Meet Gail and Bruce Montgomery. They are the high-energy co-founders of ExperienceYes, a truly one-of-a-kind business, set out to bring fun into organizations that want to improve trust, relationship-building, and EQ to make higher-performing teams. With similar backgrounds in professional acting, singing, and dancing in New York City, they both made their way into the corporate world. Gail and Bruce found a way to bring these two very different worlds together in 2013 when they launched ExperienceYes.
In this episode, Gail and Bruce generously share their 4 rules for improving the customer experience using Improv.
4 Rules for Improving Customer Experience (using Improv):
- Say “yes, and” more.
- Listen with the intent to learn and serve.
- Support teammates at all costs.
- Trust your instincts.
The goal of their sessions is to use applied Improv to make you uncomfortable (in a safe space), so you can start getting comfortable during ambiguity. And laughter. A lot of laughter.
Watch the episode here:
Listen to the Podcast here:
About Gail Montgomery
Gail is CEO and Founder of ExperienceYes, an innovation company that utilizes the core methodologies of improv to help companies get to solutions faster, help leaders and teams to work more efficiently and effectively, develop a foundation for a strong culture, and increase emotional intelligence.
Gail has worked with the oil and gas sector extensively in the areas of leadership development, optimization, team performance, culture and innovation. Her unique approach to company challenges has increased team performance, led to improved communication between leaders and teams and eliminated silos between functional areas.
Most recently, she built a Change Management practice and client offering for an HCM software company. She managed all facets of change management for customer implementations and customer success, including building the change management approach and organization from the ground up.
She is passionate about partnering with companies in their ongoing efforts to align their culture with their mission, vision and values and strives to maintain a sense of fun, innovation and buy-in with employees in all industries.
About Bruce Montgomery
Bruce has broad business leadership experience, ranging from leading the IT organization for one of the country’s largest non-profit theatre, to driving value through strong relationships as the leader of Key Accounts for a sports and entertainment analytics company (delighting top-tier clients such as: NHL, NFL, NASCAR, and The Shubert Organization).
Prior experience includes over 15 years in IT and Management consulting, where he focused on driving adoption through structured change management and training & development.
Bruce is passionate about business-driven creativity and innovation, focusing on driving adoption through experiential and immersive engagements. He places great importance on partnering with organizations to help develop healthy cultures that lead to measurable success.
He is involved with world-renowned researchers such as Charles Limb to better understand the inner workings of the brain while performing creative acts, and Ellen Langer to determine the best methods for increasing productivity through creativity. Much of these approaches are documented in the book he co-wrote with Gail – Brain Disruption, Radical Innovation in Business through Improv, which has been updated toThe Improv Mindset.
4 Rules For Improving The Customer Experience With Gail And Bruce Montgomery
How To Create Higher Performing Teams – Using Improv
Welcome to the show. We are so happy to have you here and are so excited about this episode of our show.
Gail and Bruce are amazing. This isn’t going to be your typical episode. Let me be right upfront about that. We usually talk strategy. We’re talking with CEOs and learning about their companies. In this episode, we are talking with the CEO but what we’re doing in this is diving into some rules and tactics that you can use in your leadership team down through your organization to the frontline customer service person.
I don’t want to spill the beans too early in this but we’re going to give you some very tactical, practical things you can use starting now. Betsy and I started using these right in the middle of the episode as we were learning the skills. I’ve heard and practiced some of them before but you can never hear them too often.
When you hear tactics, don’t minimize the impact of that. It is deep thinking. It is science-based. It’s hugely important for how you relate as a leader and how you relate with your customers and teammates. This is important stuff.
After we had the interview, we talked about how these four things that Gail and Bruce Montgomery are going to walk us through are the pillars of the culture within an organization. I find it to be a fascinating conversation. Their backgrounds are fascinating. They are the epitome of fun people, which is awesome. Without further ado, let’s dive into the episode with Bruce and Gail Montgomery.
Gail and Bruce Montgomery, welcome to the show. We’re so excited to have you here. We need to let our audience know that this is going to be a high-energy conversation. Get your creative hat on and enjoy because we have the honor of knowing Gail and Bruce. We have seen them live in different venues. It’s amazing what they do. We can’t wait to jump in.
Thank you for having us here. We’re thrilled.
Kick us off. Tell our audience all about all things Gail and Bruce Montgomery, what you do and how you got to this point. You have a very interesting origin story. Let us get to know you guys a little bit better.
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Musical Theater. That has served me well. I was a professional singer, dancer and actress in New York City for seven years, temping at various organizations, one of which led to a full-time job in corporate HR for a company called AIG. Maybe you’ve heard of them. They’re a big insurance company on Wall Street.
I did recruitment back in the days when Monster finally came on the scene. I then became a mama. I had a couple of babies. I stayed home and raised some kids. In between all that time, I became an executive director for a nonprofit arts organization, which was an incredible learning opportunity for me. It was close to the thing I loved, which was the arts and also expanded my work world.
