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When Improv Meets Business

Improv for the CustomerCustomer Experience

I recently was invited by Pegasystems to attend Pegaworld 2016, their annual users’ conference. The conference was everything about CRM (customer relationship management). While there were some amazing demonstrations and stories that came out during the general and educational sessions, one lesson jumped out at me. It had to do with improvisational acting.

So, what does improv have to do with CRM and business? According to Don Schuerman, Pega’s Chief Technology Officer and VP of product marketing, quite a lot. He shared an interesting lesson that he learned from studying and performing the art of improvisational acting.

First, you must understand what improv is about. The Wikipedia definition says that improvisational acting is a form of theater where most or all of what is performed is created at the moment it is performed. In other words, there isn’t a script. One actor starts out with an idea and the other actor(s) build from that. The actors have no idea where the scene will end. Fun for some, and a little scary for others. And as it relates to business, very relevant.

Don’s lesson was about a technique called Yes, And. This is really the backbone of what improvisation acting is all about. First, you listen intently to the other actor. You acknowledge what he or she said, and then add to the conversation. The acknowledgement is the Yes, and the addition is the And.

According to Don, not only does this make sense in the theatrical world, but also brilliantly applies to business. While Don’s focus is on the digital business world, this technique works for any type of interaction you have with your customers. Be it digital or face-to-face, today we must improvise to meet the expectations and needs of our customers. After listening to what the customer wants, acknowledge them, which is the Yes. Then add value based on our expertise, which is the And.

Here’s a very simple example. Let’s say I contact my wireless phone provider. I have a question about my monthly bill. The customer service rep appears to be very knowledgeable and gives me the information I need. That’s the Yes. And, that’s where most CSR’s might end the conversation.

But, my rep is well trained and rather than end the conversation, she offers up some suggestions to enhance my experience, and at the same time, save me a few dollars each month. That’s the And. She acknowledged and then improvised with ideas.

Now, this is important. If you were paying attention, you might notice that I didn’t call my wireless provider. I contacted them. While it could have easily have been on the phone, it wasn’t. It was on their website and I interacted with their “instant chat” system. I typed in my question and my CSR typed back the answer and suggestions.

By the way, with technology today, it could have been a computer responding to me in the “chat.” Chat technology has come so far that most people can’t tell the difference between the robotic responder and a human. And, if the robot or computer senses the customer is confused, it will “improvise” and immediately transfer the issue to a human – seamlessly. The customer won’t know the difference.

The point is that in-person, on the phone, instant chat, or any other type of interaction, the concept of Yes, And, is a great technique to create a better customer’s experience.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact or For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXVI, Shep Hyken)

  1. Very good point that this technique isn’t just limited to the phone.

    When I managed a contact center, I always taught my reps to anticipate the next question and answer that one too. It cut down on a lot of email back and forth and definitely led to happier customers.

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