Comedy Clinic?

Written by: Dave Berggren

You could say Stevie Ray’s Comedy Cabaret is one part theater – and one part hospital. That’s right, those of us who perform are more like doctors than actors. I mean, the pay is very similar.

Think I’m crazy? All you have to do is dust off the greatest book ever written. The Bible.

Flip to the book of Proverbs and it says, “a joyful heart is good medicine.” Some translations simply say, “laughter is good medicine.” There’s just something about a cheerful heart that can relieve stress, cure bitterness, and turn a tough day around.

It’s that time of year when kids go back to school, summer breaks come to a close and the busyness of life returns. And with it stress, frustration, and worry. Sounds like something a trip to the hospital can cure.

Take two shows and call us in the morning.

Sorry, Not My Department

By: Stevie Ray

Click Here to download the video version of Stevie Ray’s nationally syndicated column in the Business Journal Newspapers.

The little red light kept blinking. The screen on my office phone read, “Messages Waiting.” When I dialed the code to retrieve my voice-mail, however, the nice female computer voice said, “You have no messages.” After a few rounds of trying to clear the system by entering my security code, age, Zodiac sign, and date of my last Diphtheria vaccination, I tried calling the modern-day equivalent of the maze at the Minoan Palace at Knossos; the customer service help line. I have found the phrase customer service to be an oxymoron when dealing with the call centers of most large organizations. After being told for twenty minutes by a recorded message that I was first in queue (it doesn’t matter if you are first in line if you can still read War & Peace while waiting), I finally got through. The first thing the lady told me was that, since I bundled my services with their cable company, I was a preferred customer. I resisted telling her what I preferred to do with their service. When I told her my problem she said, “Oh, that’s a business account. This is the residential service. You have to call a different number.” So much for being a preferred customer.

I called the business service number she gave me and waited on hold for 57 hours. This guy said, “This isn’t the business service number.” I said, “But this is the number the other lady gave me.” He said, “Yeah, they give the wrong number a lot. Here is the number you have to call.” The question in my mind was, if the other people give the wrong number a lot, why doesn’t this guy do something to stop that? When I reached the new number they told me that, even though I have a business, since I have my office in my home I am classified as a residential account. I would have to call residential services. The number I called in the first place.

Now you might be saying to yourself, “I’m glad my company doesn’t operate like that.” Let me assure you that, unless you are a one-person operation, you are at risk of someone in your company saying, “Sorry, that’s not my department.” Any time this phrase is used it is a sign of three problems: 1) the company is so rule-bound that employees are afraid to step outside their role to serve a customer, 2) there is no cross-training, making employees unfamiliar with any part of the process other than their own, 3) the focus is on individual functions rather than the big picture; serving the customer. When I finally got someone on the phone who cared more about solving my problem than just doing her job, she said something remarkable, “I’m going to stay with you until this is solved.” She didn’t burden me with whether the issue fell under her job description, she was only concerned with making sure someone who was having trouble got some help.

Take the case of Werner Tarnowski. He was appointed to manage the Stuttgart office of Scandinavian Airlines in the 1980s. At the time, customer service scores were low and employee engagement poor. Werner decided that refocusing everyone on their jobs wasn’t the answer. It was the problem. If a passenger asked a ticket agent or gate attendant about a special meal request, no one knew the answer. By the time the passenger got on the plane, if there was a problem it was too late to do anything about it. What Werner did was to flatten the organizational structure at the Stuttgart office. He trained all employees to know, at least to a certain degree, what every other employee was doing. If a passenger asked a question, the employee would either know the answer or know immediately who to ask. Passengers began seeing issues handled on the spot. Not only did passenger satisfaction scores go up, but so did employee engagement. Employees don’t want to just do their jobs, they want to accomplish something. Even though employees may not want to do someone else’s job, they like to know how their work contributes to the big picture.

With my voice-mail problem, for instance, the instructions I was finally given to correct the problem were not specific to a business or residential account. The instructions could have come from anyone, if the company had taken the time to provide a modicum of cross training. Companies often avoid such cross training because of the time and effort required, but think of the amount of time wasted by employees shuffling angry customers from one department to another and the scales balance very quickly.

Got to go. My phone in blinking, so I have messages waiting. At least, I think so.

Stevie Ray is a nationally recognized corporate speaker and trainer, helping companies improve communication skills, customer service, leadership, and team management. He can be reached at or

This article was originally written for The Business Journals. You can find Stevie’s other articles HERE.

How Customer Loyalty Programs Really Should Work

By Stevie Ray

Customer loyalty programs should be renamed. They should be called, “Our employees don’t know how to be nice to you, so we have to give you gifts to keep you coming back.”

Like most people, I am a neighborhood shopper. I go to the same grocery store, bank branch, pharmacy and gas station every time. Since I have been in my neighborhood for more than 13 years, you would figure that I am one of the more familiar faces for the employees.

But after all that time, the only place where I’m greeted by name is by the guy behind the counter at the gas station. The place where you would expect the surliest and briefest of encounters actually gives me the most joy.

After one visit, Ray (the regular afternoon guy), said, “Have a good day Steve. Are you going to Chicago to visit your wife’s family this weekend?” My wife asked me, “How does he know your name? And how does he know I am from Chicago? And how does he know we go there some weekends?”

“Simple,” I replied. “He asks me.”

Finding the Blame

My bank has great customer reward programs. They will deposit $25 into my checking account if I refer a friend who opens an account there. Wow. All I have to do to earn $25 bucks is to turn my friends into referral tools. I’m sure that will make my friends cherish our relationship all the more.

Now the tellers at the window and loan officers sitting at their desks don’t have to know who I am, or treat me like someone who has been coming in once a week for longer than some of them have been alive. That $25 takes care of it all.

When you treat people like that, they feel like cattle. First, they think something is wrong with themselves, then they think something is wrong with you.

For example, I was in my backyard doing some spring planting. I noticed my next-door neighbor Joe putzing around in his backyard so I said, “Hey, Joe.” He didn’t respond. He didn’t even look up.

Being human, my first response was to internalize. I thought, “Did I do something to upset Joe?” I ran through my memory for the entire winter, trying to think of what I could have possibly done to make Joe completely ignore me. I couldn’t think of a thing I had done, but I was sure I must have done something. I convinced myself that he must have not heard me.

So I waited the appropriate three minutes and said again, “Hey there, Joe.” This time I added more cheerfulness than was called for. Nothing. Joe didn’t even look up.

Now is when we go from internalizing to externalizing. “What a jerk,” I thought. “The least he could do is wave.”

First, something was wrong with me, then something was wrong with Joe. I found the proper place to lay the blame; all was right with the world. I kept glancing over at Joe while I continued my work. I made sure to look when Joe was turned away, I didn’t want my paranoia to be obvious.

Finally, I noticed two little white wires drooping down from Joe’s head to his pocket. And his head was nodding in rhythm. He was wearing earbuds and listening to music. When he looked up and saw me he gave a big smile and a wave. I waved back, feeling like an idiot.

Business Implications

Translate that scenario to your business. When people visit your organization over and over throughout the years and are still treated like they are complete strangers, first they think there is something wrong with themselves, then they think there is something wrong with you.

When they reach the stage that something is wrong with you, a $25 reward isn’t going to mean squat.

Ray at the gas station treats me like you would actually treat a loyal friend — remembering my name, remembering things that matter to me, giving a genuine “glad to see you” smile instead of a “this is how I was trained to smile” — I go out of my way to give him my business.

The rest? If another store opened that was a few cents cheaper or a few blocks closer, I will treat them like they have treated me: like I don’t even know who they are.

This article first appeared in The Business Journals HERE