I had a couple of other little things here and there getting my feet wet back in the corporate world. I ended up working for a SaaS startup tech company that was developing HR information systems or HRIS platforms. I got to develop with another gal our entire change management and training and development piece of the business to offer to customers and help them devise communication plans and stakeholder journeys, which was fun.
I also got my certification in emotional intelligence because I’m ridiculously passionate about people and how they work. Since IQ cannot be increased over time, we know that emotional intelligence can. I did it mainly for me during COVID. I’m a practitioner so I can do assessments within organizations and help folks design action plans to become better humans and leaders overall. Bruce will tell you a little bit more about the company, how that started and his background, which involves then the creation of ExperienceYes, our company, of which I am the majority stakeholder, CEO and co-founder. It has been a great journey. We have a couple of adult children too. I didn’t stop being a parent.
I’m Bruce Montgomery. I’m a Gemini. I like long walks on the beach and data. I have a similar background to Gail. I was a professional singer, dancer and actor in New York City. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting, not musical theater. I ended up in the technology space. I spent years cutting my teeth after New York with a big five consulting firm.
I ended up leading the IT organization for the second largest theater company in the country called the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. I have a deep interest in data and analytics so I ran key accounts for a data and analytics company that was focused on top-tier sports and entertainment clients like NFL, NBA, NASCAR and The Schubert Group, which was interesting. I’m a big nerd.
I got my MBA in 2013 from the University of Denver. While I was there, there was an entrepreneurship track. They kept asking, “What do you love to do? Can you turn that into a business?” Gail and I happened to start doing improv classes, which we never did when we were in New York City. We found it in 2006 when my brain went, “I love doing improv.” We had a class and suddenly, it was a very serious passion.
I realized while going through my MBA that if I could somehow tie realistic and neuroscientific data of improv to a business that you could then sell leadership sessions on how people can change the way their brain works, specifically leaders, that would be interesting. We started ExperienceYes in 2013 and had been going strong for the last 8-9 years, which is crazy that it’s been that long.
That’s a great story. I did not know that you didn’t do improv when you were in New York. That’s very interesting to me. I thought that was the genesis of how you got to that. That’s very interesting. Tell us about ExperienceYes, who you work with and the kinds of results you guys achieve with your clients. Let’s start diving into the nerdy stuff. I’m interested and fascinated by it. Tony will go way down the nerd path on my behalf.
Here’s what I love. I made a joke about nerd alert for Bruce. The truth is that he has helped me recognize the importance of data and how strong a need it is to show your value as an organization. When we first started, Bruce found this neuroscience study by a gentleman named Charles Limb out of Johns Hopkins. He’s now at UCSF in San Francisco. He put jazz musicians in a fMRI to see what happens in their brain when they improv versus when they’re reading the music and playing by rote.
Bruce got very excited because he was thinking to himself, “If what we do as comedians and improv artists is the same as maybe a jazz musician in terms of the way that the brain gets disrupted and all these other neural pathways open up, maybe we can then show from a data perspective some of this disruptive play and experiential activities that we’re doing and how they could affect leaders and teams.” We built the whole business on the supposition that what we did was the same thing that these jazz musicians did. We floated along like, “This is a real thing. This is data,” even if it was tied just to musicians.
We started developing content that was all experiential. We wanted to be a not-boring consulting company. PWC, Deloitte and Touche are doing amazing things but that is not us. We’re a small, nimble organization that relies on fun first. The fun comes first. We smash the box. We love the deep end. We love to jump in and put people in uncomfortable situations to get them more comfortable in ambiguity.
To wrap it up and answer your question, our clients are anyone who has people and anyone who needs those people to be higher performing, feel valued, be leaders that are great followers and support from behind and develop greater trust and deeper connections. We’re industry agnostic. We do everything from innovation sessions to leadership sessions to performing team sessions and emotional intelligence. We have a flipping blast doing it.
If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it. That’s the model we ascribe to. We also know that there’s data to support what happens when you laugh, when you’re having fun and how much more impactful the learning situation is when you are doing that. We happen to be naturally bent into the humorous side of life so we keep that running.
Tony has a bunch of questions but I want to follow up on one thing you said. It is a given to state that fun is more important now than it’s ever been given what’s gone on in the last couple of years and continues to go on. How have you seen that change embraced by the companies that you’re working with? It seems to me that if a group of consultants can come in and do it in a fun way, that’s going to have astronomical results for companies.
What we find is that there’s almost a desperation for laughter and fun. There is this need for us as humans. What I love about laughter is it is one of the few things that’s contagious. It’s out there. If you think about what happens when you’re at home watching a funny program and then you watch it with three other people, you begin this social relationship that occurs over laughter. It’s such a very specific thing that happens in the brain that lights up all of these different connections when you’re laughing, smiling or working together as a team in that way.
