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Improve Customer Rapport with Improv!
By Craig Harrison

As we look for ways to improve our rapport with customers, clients and prospects let’s cast our gaze to improv — improvisational behavior popularized by those whacky folks seen in drama classes, theatre troupes, on the entertaining television show Whose Line Is It Anyway?

It might surprise you to learn that even in something as spontaneous as Improvisation there are rules at play. Three in particular have direct relevance to our customer and client interactions.

Make Your Partner Look Good. Improv is a collaborative effort. So too are customer relationships. You are partners with your clients, customers and prospects on projects, contracts, campaigns, programs and special events. When you help customers get what they want, you get what you want. Always ask yourself how can you help them look good, excel and succeed. When Improv games work most effectively each partner's actions help the other look good. As a sales and service professional your work shouldn’t just be about making yourself look good. First, help your clients look good and you’ll shine in the process.

Be Spontaneous. So often we are bound by rules and regulations, restrictions and proscriptions. Sometimes we're so bogged down we can't respond to the issue at hand. There are times our colleagues and customers expect and deserve our abilities to think and act on our feet in a spontaneous manner. In a world where we are quick to champion an "adapt or die" philosophy we must not forget the ability to be spontaneous, making decisions by feel and impulsively as the case may call for. Be ready, willing and able to eschew guidelines and apply creativity to solve problems and your clients succeed. Give yourself permission to be spontaneous and admire the results.

Say "Yes, AND… ." So often we are apt to respond to comments, suggestions and inquiries with some variation of "Yes, but…" The impact is immediate: whatever "offer" being advanced is now qualified, mitigated, diminished or otherwise muted. Your customer's world of possibilities has just been restricted. The idea in question, once ripe with potential, has now been shackled. When we instead respond "Yes, and…" it builds on what has been said, allowing for both parties to co-create a solution. Instead of a competition between ideas or a zero-sum game where just one point of view prevails, now both parties are actively creating solutions and future success scenarios.

Teaming With Success

Teamwork is the lubricant of success in the marketplace. Spontaneity and a sincere respect for your clients facilitates teamwork. Your spontaneity is a gift to your customers. “…As in any artistic endeavor, we must learn to trust our impulses and be ourselves." So says Kat Koppett, co-founder of StoryNet, LLC (, and author of the new book Training To Imagine. Kat continues: "Improvisers learn that bypassing the little judgment voices in their heads — daring to be obvious, for example, staying present and reacting naturally — will always stand them in better stead than trying to do or say the 'right' thing. Kat helps employees learn to be in sync with the reality of the moment. She believes that just as a live audience knows the difference between real and contrived, so too does your co-workers.

I too am a strong proponent of the use of Improv techniques for improving team building, listening and overall communication skills, to say nothing of sharpening your sales and service orientation. I invite you to take an Improv class, employ Improv techniques in meetings and off-sites, and look again at Whose Line Is It Anyway? for its value in stimulating your creativity and enhancing the tools in your sales and service tool kit.

Toastmasters are Masters of Improv

Another great place to sharpen your improv skills is through Toastmasters International, the communication and leadership program with thousands of clubs worldwide. Since 1924 members have been engaging in Table Topics, a form of extemporaneous speaking where participants are given a topic and expected to think and speak on their feet, without prior preparation, for 1-2 minutes at a time. It's simultaneously scary, fun and fulfilling too. Yet the fear quickly turns into fun! Find a club near you to experience the magic of Toastmasters: or call 1-800-YWE-SPEAK.

Now it's your turn to impress…through improv!

San Francisco Bay Area-based Professional speaker Craig Harrison's Expressions of Excellence!™ provides sales and service solutions through speaking. For information on keynotes, training, coaching, curriculum for licensing and more, call (888) 450-0664, visit or E-mail for inquiries.


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