Departing Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is famous for his collaborative leadership, open communication and quick decision-making style. But those aren’t skills he honed in B-school — they’re traits he picked up on the stage, in a former life as an improv comedian.
And he’s in good company: American Express, Dupont, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble and more have used improv training to help improve employees’ communication skills, adaptability and ability to handle a crisis. As Tina Fey famously wrote in her 2011 memoir, “Bossypants,” the basic rules of improv are an excellent primer for business success. But how do lessons learned on “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” or at Chicago’s Second City Theater apply to field service? We break it down below:
Say “Yes, And”
What it Means in Improv: When joining a scene, always acknowledge what’s happening in the scene, then add something of your own to propel the story forward.
What it Means for Customer Support: Teaching support staff to first empathize with users (“yes, I understand the problem”) then move directly to solutions makes for a powerful and satisfying interaction. Even better, keep the conversation moving forward by inviting users to continually reach out for support.
What it Means for Leaders: The best managers acknowledge their teams’ ideas, and make them better. Your job isn’t just to shoot down bad suggestions; it’s to offer alternative solutions.
What it Means in Improv: If you ask a string of questions during a scene, you’re putting too much pressure on your partner. Make statements about what’s happening, instead, so you can share the creative load.
What it Means for Customer Support: Service techs should be as authoritative as possible when answering questions, avoiding words like “probably,” “could,” and “potentially.” Those qualifiers subtly erode trust in the customer satisfaction experience.
What it Means for Leaders: As Fey puts it, “whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.”
There Are No Mistakes
What it Means in Improv: If one partner jumps into a scene and misunderstands what the other partner is doing, the first actor doesn’t correct the second — both just go with the new direction.
What it Means for Customer Support: When you’re afraid to make mistakes, it’s hard to be human. And customers today are looking for authentic interactions. Teach support reps to admit when they (or the company) messed up, own the problem and offer a solution.
What it Means for Leaders: Everyone appreciates a leader who admits when he/she is wrong, and the less afraid you are of being imperfect, the more your team will feel free to take risks and experiment.