We see a lot of burnout and tired people that are looking for new ways they can connect, come together and work collaboratively in a way that’s as effective as possible. That’s where we thrive because we can come in and say, “Let’s start from laughter first.” It’s going to be uncomfortable. The things that we do can be uncomfortable because we’re putting you in situations that are ambiguous or uncertain. We’ve been in ambiguous times, we’ve been improvising the last few years very specifically but let’s have fun doing it. Leaders especially connect to that fun piece of, “Let’s do something fun and different than what we’ve been doing in the last years.”
People will always invest in burgers, bowling and beers. What we’re trying to do to that next level is the fact that most of those experiences that you have when you go out and socialize with your teams in a fun environment don’t have lasting impacts. You might have a couple of weeks where you do say hi to someone or feel connected to them. Overall, it isn’t lasting. If there’s something that we can do that is hitting the mark when it comes to team building and fun and also has this great impact as far as shifting behavior and language so that there’s a long-lasting effect, that’s the difference.
Even though to Bruce’s point these leaders are wanting to bring in people to break up the monotony and the fear of what’s been going on, they still want and need desperately a lasting impact, especially with remote teams, hybrid teams and the situation that we find ourselves in with this new whatever this is, I hate to call it normal because it isn’t, and it’s figuring out how we connect everyone and make it meaningful.
On that, I want to dive in here. Gail, you said something about how you put people in uncomfortable situations and Bruce is talking about the fun side of that. To your point, we could go have burgers, some beers and do some bowling. That’s fun but it’s uncomfortable for a lot of people. There’s something that you add to the mix that is absolutely critical. That’s what I want to focus our attention on here. You put in the mix four rules that make a safe space. I learned this going through a lot of personal development work that I’m willing to be uncomfortable and grow if I know it’s safe.
I want to go through these four rules that you have for the processes you go through. For those of you reading, we’re going to talk about how these rules apply to really knowing your customer from that customer service perspective. With that, what is the first rule that you guys have and put in place that everyone has to operate by that moves from the uncomfortable and unsafe environment to a safe environment?
Rule #1: Saying Yes
Thank you for that. It is, “Yes and.” It is saying, “Yes and,” then the and is what you bring to it. In improv, specifically in performance, that is literal. We are saying yes to our teammates. We are bringing something and adding to what they have created and that then gets the ball rolling. In business, the way that we interpret that is welcoming either an understanding that is, “I hear what you’re saying. I see this as important to you,” or saying the word yes and then adding whatever you need to add. There are several reasons in improv itself. The reason also is that when people hear no or but, they are 66% delayed in getting back to efficiency.
If I come to you and say, “I have this report. I’d love for you to read it over before I turn it in,” but you say, “I’d love to but I have a 3:00 PM appointment. I have this and that.” I’ve heard, “No,” not, “I would love to.” When I go back to work, it’s going to take me 66% longer to get back to what I was doing to become efficient and productive versus you saying, “This sounds important to you and I have time at 2:00 PM tomorrow.”
If you can’t or don’t want to be involved in looking at my report at all because it’s not your wheelhouse or whatever the reason is, you can say, “I see that this is important to you. I know Bruce has a few minutes this afternoon to take a look at it.” It’s coming from a place of agreement or understanding, not necessarily having to say yes to everything.
Especially when it comes to our clients, they ask for everything like crazy things. They’re pushing out of scope. They’re going to try to grab everything they can out of the relationship that they have with you. You’re constantly trying to keep them within the baby bumpers. The way that you do that is by saying things like, “I hear that this is very important to you. I need to check the budget or go back to my team and see if this is possible.”
That could be an increase in scope. We’re like, “We’ll have to sit down and take a look at it.” We didn’t say no. We said yes. There are two things I want to add to what you said, which is, one, the brain is uniquely wired to say no. It wants to say no to most things. It is remarkable. There is a portion of your brain that’s called the executive judge or the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. It’s on the left-hand side. There have been a lot of studies on the prefrontal cortex that have been done in the last 20 years about what it handles. It handles long-range planning and risk aversion or avoiding risk. It’s really important. It doesn’t develop in men until 25 to 27, roughly. In women, it is somewhere between the ages of 23 and 25.
It is wired to say no. You need to find ways to suppress that part of your brain and practice saying yes more often than you say no. One of these is this concept of, “Yes and,” and using that more frequently. The more you practice it, the better that you get at it. One challenge I’d have to your audience is if they could count the number of times that they say no in a day, they will be astonished by how many times they do that. We say no in a lot of ways. We’re like, “Yes, but, however, still. We’ve tried that before.”
There are all sorts of ways that we couch saying no. If you could count that and then change that to saying it less while saying, “Yes and” more you will have a significant impact on how your relationships evolve and improve. It is a way to do it. In that second part, you’re highlighting what Gail said about what happens when people hear no. I say no often and I hear no often. There’s this whole amygdala hijack that happens when you hear no. Your fear response goes up. It’s a fight or flight. It releases cortisol. It’s not a good thing that happens when people hear no.
