In this article, we cover white agility is – as definitions are essential – what the workplace can look like, when it lives in agility, and watch challenges, you will face in bringing this into the workforce.

Eric Vigo

Managing Director and Founder of Rebooter Group

Originally authored by

KEY TAKEAWAYS

1. Agility, defined as the ability to quickly adapt strategy and business models to capitalize on major market opportunities, has become an essential leadership skill.

2. Leaders may face resistance from employees comfortable with the status quo, lack of buy-in from senior management, difficulty breaking down silos, and employees feeling pressure to constantly innovate.

3. Ongoing training and reinforcement of agile principles is needed to drive lasting change. In summary, an agile mindset is essential for organizations to adapt and thrive.

Let’s Journey to 1898…

Envision snowy streets in Moscow near Red Square where director Konstantin Stanislavsky revolutionised theater at the Moscow Art Theater②.

Stanislavsky flipped Western drama on its head by emphasizing real, improvised performances over robotic recitations. He believed that true theatrical magic occurred when actors portrayed their characters as if they were living out the story, rather than simply reciting lines from a memorized script. He sought to evoke genuine emotions and authenticity in performances, rather than mere mechanical delivery. By prioritising improvisation and authenticity, Stanislavsky aimed to create a deeper connection between actors and audience, ultimately revolutionizing the theatrical experience.

From the Theatre to the Counter

Fast forward to today, and the same principles apply to customer service. According to Daniel Sobol and Toby Bottorf②, the best service feels spontaneous, not rehearsed. Customers want to feel heard, not read a script.

Even though having more freedom at work can encourage improvisation, it doesn’t always mean it will happen, certainly, without a higher degrees of autonomy. When customers are part of the service, employees need to be able to think on their feet to meet their needs, however, when the customer is invited into the performance.

Improvisation is highly relevant in how companies work with customers, making products and services fit what they want. Noticing small signs in a service environment can help employees improvise better. However, the balance between having freedom at work and following rules affects how much improvisation happens.

1. Ditch Rigidity

Similarly, the first tip is to ditch the rigid script. Just like the plays of Chekhov② leave space for actors to connect with the audience, Jim Bush from American Express② does the same at his organisation. He swapped robotic scripts for genuine conversations and bagged six consecutive best customer service awards.

2. Up-skill Staff

Train for improv. Just like actors preparing for a play, customer service staff should be ready to think on their feet. Playing out scenarios instead of memorising lines in a low-stakes environment equips them to handle any situation honestly and build rapport when the stakes are high.

 

Lessons from the Ritz-Carlton

Even though improvising can be tough with time limits, lessons from studies can help employees work together better, while improvisation introduces the added complication. As things change, businesses need to be flexible in how they serve customers, like how Ritz-Carlton “adapted its rules, while such rigid rules may have worked in the past, the changing customer needs and demographics required the company to relax its scripted service in favor of more general rules that provide the employees the authority to improvise as the situation demanded.”③

Improvisation isn’t just for one part of a business; it can be useful in lots of different areas, while the main topics discussed. Also, how employees work together and with customers is really important in making improvisation work well, while these examples highlight. 

Customer support is like theater: it’s all about making connections in the moment.

Factors Influencing Improvisation in Customer Service

Understanding how well customers are satisfied can be influenced by how salespeople and customers interact, as shown in research.

While being able to think on your feet can make customers happier, it doesn’t always work the same for every business; companies with low expectations from customers might not see much benefit. Making sure that how services are delivered matches with being flexible and spontaneous needs to be thought about carefully, considering how things are set up and how employees act (in response to questions regarding the design characteristics).

How complicated a service situation is can affect how well employees can adapt to it; sometimes, tricky situations need quick thinking from employees. Having a special skill for being able to improvise in hotels can make customers feel more special, leading to better outcomes. Employees being able to adapt well to what customers need works best when there’s a good balance between having freedom at work and following rules, thus we suggest that effective employee-to-customer improvisation.

Putting how employees adapt to customers within how they’re managed helps give a clear way to handle different situations, including how much freedom they have at work and the rules they follow.

In Summary

Seeing how improvisation can make hotel guests happier, it’s clear that managers should let employees who work directly with customers have the freedom and support to make personal connections and do things differently when needed. Looking at how successful companies develop new products quickly, they use improvisation to come up with ideas and adapt to what customers want (Brown and Eisenhardt, 1997)④.

Bringing ideas from acting and improv into business, especially in customer service, is a new way to help customers and make interactions more meaningful, but one of the things that he’s going to be talking about today).

Ultimately, empowering customer service agents to improvise enhances the customer experience. Consistent brand touchpoints help them stay in character and build relationships.

References

Simon Best (2021), ‘On a Wing and a Prayer: Stories of the Use of Improvisation by NEIS Businesses During the Start-up Phase’, Swinburne University of Technology, Retrieved on 25/9/2023, PDF

MindManager Blog (6/12/2012), ‘Want a better Customer Service Experience? Teach Employees Improv’, MindManager Blog, Retrieved on 25/9/2023, https://blog.mindmanager.com/blog/2012/12/06/want-a-better-customer-service-experience-teach-employees-improv/

Enrico Secchi, Aleda Roth, Rohit Verma (2022), ‘The Effect of Service Improvisation Competence on Hotel Performance’, University College, Dublin’, https://researchrepository.ucd.ie/rest/bitstreams/44203/retrieve

Allan Macpherson, Dermot Breslin, Cinla Akinci (7/8/2021), ‘Organizational Learning From Hidden Improvisation’, Organization Studies’, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/01708406211035509

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