Make Your Customers Smile

Recently, I was on a plane and paid $3 for a Vitamin Water. When it came, I discovered – to my surprise – that the bottle was half the size of the one that can be purchased at Target for $1. After realizing that I had just paid 6x more for the Vitamin Water than I would have if I wasn’t 30,000 feet in the air, I was pretty ticked off.

While thinking about whether it made sense to complain, I looked at the bottle and saw the following:

“so yeah, this bottle is a little shorter than normal. but shorter is better. want proof? what’s better, a short or long phone call with your parents? a short or long download time? and who doesn’t want to be on a short list? that’s right, short is killing it right now.”

This is one happy customer!

Instantly my anger melted and I found myself smiling. No longer was I interested in complaining. Rather, I was marveling at the clever way in which the prose seemed to be a direct response to my frustration.

We all know that humor can diffuse a tense situation. But can humor also prevent a situation from becoming tense in the first place? And, can the use of humor help reduce the likelihood of customer complaints?

While I couldn’t find any rigorous research showing a causal link, there are plenty of examples of companies that use subtle humor regularly and have large loyal fan bases:

  • Users of Google Chrome see the following message when the program crashes: “Aw, snap!”
  • The napkins at Chipotle say the following: “This napkin is made from 90% post-consumer recycled unbleached paper. It could have been an electricity bill or a parking ticket in its past life. Forgive & forget.”
  • SoomSoom – a popular chain fast-food restaurant in Manhattan best known for its falafels – has descriptions of all of its ingredients on the walls. For example, coriander is described in the following way: ” This edible plant is soft and hairless. It has also been known to relieve anxiety, insomnia and baldness. We just made up that baldness fact. Sorry if we got your hopes up.”
  • Upon launching Intuit’s TurboTax program, users are told that the program will open in a moment. But since the program takes a while to launch, that initial message is quickly replaced with “OK, we know it’s taking longer than a moment.”
  • Southwest Airlines flight attendants regularly use humor during in-flight announcements. An announcement I’ve heard quite often is to tell passengers that “in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will descend from the ceiling. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child traveling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are traveling with two small children, decide now which one you love more.” And here’s a video of a flight attendant rapping the safety announcements.

  • Virgin America uses humor to make what is probably the most interesting pre-flight video ever. Take a look at it – I promise it will keep your attention and make you smile.

How can your business incorporate humor to minimize customer frustrations and improve the overall experience?

Photo: flickr | Yumi Kimura

The preceding was a post from Dr. Atul Teckchandani, one of the great professors teaching Entrepreneurship at CSUF.

0 responses to “Make Your Customers Smile”

  1. Can humor help a company create goodwill with its customers? Short answer: yes, absolutely.

    It helps if the company’s using it in a situation other than one in which they caused frustration. Some of the examples you cite above are in that category (Chipotle, SoomSoom), while others aren’t (Chrome, Intuit, Vitaminwater). You can use humor in the latter case but it’ll always be more of an uphill battle.

    It also helps if a company doesn’t overdo it. A few restaurant chains don’t seem like they’ve got the hang of that. I’m reminded of a dessert place in lower Manhattan called “Rice to Riches”. Every square inch of the place – walls, counters, serving areas – is covered with some kind of joke or witty saying. It’s a bit much and made me wonder if it’s meant to distract customers from the fact that they’re spending $8 on a bowl of rice pudding. Most of that tab likely goes towards two things: NYC rent and paying their joke writers.

    But a lot of companies are using humor very effectively. Why does it work? I’m reminded of an interview with comedian Tim Allen (of “Home Improvement” fame) from years ago. Little known fact: he spent 2 years in prison for drug trafficking. He claimed that one thing that helped him get through it, especially when he was about to get beat up by someone, was to tell jokes and make people laugh. He said it worked on his fellow inmates because you get to be angry and sad in prison often, but you don’t get to laugh that much.

    Dealing with some company’s product or service is hardly the same as prison, but it’s also a realm in which you don’t get to laugh that much. That’s why when the Southwest Airlines flight attendant gets in a good zinger out of nowhere, everyone loosens up a bit.

    • Ravi,

      Thank you very much for your response and I think we can all agree that when done correctly humor is definitely a net positive. Also, I knew that Tim Allen was arrested on drug charges but I did not know he actually spent time in prison for it. Being able to be funny in a prison situation has to be extremely difficult.


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