How To Use The Power Of Humor For Business Success

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Mar. 28 2023, Published 8:05 a.m. ET

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Let’s take a look at public-facing businesses. Getting people into a place of business is the first hurdle. But then what? If you own a restaurant, you may not want consumers to linger, so you can turn those tables; in a store, the opposite is likely true. The more customers look around, try things on, the more likely they are to buy.

But if consumers are still feeling wary, how do you help them feel comfortable, relax, and stay awhile? Apparently, you have to follow the advice Donald O’Connor gave in the classic movie Singing in the Rain and “Make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh, don’t you know everyone wants to laugh?”

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I’m serious. According to expert retail consultant Bob Phibbs writing on his blog, “A shared laugh in a store makes everyone relax. Laughter while shopping and selling lets us lower our defenses and opens us.”

Phibbs stresses he’s not advising you to train your employees to learn and tell jokes. Instead, train them not to act like robots.

Even pre-pandemic customers had certain expectations of retailers. They expected promotions and deals. They often wouldn’t buy unless they got a bargain. There were no surprises for customers—everything was rote.

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But after months of being cooped up and not going to stores as often (or at all), consumers are ready to go shopping. How do you get them to come to your store and not the one down the block or across town? You Surprise them. And Delight them. Luckily Phibbs says, “laughter is one of the most powerful ways to surprise and delight customers.”

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We’re all familiar with the sales maxim that goes, “People do business they know, like, and trust.” Going back to Phibbs’ earlier point, you can’t get to know, like, or trust people who are robotic. If you want customers to engage with your staff, they need to be engaging. And Phibbs says, “Laughter shows a customer has found a real person. Open, engaging, engaged.”

The Robot Dance

Part of the problem Phibbs says is that “what people say they want, and what they really want are often two different things.” When customers come into a store, this is what Phibbs says typically happens:

Sales staff robotically asks: “Finding everything all right?”

Customer robotically replies: “Yes, I’m just looking.”

Sales staff robotically says: “If you need anything, just let me know.”

No knowledge is gained in that conversation. Your salespeople have no clue what the customer wants or needs. And the customer does not feel valued.

To get past that, your employees need to establish some sense of rapport with your customers. Once you build rapport, the laughter will come naturally. The key, says Phibbs, is to let the laughter start with the customer.

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Just how can you make that happen? Phibbs shares some tips:

Five Quick Rules To Increase Sales With Laughter

  1. Listen for your customer to describe a situation or problem which makes them laugh.
  2. Don’t make fun of someone’s nationality, looks, or background.
  3. Keep it light, not dark.
  4. Self-deprecating humor is always a good place to start.
  5. If a joke doesn’t land, and it might not, don’t try to make your customer laugh by forcing a laugh yourself. Simply pivot back to the customer by asking a question.

There’s a fine line here between getting and losing the sale. Phibbs warns, “Sometimes [sales] associates get caught up in trying to be funny, which if kept at more than a few seconds, gets old and costs them the sale.” Instead, he says your sales team needs to remember, “The point of laughter is sharing a moment.”

This all starts with you. You can’t create a “Make ’em Laugh” rulebook—that would defeat the purpose of being real. You need to let your employees be themselves—Phibbs says they must be “comfortable” when on the sales floor.

Of course, there should be some guidelines. The key is to make sure your sales team (and you) interact with your customers—not with one another and not on their phones.

If you need help figuring out this new strategy, ask your SCORE mentor for help. Don’t have one? You can find a SCORE mentor here.

This article was written by Rieva Lesonsky and originally appeared on Score.

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