• Michael Weeding

Humour & customer service – A match made in heaven or hell?

I get it, it is better that brands display their human side, so when engaging through social media staff should be empowered to share a joke at an appropriate time. This will ensure responses appear less robotic or sterile.

Although you would have noticed there are some people who are actually quite funny? They deliver the right joke in the right tone at the right time (most of the time), although this is a tactic that many cannot employ because unfortunately most people are simply not funny.

The use of humour is as much about the environment as it is about the engagement. As they say in the classics, there is a time and place for everything and a there is nothing worse than a bad joke delivered at the wrong time, for the joker that is, the others around them may find humour in the situation not the joke.

So if we put the need to humanise our brand together with the fact that very few people know how to be funny then should we really allow humour to be part of the tool set our staff can use to manage our customer service relationships through social media?

Here is an example where it worked well.

Lloyd Rang, executive director of communications at University of Toronto, missed a package delivery from Purolator, a Canadian delivery company. The Twitter engagement as described in a recent article on Digidaywas quite humorous and both parties seemed to enjoy the engagement and Purolator also received a lot of positive PR as a result.

Here is an example of where it did not work well.

When I had a poor experience with Telstra a local Telecommunications service provider in Australia I turned to Twitter as I was hoping for someone to resolve my problem and deliver what they had promised a week earlier. While I like a joke as much, if not more than most people the response failed in the humour department because at that time I was not looking for humour but action.

So why in one instance can a response be considered humorous and generate positive PR and another considered inappropriate. I think that the big difference in the examples above was in the case of Purolator the complainant was not directing his tweet towards the company, they picked it up through monitoring and responded with the intent to assist. The proactive entry point to the conversation opened the door for a different tone, after all they were just trying to help. Although this could have also had dire consequences and the outcome depended on how the complainant would interpreted the initial communication.

So the use of humour in customer service in any situation is dangerous and if it is an approach an organisation supports through social media then they will have to be prepared for both good and bad reactions, probably more of the latter. If that makes brands appear more human then maybe that is the opportunity cost we all have to access when determining our engagement strategies.

So now keep an eye out for my future post, “You cannot win them all – The moments in time when this response is not going to cut it”!


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