It’s been a rough few years, to say the least. Like many, I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. So I’ll try laughter, because as William James wrote in The Principles of Psychology more than 100 years ago, “We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh.”
Talk about exceeding expectations! If laughter is the genesis of happiness, and we want to make our customers happy, we should make them laugh.
Easier said than done. Ninety-five percent of business leaders say they hesitate to use humor for fear of offending someone, according to a new Oracle-sponsored survey by Savanta of 12,183 consumers, including 3,125 business leaders in marketing, sales and customer service.
The irony – there’s always irony! – is that 91% of people responding to the same survey say they prefer brands to be funny. They like funny TV ads, memes, email subject lines – they even like chatbots with a sense of humor.
Rather than living in constant fear of alienating people, wouldn’t it be nice to know that if we keep them laughing, we keep them happy, and if we keep them happy, they’re more likely to spend more money with us – and even forgive us more readily for our inevitable mistakes?
Already, many brands I do business with email me good wishes for my birthday. That’s nice, and it’s also an easy opportunity to inject a bit of humor. (None of us is getting any younger!)
But what of that fear expressed by business leaders? It’s not unfounded, as the same survey shows that almost half (45%) of people “cancelled” a brand because it had offended them.
That’s certainly reason for caution – but not a reason to not use humor at all, especially since nearly as many people (41%) would walk away from a brand that doesn’t make them laugh or smile regularly.
So, what’s a business leader to do?
The answer, as always, is in the data, and especially our ability to act upon it. We can know enough about our customers, including context, to figure out appropriate ways of using humor with them – without being offensive.
We also know enough about our customers to know when to tread lightly; for example, if someone has been repeatedly trying to resolve a problem with you, this might not be the time to be lighthearted or to appear to take their issues cavalierly.
But having reams of data on a screen isn’t going to help your customer service agent have a satisfactory conversation with a customer, because there’s often too much data for them to digest at the spur of the moment.
Data need to be enhanced with suggestions such as next best offer, prompted by an AI that is faster and better able to assimilate disparate information streams than any person could be.
More to the point, the AI can help customer service agents, marketers, and others in your organization identify customers and prospects who might not be receptive to humor at a given moment (such as peak frustration with a service), and suggest alternate messaging.
Data are telling us something we know intuitively to be true: laughter is the best medicine. Business leaders only refrain from using humor because they aren’t sure it will be used appropriately. So, here’s the set-up: 55% of those surveyed say they would be more confident using humor if they had better customer visibility, but 85% say they don’t have the data, insights or tools to successfully apply humor.
And here’s the punch line: 32% would feel more confident about using humor in their messaging if they had access to advanced technologies like AI.
Consumers are telling us they want to have relationships with brands that make them smile or laugh, and are likely to walk away from those that don’t. So we don’t have much choice. We’re either going to make our customers laugh and smile, or we’re going to fade into irrelevance.
Rob Tarkoff joined Oracle in 2018 to lead Oracle Customer Experience (CX) Cloud product and strategy across marketing, sales, commerce, and service. His goal is to build products that help companies succeed in the Experience Economy.
Tarkoff spent the last 15 years focused on the customer experience, developing products for both large and early-stage companies. Most recently, as president and CEO of Lithium Technologies, he created the leading software in online communities. Prior to that, Tarkoff ran the Digital Enterprise business for Adobe.
Tarkoff holds a BA in political economy from Amherst College and a JD from Harvard Law School.