One of the things I love about this part of the conversation here is that a lot of my work in the past has been around working in customer experience on the consumer side.
Probably, one of the most common practices is when you get a retention call or someone wants to cancel. It doesn’t matter what industry it is in. One of the things that most companies train and a lot of professionals out there in my space train is to respond to the customers like, “I’ll do whatever I can to keep you.” That’s an example of, “No. I’m not going to allow you to cancel.” People don’t realize that that’s the case.
Why this is so important is because I worked for a very large company which everyone would know the name of. I was consulting for them. I was looking at the reps who were retaining the most customers. One stood out way above the others. He was in the 80% to 90% retention rate versus the norm of 30%. I was like, “How in the world?” I listened to his calls and took him out for a beer afterward. I said, “Let’s have a conversation about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.” What I discovered was very much what you’ve described here. They’d been escalated to 2 to 3 people. He gets the call and says, “I’m going to start the process.” He’s starting the process of canceling them and not arguing with them. He says, “Can you tell me a little bit more about why you’re canceling?” He has opened up with this positive, “Yes, I’ll cancel. I’m not going to resist you.” He then gets into this whole idea of, “Let’s talk about this a little bit.”
By the end of the call, usually, there’s an opening that he can say, “Let me see if I need to get a better rate for you. We’ll get the cancellation in process. Are you okay though if I call you back tomorrow if I can find a better rate for you?” 9 times out 10 or 8 times out of 10, he’s getting that yes. It was fascinating to me because I teach that type of process. Anytime I’ve got a retention issue a company is having, it is like, “How do you say yes and?” I didn’t use that language but I’m going to use that language from now on.
You’ve hit the nail on the head. If you are talking with someone, having this conversation and they’ve already been escalated to this place of frustration, the only way to know them is to get them to share with you why they’re in that position, to begin with. Instead of just selling, you need to solve. Ask, “What’s going on?” Ultimately, if you do create that space through those conversations and that is going to tee us up beautifully for the second rule, then you are going to be able to serve them better. I love that.
I have so many ideas going through my head. When we do these executive-level customer advisory boards, how important that is when the sole purpose of the meeting is to get their feedback and understand what they’re saying. We always coach them to not say things like, “Yes, we’ve tried that before,” and those kinds of things that shut people down. What I’m realizing as a gap in our training is that we don’t tell them what to do. We just tell them what not to do. I love this idea of teaching them how to better manage that versus saying, “Don’t say that.” Thank you for that.
I have one comment about the word yes versus the word no. It is incredibly powerful. The word yes invites collaboration. It invites you to come to me and me to come to you to work together. The and is a bonus. We don’t hear the simple word yes enough. We don’t do it enough. It’s such a great way to connect that I am very passionate about.
It was a great tee-up for the second one. Go ahead and dive into that, please.
Rule #2: Listen With The Intent To Serve
The second one is to listen with the intent to serve. It goes beyond that sense of just listening. Most of us here are listening with the intent to respond as opposed to serve. We get in our brains, “I understand what your problem is so I’m going to solve it. I’m going to go ahead and say exactly what it is that you need because of the first sentence you told me. I’ve listened to nothing else that you’ve said after that first sentence.” I’ve probably gone into my solutioning space and forgotten everything. As a person in IT who comes from that solution space, it’s a very difficult habit to break. Listen with the intent to serve. Flipping the coin, if you think about it from improv, Gail comes in and says something specifically. Say something.
“Harry, I’m here with my apple basket.”
I should, “Yes and,” that. You will hear us build on these things. The “Yes and,” goes to listen with the intent to serve. If I wasn’t listening properly, I wouldn’t have heard that my name is Harry and that she’s got an apple basket. If I hadn’t been listening, I might say something like, “Let’s go to the computer store because I want to buy a computer,” which has nothing to do with the apple basket that she presented to me. I’ve said no and I haven’t listened to serve her.
What I love about the mechanics of improv is my job is not to be funny or get the most attention. It’s to make Gail look fantastic. The better that I make her look, the more successful we’re going to be. That’s serving not just her but the scene. If she comes in and says, “Harry, I’ve got an apple basket,” I might say something like, “I can’t wait to make cider because I love apple cider.” We’re collaborating and building together. We’re serving each other in this scene.
Flip that to your customers, it’s a very important thing to listen. What I love about this mechanic is if you can do things like the five-second rule where you simply give space after somebody talks so you don’t jump ahead into that solution space, what happens is remarkable. People will fill a vacuum and you will get more information from your clients. As an example, Tony, you said, “I’m going to go ahead and start this cancellation process. I’d like to hear more about your experience,” then count from 1 to 5.
Don’t you find that people are uncomfortable with that five seconds of dead air?
