The Improv Rules of Customer Support

4 minute read

October 5, 2021

The Improv Rules of Customer Support


Most days, my heart is engaged with customer support and it’s easy to live up to that quote. But on the days I can’t quite get there – days I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, days where I got some bad news, days where some physical complaint overwhelms me, or days I’m simply distracted by some other elements of my life – I rely on a handful of simple rules – 6, to be exact – I learned doing improvisational comedy to help me fake it. For those of you now trying to picture whether you’ve seen my hands and if I’ve got an extra finger… stop it. I can easily hold six things at once in my complete-normal, absolutely human, five-fingered hand.


1. Yes, And…

Telling a customer that they’re wrong never results in a positive experience for anyone. Instead, align yourself with them. Tell them that they’re valid for feeling/observing/failing. But first, believe that they’re valid.

Imagine how they’d be seeing or using the product in order to draw the conclusions they have. And remember, they may be having a tough day too. Once you’ve done that, you can move on to…


2. Add New Information

When a customer isn’t seeing the big picture, help them get there! If they’re just asking a question and all you need to say is, “Yes, you’re right,” add something extra that might be helpful. If they ask you to do something for them that they can do themselves, do it if it’s not a huge ask, and send them screenshots or a video of you performing the task so they can do it on their own next time.

Always try to add something new to the conversation. An informed customer is an empowered customer. An empowered customer is one who needs less help.


3. Ask Closed Questions

When you’re on a date, it’s best to ask open-ended questions. When you’re trying to figure out where a problem is, it’s far better to ask closed questions. “What were you doing when the error occurred?” is an open question that isn’t likely to produce useful information.

Providing specific examples of how a task might be performed and asking if that’s the process they used is much more likely to encourage them to provide more useful information. This is more of an art than a science and needs to be calibrated for every customer. But, generally speaking, asking questions that lead to short, succinct, answer is invariably the best approach.


4. Be In the Now

Sometimes customer want to dwell on a past incident. Or focus on some future point where things work differently. It’s tempting to get stuck or race ahead with them. And while we still need to use Yes, And to validate their feelings, we also want to keep the focus on the present situation and what can be done in the here and now.


5. Describe the Scene/Leave with Intention

Giving customers as complete a picture as possible is always helpful. Fixed their problem easily? Share with them what led to the issue in the first place and how you fixed it. Is the problem more difficult than it seems on the surface, so more work will be involved to fix it? Explain that to them! Don’t leave your customer in the dark if at all possible.

We know what our internal processes are, but the customers do not. And maybe they can imagine what’s going on behind the scenes accurately, but most likely they cannot). If you’re going to go away and do research, tell them so. If their issue is going to take a while to be resolved, share that with them. Don’t simply disappear, tell them why you’re going to be gone. This can seem most relevant to phone or chat support, but it can make a world of difference with email support as well.


6. Let the Customer Talk

This is particularly relevant to phone and chat, but it’s something to keep in mind while writing emails. The less you say, the more you’ll be heard. Don’t write massive paragraph responses – break them up into smaller sections. Use lists and headers.

Don’t try and completely control the conversation when explaining something over the phone or chat. Be warm but be succinct. Let the customer have moments to breath and make them feel heard.


I personally love these rules and making a game out of providing excellent customer support. I developed this approach while working as a Sale Manager at a Blockbuster Video in Philadelphia, PA. Yes, the Philadelphia renowned for its city council engaging in fisticuffs on the debate floor, the Philadelphia whose sports fans are a menace, the Philadelphia they wrote the “Always Sunny” documentary series about.

My employees had a difficult time not engaging in shouting matches with customers over the phone even though they never enjoyed it. We started training around these rules and there was an almost immediate turn-around. Employees were calmer. Customers were calmer. After a long era of turmoil and strife, peace finally ruled at the Conshohocken Blockbuster because we all began to realize that: You Look Good When You Make Them Look Good.


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Branwyn Tylwyth

Written by Branwyn Tylwyth

Branwyn Tylwyth (they/she) is a Customer Support Specialist with Vanilla & Higher Logic. When they aren’t drawing upon their love of stories and play to make technology accessible to everyone, they’re expressing their love of complex systems by distilling them into accessible and playful experiences in the form of tabletop games and interactive performances.

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