The Stanislavsky Method in Customer Service

Fall often brings reminiscing, at least for me, about cooler mornings and warm weekday afternoons in a classroom.  In my high school years, I was fascinated with acting and drama, so it’s no surprise that I thought back to those classes after getting the kids onto their respective buses this morning.  Happily, I remembered learning The Stanislavksy System (or Method)…and realized that it influenced my approach to customer service. (Cool, huh!?)

For those of you who never aspired to act, the Stanislavsky Method (known more commonly these days as “Method Acting”), was a huge departure from the 19th century approach to bringing characters to life on stage. Instead of the big, broad movements and exaggerated speech that had been the norm up to the turn of the century, Constantin Stanislavsky believed that a more natural-looking performance would be more believable and just as entertaining.  At its heart, his Method stressed that the actor must first be believed, an accomplishment even more important than being heard or understood.  He must have been on to something, since his Method is being taught in acting schools around the world today.

So, you’re asking, “What the heck does all this acting stuff have to do with Customer Service?”  I’ll answer your question with a question of my own.  Have you ever had to act your way through a customer service interaction?  Have you had to pretend to care, or hold your tongue because the guest in front of you was being unreasonable, or try to keep from laughing because the situation was so absurd?  Yes?  I thought so.  The Stanislavsky Method, applied to these situations, would be immensely helpful.

Here’s how the Method works:

  1. Ask the “Magic If.”  “If I were insert name or description of person here, what would I do?  This is helpful because it allows you to step outside yourself for a moment and find a different perspective for handling the situation.  You could put yourself in the guest’s shoes, channel your boss, a mentor, or your mom to find the right point of view with which to approach the situation.  (WWJD also applies in this step, but from a slightly different perspective.)
  2. Re-think how you move and talk.  This step could make or break your interaction with an upset guest. Letting your own negative emotions show can quickly escalate an already unpleasant situation.  Take a moment to check your body language, facial control, and tone of voice.  If you look and sound annoyed or inconvenienced, the guest will pick up those vibes and react accordingly.  Make a conscious effort to project positivity, confidence, and empathy.  The rest of the steps will support this effort.
  3. Observation; be a people watcher.  Actors are always looking for a way to get into the thought processes of their characters.  One way to accomplish this is to observe real people in their natural habitat and learn about different behaviors, interactions, and personalities.  There are multiple ways this powerful tool can be of help to those who deal with customers every day.  First, even without a guest in front of you, if you are paying attention, you can spot people who are on the cusp of an issue (people looking around for help, confused facial expressions, guarded body language) and sometimes avert disaster before it develops.  Additionally, while you are interacting with someone, paying attention to how they hold themselves and respond to you and others around them can be a powerful guide to handling them more appropriately.  Plus, you can learn from the examples others have provided in their customer service conversations and adapt their more successful strategies for yourself.
  4. Ask “What’s my motivation?”  Surely you’ve heard aspiring actor characters in pop culture asking this question of an acting coach or director.  It’s a great question for actors to ask, because understanding the reasons behind someone’s actions helps an actor get more deeply into the head of the character. The same is true for customer service.  If you understand WHY the guest is angry or frustrated or laughing hysterically, it’s easier for you to resolve the situation to that guest’s satisfaction.  Without an understanding of the motivation behind a behavior, you will have difficulty convincing the guest that you really care about their issue, and you’re taking shots in the dark to hit the right solution.
  5. Emotional memory.  If you’ve ever wondered how someone can cry on cue, this Method step may be the answer.  Clearly, actors sometimes have to transmit emotions that they may not actually feel. To display the appropriate emotion (whether you’re feeling it or not), channel a time when you did feel the emotion in question. Dredge up that memory and let the replay loop in your mind’s eye. You’ll start to feel it again, and it will show up in your expression, posture, gestures, and tone.  In customer service, use a memory of being helpful, in charge and successful.  Or, if you prefer, find a memory of poor service and “wear” that to empathize with your guest, then bring him back with you to a level playing field where you can work with one another to solve the dilemma you are now facing together.

Acting and customer service don’t have a lot in common at first glance, but the Method proves that there are effective steps to find the right approach almost any situation in which you need to convince someone that you are who you claim to be.  These steps, whether put together in this order or applied one at a time as needed, will help you to become a better, more empathetic advocate for your guests.  They will appreciate the time and energy you put into it, and you will grow from the experiences.  It’s a Win/Win!  (And how often does THAT happen in the casino industry?)

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