Yes. There are a couple of different ways that you can do that. Some people are good about this reflection back or clarity. They’d be like, “What I heard you say is too expensive for you. Can you tell me more about your contract with us? What is bothering or upsetting you? What is the challenge? Tell me more about reflecting on what you see.”
Even three seconds, quite frankly, is better than just jumping right in. People who are reading this show have been in situations where they’ve been on the phone and the first thing out of a client’s mouth isn’t what the whole conversation should be about. Usually, it’s whatever’s front of mind for them and it’s a frustration. They think it’s this one thing.
If the space is created through time or great open-ended questions, suddenly, you’re getting into it. It isn’t about, “It was expensive. It took me ten minutes to get to you.” It is about the fact of, “I have too many channels. I want a smaller package and stay connected to you,” or whatever it is. We’re talking about stop making it about you. You are there to serve them. That is the whole point. If they feel like you are fully invested in hearing them out and in finding out what’s at the core of it, it will be evident. They will be yours forever.
There’s got to be more. I want to comment on this because it is a fascinating way to structure it. If you’re listening to serve, you’re in a different space. That pause is effective. If you’ve been in customer service, you’ve probably heard this. You should hear what emotional words are being used. If they don’t use emotional words, which a lot of people don’t, then you listen for that tone. You want to repeat back to them what you’re hearing. You want to acknowledge that emotion. You can be like, “I hear that it sounds like you’re stressed,” or whatever it may be because that right there is serving them. You’re letting them know that you heard them. I love that element. That in and of itself opens up more space for safety. In addition, he’s talking about the five seconds in that.
I don’t know how or when I adapted that but I would sit there and listen to the meetings. I notoriously got to the point where in the last five minutes of the meeting of hour-long meeting, everyone else has talked and I finally chime in. I can wrap up what everyone said and they’re like, “That was brilliant.” I’m like, “I’m repeating back everything you’re saying.”
It also gives you credibility because you’ve listened. You’ve heard and played it all back. People that were listening to respond missed what the other person was saying. We don’t even listen to ourselves. A lot of times, we’re just talking and don’t even know what we’re saying. I have to go back and read the episode sometimes like, “I said that? That was pretty good.”
We’re only a couple of these in. It applies to relationships with customers but also to leadership and personal relationships. Everybody should know this stuff for every aspect of their lives. I’m so fascinated by this so keep going.
I have one quick thing before I move on to the third one. I would also challenge any of your readers that at times when they do have a customer or a client that is irritated, angry, frustrated or throwing their hands up in the air, there are times when all they want you to do is listen. There isn’t anything to be done and yet, we go immediately to, “They want to cancel, stop the subscription or fire us.” It’s always remembering too that sometimes, they just need to blow steam. They need someone to truly be present there with them. You’re the therapist sometimes too.
A relationship manager is a good therapist. That’s very true.
It reminds me of my conversations with my daughters because I’ll ask them, “Do you want me to respond or do you want me to listen?”
That is so true. I make jokes with Bruce all the time in our marriage. I’m like, “I’m on page 273 of How to be Married to Gail Montgomery. It clearly states that I want you to listen.” He does that to me too.
Rule #3: Support Your Teammates
These truly are our rules of engagement. The language we use and how we show up is to support our teammates at all costs. In improv, I am there to make everyone else look better. That is my job. If I’m truly present and invested in that, then everything else falls into place.
When we think about the word teammates with regards to this show and how we think about the work that we do, it’s both internal within your organization and external, which are your clients and customers. What I mean by that is this idea that it’s a we mentality, not a me mentality. It opens you up to connecting to others on a level that is so much more powerful than transactional.
Even I’ve heard people on calls with clients blaming another business unit so they could take the heat off of themselves for the client instead of saying, “We got that wrong. We’ll get that better. I’m going to go get everyone together. We’re going to talk through this. I appreciate that feedback. It’s tough to hear. We’re going to do better.” It is the same where you have these internal meetings. Instead of blaming someone for not getting the data to you on time or not providing product changes in time, you get to say things like, “How can I help? What can I do to support you so we’re able to meet this deadline? Do we need to push or go back to the client?”
Let me ask you about that. When you say, “How can I support you?” Where do you say, “Here’s an idea,” and be more proactive rather than putting it on them to tell you how to support them. Do you coach people to say, “Here’s how we feel like we might be able to support you,” and try to get feedback on that? Does it matter?
It’s a delicate balance. That’s a supposition that you’re making an assumption that you know what it is as opposed to hearing about what it is and then making some plans to approach it. Let’s say Bruce was supposed to provide me with some data before I did something and I didn’t get it in time. I had my meeting and I crashed and burned a little bit with the client. I can go back to him and say things like, “The report I was supposed to give the client, I didn’t get that in. Maybe I miscommunicated. What can I do to support you?”
It’s specific to the thing I needed. It’s not me saying, “Could I call you an hour before and make sure that you send that to me by email?” I’m then making an assumption that it was about him needing to be reminded as opposed to there being potentially something else that’s at the core of it. What are your thoughts on that?
