Yes, and…

The further we go in the CRM adventure, the less our efforts seem to be about technology. That’s because we’re reaching a theoretical limit, or asymptote, on what technology can do in the vendor-customer relationship.

Think of an asymptote as the ceiling that a graph never reaches as it curls over to the horizontal. Increasingly, we’re encountering situations where the best technology can do is assist humans as they deal with complex issues and other people pursuing products and services. This is not to say that technology doesn’t do a very good job handling the simple stuff.

All this was brought home to me recently in some Harvard Business Review articles and in my own explorations in Chicago, where I got indoctrinated in the ways of the comedy troupe Second City. First Harvard.

Emotional Intelligence in a Machine Age

It is interesting that even in situations where machines are talking to machines, there’s more to be learned. In “Success with the Internet of Things Requires More Than Chasing the Cool Factor,” Maciej Kranz, VP of the Corporate Strategy and Innovation Group at Cisco, explores some people issues. Kranz is also the author of Building the Internet of Things.

In a nutshell, Kranz’s advice is this: “First, train your employees in critical IoT skills — not just technology and processes but collaboration, too. Second, implement a culture of innovation across all grades, functions, and regions.” Look at all of the people skills needed even in the age of machines talking to machines.

Then there’s “The Personality Traits of Good Negotiators” by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, professor of business psychology at University College London, and faculty member at Columbia University.

Chamorro-Premuzic’s research is top-notch, and he’s a frequent contributor to HBR, writing about emotional intelligence, or EQ, and psychology in the workplace.

A “study by Wharton and MIT professors shows that people with higher EQ are more likely to induce positive mood states in their negotiation counterparts and leave them more satisfied with the outcome of the negotiation,” Chamorro-Premuzic wrote. “EQ also translates into higher levels of satisfaction with one’s own negotiation outcome, regardless of the objective result.”

While both impressed me, these two articles didn’t come together in my mind until I happened to hear a Second City troupe member talking about comedy while on vacation in Chicago.

Keeping It Real

During a tour of the neighborhood where Second City’s theater complex is located, the troupe member, Margaret, explained the company’s approach to comedy and, interestingly, how some of the more than 3,000 current students and cast members learn improv comedy and sometimes teach it on corporate campuses.

One of the foundational techniques can be boiled down to “Yes, and…” in a comedic dialog. For example, I say, “The food here is terrible!” and you might say, “Yes, and the portions are so small!” Or one of my new favorites, “Honey, the kids are acting up!” followed by, “Well, call your ex-wife!”

With that foundation, you don’t really need a script — you just follow and try to add to what you’re given, and that’s what makes it improvisational. Maybe that’s why leading corporations try to inculcate it in their cultures.

Of course, business is not always or even often funny, but that’s not the point. The point is that if the people skills embodied by EQ are trainable, and if we invest in them, then we might find ourselves more productive and satisfied when we affirm others.

Most call centers today have scripted affirmative responses like, “I’m sorry to hear that…” or “I do apologize…” but we all know that they are scripted. We need to make affirming statements as part of a diagnostic process, but it’s not OK to let our technique show.

There’s a set of games that aspiring comics use to learn the craft of improv — again, proving that it’s something you can learn. We owe a great debt to Viola Spolin, an actress who invented the games in the 1940s, and her son Paul Sills, a director who helped perfect and teach them.

Getting more out of our CRM investments will require greater attention to methodology. With methodology, we can experience a new era of growth in CRM — but without it, our asymptotes might be just ahead.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at [email protected].

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