Like you, Robin Williams’ death last week was a real shock. He had a true gift to make others laugh and feel better. A true irony.
I even met him once, in a software shop in San Francisco. Thinking back to his career, he reminds me of parallels between comedy and customer experience. Let’s look at some of the ways that these two arts/sciences are similar.
Both look really easy when done well, but take tons of work and preparation. Mediocre comedians make it up as they go. The great ones, from Robin Williams to Chris Rock, work diligently on their new material for months. They make surprise appearances in small towns to test their ideas and throw away far more material than they actually use. The best use a very diligent process to whittle down the content to a very tight program that they can then use as a baseline, and riff from there.
Customer experiences are very similar. Poor experiences happen when you make it up as you go. Great experiences take months or years to create through diligence. You test your ideas in small venues to see if they work before going further. You throw out way more ideas than you actually use. And, just like Robin Williams makes comedy look easy in this clip, the experiences at a USAA or Trader Joe’s looks simple – like anybody can do it. Yet so few do.
Great Comedians and CX Leaders both know their audiences. By testing out their ideas in so many audiences, comedians get a good idea about what works and what doesn’t. They target their message based on their knowledge of their audience. Similarly, customer experience leaders know their customers and target appropriately. The reason Sam’s Club is a leading experience is because they don’t confuse their offering with a Nordstrom’s or Amazon customer – they target the experience towards their audience.
Both audiences and customers are never satisfied for long. Imagine if Steve Martin kept saying “Excuuuuuuse Me!” We would quickly tire of his schtick. That’s one of Adam Sandler’s problems – it seems like he keeps playing the same character, and audiences tire of it. Similarly, what was a great experience yesterday is table stakes today. A follow-up phone call was once special in a B2B relationship – now it’s expected. Order on web and deliver to store, as well as the opposite, were once unusual. Now it’s hard to find a major retailer without it.
Great comedians and customer experiences are depressingly rare. Just like there are so few great experiences, there was only one Robin Williams. And we’ll miss him.