I agree. Delicate balance is the right phrase. You can’t assume what the problem was with the delivery. There has to be a collaborative discussion. It’s listening with the intent to serve about what went wrong and then how you can solution going forward and make sure that doesn’t occur again with hopes that it doesn’t occur again.
We’ve had some clients that we’ve worked with say, “Sometimes, there needs to be some difficult, tough and critical feedback to someone about things that didn’t happen or went awry.” The whole idea of supporting your teammates at all costs is about finding that space to be collaborative to make sure you understand what created the reason that we’re sitting here without the thing we needed or without the timely delivery. It’s then supporting to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future. We could go down the path forever on great feedback, micro feedback, conflict and all of that type of thing. That’s a whole other bag of worms that people struggle with all the time.
We have an assumption about what a good team looks like. When we’re talking about supporting our teammates, there are some assumptions that we make about what a team looks like. People are trusted. You can trust them and they can trust you. You are communicating freely. You know how to do that. You have a framework that you can react to, problems and challenges. All of those, you need to create from a leadership perspective. A safe space has to be created.
If you think of the Colorado Avalanche, for example, they won the Stanley cup. If you look at how they behave, it’s not that they don’t have their challenges or don’t get things wrong. They practice being a team and that means they practice supporting each other in a way that is often very different than what we see businesses do. Often, our teams and business are like, “You’re breathing. You happen to be available. Solve this problem.” If you don’t have the rules in which they engage, it can take them longer to form and then get to a performing state if you think of them getting on to doing successful work.
One of the things that I find fascinating about this particular rule is if we extend it and push the boundaries of it in the work that Betsy does with the client advisory boards, it’s about supporting the why of the client. You’re going two steps down. It’s not just who your client is. Who is your client’s customer? What is it they need? How will you support them? On the other side of that, I look at it and say, “If I’m giving feedback to someone, they’ve got a boss. How do I help them look good to their boss? How do I help them solve the problem that they’ve got to take back to their boss?” If we can extend the chain of who we’re asking about, that makes this rule play out even better.
I’m thinking about journey mapping here for customer journeys. One of the biggest challenges that we see is people do the journey map and they’re thinking, “This is my customer. This is how I engage.” They don’t pause for a moment and say, “My customer has 24 hours in a day and about 3 minutes with me.” What’s happening in the rest of those 23 hours and 57 minutes? That might matter to them that I need to be thinking about and asking them about.
Support your teammate’s teammates or your teammate’s teams.
Lead us through the fourth and final one. If you don’t already have this in some buyable, purchasable framework that we could hang on our wall, I would highly suggest you do that because I would buy that in a heartbeat. These are things that when you have a conversation like this, all make so much sense. To keep it top of mind, I would love to have this right in front of my computer every day to remind me of these things.
We do have little challenge coins that have the four roles on them. I love this idea.
I want to be your first customer. Bring it home. What’s number four?
Rule #4: Trust Your Instincts
The final rule is to trust your instincts. It’s around this concept that you know what’s right and what needs to be done. Trust that instinct and go forward with it. We love the studies that have been done around what happens with airplane crashes, for example. There are typically 7 to 9 mistakes that occur. Unfortunately, some of those mistakes are brought up in the cockpit so, in the ‘80s, they did a study on what happens in the cockpit.
Captainitis is the name for it where a co-captain or a copilot would bring up a concern. Based on the hierarchy of the captain being at the top, the captain would say, “That’s not a concern,” and then it would shut down and stop. That copilot might have the instinct to even bring it up. It was Korean Air that also societally have a very hierarchical structure. There was only so much that that co-captain or copilot could bring up before it was completely and utterly shut down. They went in and retrained all of these to allow these copilots to be able to bring up a concern so that they didn’t have a catastrophic error.
We believe that in business, we often listen to our instincts. We might even go so far as to say something about it. If we get shut down, we stop and still play along with these hierarchies. In an improv team, anybody can collaborate at any level. They are all equal on an equal playing field. That’s what we love about this. Trusting your instincts, knowing to step out and say something can be done. The other three rules engage, which is saying, “Yes and,” to listen with the intent to serve and support your teammates is all there assuming that you have the courage to step out and do something.
From a female perspective, I find that gender and I’m certain that from a diversity perspective, it plays a role. It’s also by your job title. We will be in a meeting, in a collaborative session and work on a project. Depending on where we feel we sit or our value and worth, we say or don’t say things. We have ideas that we bring up or don’t bring up or we have an instinct that something’s not right or I don’t understand something.
Rather than ask for clarification or have someone tell me what that acronym means, I don’t say anything. I should just know. It’s not my business or I’m not important enough. That’s also the piece that’s at play here. It’s not just we know what’s right. It’s having that confidence in yourself that you are valuable. You do deserve a voice at the table at the right time to be able to bring things up, ask good questions and get the answers that you need to be able to be productive.
How much does fear play into that, like fear of the leader embarrassing you in front of people? Maybe you have the confidence to know that you have a valid point to bring up but you fear the reaction of the other person that may be higher up in the hierarchy.
You’ve hit the nail on the head. Let’s be honest. The culture of your company is going to drive any of that. Attention, leaders. We are in a climate where your time is limited if you’re in the command control feeling and style. People are more discerning than ever about the culture that they want to work in or they’re willing to tolerate as evidenced by retention and recruitment challenges. It’s time to wake up and realize that you need to cultivate a culture where people can ask questions, push back and get the answers that they need to be able to be productive and feel like they matter.
One challenge that I see come up a lot and I’d love to get your take on this with to trust your instincts, is so many companies have policies, scripts and procedures, especially in that customer service role. The representative usually knows. They’re like, “This isn’t the right way to do this but I’ve got to follow this procedure.” What do you recommend there? How would you take that on?
I would call out trusting your instinct. It’s still important to do that. The way that they can affect change would be by working up through the leadership chain. What I would challenge people to do is if they are required to do something based on their policy, the only way to change the way they do that is to change the policy.
When I was a senior leader, I was always frustrated when people would come to me with a problem. They were people who worked for me and reported to me. They wouldn’t come up with a solution. They were expecting me to figure it out. It doesn’t mean it’s always successful but I would propose that person going, “This doesn’t feel right. This is why. Here’s what I would propose to change it.” They will go and find those right people to change policy, whether it’s HR, the client service leadership or whoever it happens to hopefully have the forum to be able to do it.
For me, it’s about authenticity. To your very point about it being maybe a script someone has to follow, I would say, “This feels inauthentic to me. I have an idea about a script that says the same thing and gets to the same place. It’s more in my vernacular or verbiage. Could I share that with you? Would you be open to me trying that out?”
Ultimately, if you’re authentic as someone who’s providing that service to a client, they’re going to know. If you’re inauthentic and not buying into the script, they’re going to know. It’s a good point that Bruce has. You have to start somewhere and usually it’s with a solution and being honest about your authenticity and what the challenge is.
Can you give us some examples of how this fourth one works when we’re talking about really knowing your customer?
I’m going to go back to being on calls or meetings. I’m going to tell a quick story about an experience that one of our clients had with her client. This was back in the day when people were flying the entire team out to a client to sell. They flew the entire team to see this client for the pitch. They were having this meeting and waiting on the senior leader, the key decision maker or the stakeholder to walk into the room.
When she finally got there, she was late. Papers were flying. She was not present at all. She had her cellphone with her. She was distracted. Since the team had spent so much money to get there and were so engaged in getting this account, they started launching in. The head of the team, our client, said, “Hold on,” and trusted her instinct because what she was seeing was a very disengaged potential client. She created space and said, “It seems like something’s happened. Are you okay? Do you need some time? Do we need to reschedule?”
This woman was so thankful. She had just found out her child had been in an accident. She was trying to fulfill her obligation to have this meeting. Meanwhile, it would have continued going on had the senior leader of our client not noticed and trusted her instinct regardless of knowing what was on the line to create that space for her client. That’s a great example. You could do that on the phone. When you hear things and it’s not the right time or you know something’s happened and no one calls it out or no one says anything about that on the call, those are examples of when you should say, “Here’s what I heard. I’m concerned. I want to make sure I understand what’s going on here.”
A side note about that at that client, they ended up rescheduling. They came back three weeks later and sold an $8 million deal. It was a huge deal. It was worth the investment. It was all because she trusted her instincts to say, “Something’s not right here. “ The woman may have said, “No, everything’s fine. Keep going.” We often say, “Trust your instincts with the good things. Make that leap.”
When I think of it from our perspective of making the leap to trust our instinct to build a business or to jump out and be entrepreneurs, that was instinctual and terrifying. Vice versa when looking at it from dealing with a challenge or something difficult, it takes as much or even more courage to say something.
It’s a great example. In that particular instance, what kept coming to my mind was to address the elephant in the room. If there’s an elephant and everybody’s feeling it, somebody can step up and trust that it’s going to be a good thing to address it.
Sometimes, the elephant is ignored and you need somebody to come in to see it. There was an example to make sure to step over the extension cord. This extension cord had been in place for nine years. A new employee came in and said, “What’s up with the extension cord? What’s going on?” Everybody went, “What extension cord?” It had been there for so long that everybody let it go into the ether of this is what exists.
This has been a phenomenal conversation. We’ve got four solid rules. For the audience, can you go ahead and recap them quickly so we get them all consolidated? After recapping it, give us a little perspective on what you think is going to happen to these rules and frankly, ExperienceYes, your company, over the next 2-3 years because of where we are today.
We’re going to start with recapping the four rules. We’ll do a little alternating here. Number one, say, “Yes and.” If someone says something to you, caution yourself in saying, “But, still, however.” Start with, ‘Yes,” and move forward in that conversation.
The second rule is to listen with the intent to serve. Your goal is to listen and allow that safe space to be created to get good listening going before you start solutioning. Make it about them, not you.
Number three, support your teammates at all costs. This is near death experience when you’re an improviser and in business. It’s about having each other’s back all the time. Have your client’s back. Have your internal team’s back.
The last one is to trust your instincts for the good and the bad. Knowing that something needs to happen, you should be acting in some way or moving the situation forward, that’s what trusting your instincts is about. You may be afraid but you still have to step out on the ledge. Ask good questions.
The second part of Tony’s question was, how is this going to impact us? What do we see for the next couple of years, especially with thinking about it from an improv mindset?
In 2013 when we started this business, we had a lot of “mentors” tell us, “Never say the word improv. It’s a red button. No one’s going to like it.” More data has come out to support the work that we do. The fact that it’s experiential and we role play, it’s applied improv. We get people to change behavior by doing it.
We’re here several years later. What we’re finding is we’re on the top of the wave. People are interested in this. They want something different and their teams to change behavior. They know that it takes practice and a shift in culture to do that with the language that we teach. What I’m seeing is more companies are wanting to be ExperienceYes companies and have their teams be agile, connected, trust each other and emotionally intelligent.
Leaders are looking for employees and employees are looking for leaders that create the culture they want to work in, a culture of yes, being supported and listening. Those are the things that are hot buttons for people. People leave managers. They don’t leave their jobs. If you’re not creating this space of collaboration, safety and fun, those employees are going to leave. We’re going to see that over the next couple of years. We’re going to see that great leaving of jobs. That’s going to continue. If you want to retain your employees, you want to put in these practices.
I have a couple of questions for you. One, will you come back to our show? There’s so much more we could talk about. I feel like the time went way too fast. Our audience, I’m sure, is going to love this episode as well. The second question is on our show, we like to have the opportunity to give a shout-out to organizations that are out there doing good work. Especially with everything that’s been going on, we want to shine a light on these organizations. Is there an organization that you would have an affinity for that you would like to introduce to our audience?
One of our very first clients was the Mental Health Center of Denver or MHCD. They have rebranded to be called WellPower. They are in the business of pursuing well-being. They provide all sorts of resources for behavioral health, addiction, alcohol, drugs, to those that are unhoused. They deal with veterans and mental wellness issues. They are a powerful organization making a huge impact.
They started the very first national STAR program where they sent mental health professionals out with police officers to the city streets to address mental wellness issues directly as opposed to sending just police to a situation where they may have someone who is in need of mental wellness help. It has reduced the jail time for people and reduced arrests.
It has significantly become the pilot program for the rest of the United States. We are honored and blessed to have them as a client of ours. I’m also ridiculously impressed with the work that they do. Their CEO, Carl Clark, is a visionary. WellPower is their new name. WellPower.org is this organization. They’re doing good work for getting us all on the wellness track for mental health.
Tony, do you have any final thoughts before we let them go?
This has been such a great pleasure. You guys are brilliant in the way that you apply these rules. I love that you took in stride everything we threw at you in this show here of how to apply this from a customer experience perspective and how to get to know your customer. I’d love to have you guys back in, take a different path and see where we go because it will always be a new episode even if we talk about the four rules all over again.
Thank you so much for your time. I cannot wait for our audience to weigh in on it and learn from you. You guys are the best.
Thank you for having us. We’re thrilled.
We’ll see you soon.
I love this episode. One of the things that stand out to me is that it’s not just about having fun or building a relationship. It’s the framework that you use. The rules that you put in place for how you’re going to communicate, behave and build a relationship are what these four rules are all about. It’s the rules of engagement as they called them at one point in the episode.
What that allows is if everyone knows the rules of engagement and everyone practices those to the best of their ability, you create this absolute safe space where you can be more productive because you’re not worried about what’s going to happen if. You’re not trying to think through, “How do I solve this so I don’t get thrown under the bus?” You know that people have your back, the best is going to come out of it and you can be at your peak performance in the process of working with your team, customers or whoever it may be. I have loved this episode and cannot wait to read it again.
I feel like we could’ve talked to them all day. I feel that the things that they taught us in a relatively short amount of time are so pivotal for how organizations behave, the culture that they build and how they engage with their customers. I have to think that taking this a step further is money in the bank. It is what will help a company be successful. I want to have them back because there are lots more to talk about. With that, thank you so much. In the meantime, best of luck in your engagement with your customers. We will see you in the next episode.
- Gail Montgomery – LinkedIn
- Bruce Montgomery – LinkedIn
- The Rarest Advantage: How to Co-Create Strategic Value to Retain and Expand Your Key Customer Accounts
- ProphetAbility: The revealing story of why companies succeed, fail and bounce back
- The Congruity Group
- Tony Bodoh International