed random (funny) sentence. They read this as their next line in the conversation. The astronaut, pro surfer, game show host – or whoever they are – has to reply and keep the conversation going.

It’s all about listening.

chinese-whispersOf course it always takes the conversation in a completely different direction and often ends up like the “whispering around the circle game” with the ending nowhere near what they had been talking about at the beginning. The main difference between a group of mischievous first graders and our training audience is that I insist we stay positive. When it comes to customer service, the goal is to have your customers return satisfied and happy, rather than leaving with a bright shade of embarrassing red on their faces.

Listening to what was said and being positive are the first steps in productive communication. This is a solid foundation for good customer service and can lead the way to the ultimate goal of keeping the customer satisfied.

Musical interlude: Keep The Customer Satisfied by Simon & Garfunkel (enjoy for the fun of it!)


Dave Schwensen has designed and instructs university courses in communications and presentation skills. He is an author, speaker, trainer, consultant, nationally-recognized comedy coach, and two-time CILC Pinnacle Award Winner “For remarkable quality of educational content and exceptional skill at program delivery.” For information about scheduling Dave’s interactive training programs and breakout sessions for your next event, visit www.TalkingForSuccess.com

For Dave’s author page on Amazon.com CLICK HERE.

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Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

Anger Management

Was It Something I Said?

If I made a list of embarrassing experiences in my life, this wouldn’t even be considered. But I’ll share because it points out the importance of knowing your listener (comedians call it knowing your audience). It was a situation when humor didn’t work in my favor.

We were in the Las Vegas Airport catching a flight to St. Louis. I was traveling with my flight attendant wife Debbie, who can breeze through security while I wait in line with other VIP wannabe’s.

As a seasoned traveler I’ve learned to shove everything into a carry-on suitcase that will be shoved through the security checkpoint on a conveyor belt. I once considered wearing flip-flops to make taking off my shoes an easier process, but Debbie dashed that idea with sarcastic flight attendant advice:

Would you want to run out of a burning wreckage in flip-flops?” My non-sarcastic answer is to always travel in running shoes.

FabioI placed my suitcase and shoes on the conveyor belt and followed the guy in front of me to go through the body scanner. He was a few inches over six feet, had longish hair and looked like he worked out. For our purposes we’ll call him Fabio.

There were two conveyor belts through security, but only one body scanner in the middle. The line was a “Y” shape with passengers coming from both directions. At least I thought that was the case. I’m assuming Fabio did also because after shoving his suitcase onto the conveyor belt he simply stepped into the line. The guy behind him moved forward and I took my place behind him.

This guy wasn’t as tall or well built as Fabio. For our purposes, let’s call him Homer Simpson. I think you’ll get the picture in your mind. I stood in line behind Homer.

Homer turned and asked if I’d also like to go in front of him. I thought that was a very nice gesture. It’s too bad I didn’t recognize the sarcasm in his voice.

No, that’s alright,” I replied. “I’ll just go behind you.” And then I smiled and attempted a joke about not being in a hurry. With hindsight, it didn’t have the friendly effect I thought it would.

If I had x-ray vision like airport security I might have seen steam building up in Homer’s brain and shooting out his ears. I watched him go through the scanner, took my turn, and then grabbed my suitcase and tied my running shoes.

Then I was confronted with what was actually going on in Homer’s steam-filled mind.

HomerI began walking to my gate and noticed Homer talking to a woman and young girl. I’ll assume they were his wife and daughter and for our purposes we’ll call them Marge and… well, I’ll skip The Simpson’s reference, but I’m sure you’ll get the picture. His face was red and looked angry as he pointed his finger toward me.

Suddenly Marge RAN at me, started YELLING and ACCUSED me of cutting in line. I noticed Fabio was within shouting distance, but Marge said nothing to him. He continued walking and once again I followed, but at a faster pace since an angry looking Marge wasn’t on my itinerary of sights to see in Las Vegas.

At this point, Homer yelled something about me laughing at him and called me an “Arrogant ****!

I stopped. It was only for very brief moment, but long enough to say, “Don’t talk to me like that.”

Now, this may sound like a confrontation about to get out of control, but it wasn’t going to happen. Many years ago in New York City my karate instructor gave us the best advice for self-defense. The first step in avoiding a potentially bad situation is to walk away. Only react with our training when it was absolutely necessary. I continued walking from what was already a bad situation and toward my flight gate.

Homer 2But I was hit with a very uncomfortable realization. Maybe there was no “Y” for two lines at security. Perhaps Fabio had also innocently (or on purpose?) cut in and I blindly followed. If this was the case, it was an honest mistake. And if Homer had calmly said, “The line starts back there,” I would have followed the rules of civilized people and taken my place at the end.

Instead his sarcasm did not communicate that message. And my humor only poured fuel on a simmering fire.

A simple statement would have corrected my mistake. But what I found not so simple was how fast he reacted with intense anger. If this type of reaction is a normal occurrence in front of their young daughter, what is this teaching her about adult behavior?

And what if Homer had turned his anger at Fabio instead of me? My guess is that he might have walked away with a few bruises – both to his body and ego. That would’ve only made the situation worse.

Humor is an important conversational enhancement to build business and personal relationships. But as mentioned earlier, it’s important to know your audience and when to use it.

With this experience I did not know the situation or my audience. But displaying a sense of humor or a smile would normally be received as a positive gesture. And even if there is disagreement, it should inspire a non-confrontational response. It was too bad Homer didn’t read it that way because the problem would’ve been simple to correct.

When I told Debbie what happened we both knew how to “fix” the situation. We had lunch and a few laughs, which was a lot less stressful and more fun than steaming over a miscommunication meltdown. Next time I’ll pay more attention to airport security lines, while also practicing Anger Management by keeping a sense of humor in case a Fabio wannabe or anyone else cuts ahead.


Comment? Please use the form below. In the meantime, thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!



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Dave Schwensen is a nationally recognized comedy coach and author of six books including How To Be A Working Comic. He has designed and instructs university courses in communications and presentation skills. Dave is a keynote speaker and training seminar leader (for your next event!) and CILC Pinnacle Award Winner for video conferences on communication skills, comedy and pop culture.

For Dave’s author page on Amazon.com CLICK HERE.

For information about scheduling Dave’s training seminar or interactive keynote for your next event, or for any comments please use the contact form below or send an email to dave@davepresents.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing