What Customer Service Providers Can Learn from The Actors Studio

© Holly Stiel

I have taught customer service as a performance art for many years.

But it wasn’t until I started regularly watching “The Actors Studio” on television that I fully realized the profound parallels between customer service professionals and professional actors and how much we can learn from them.

I truly believe we would all do well to behave like actors. I can instantly feel the resistance to this idea. Some of you reading this are thinking, “Yeah, but I’m not an actor, I’m a nurse,” or “I work at Macy’s. I’m not acting.” “I have a real job at the bank, the hotel . . . “ or any number of front-line jobs. “My job is real.”

I appreciate the fact that we in customer service aren’t actually acting in the sense of playing roles. Yet when I delve into the skills and challenges of successful actors, the biggest challenge they face, by far, is to keep it real.

After listening to hours of interviews with famous actors, I have concluded that actors are the ultimate employees. They are completely willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. The professional actor strives for this excellence all the while remaining true to himself or herself.

To view your work as art and behave like a performance artist, you first need to see it from that point of view. I call it “seeing through the eyes of thank you very much.” We can’t deliver service as art until we see the artistry in service and then become devoted to the craft. I have learned by listening to actors that the attitudes and actions that transform actors’ work into art are exactly the same things that can transform customer service.

Most actors actually view themselves as service providers — they’re in service to the audience, in service to the story and in service to each other. Harrison Ford says he believes his entire purpose is to be of service.

The hallmarks of acting are the same hallmarks of great service:

  • Listening/empathy
  • Being present and understanding the context
  • Connecting
  • Personal growth
  • Teamwork

All of this is accomplished with the focus on what is truly important — the process. The real “juice” for professional actors is in the process. Actors are in love with the process.

For front-line customer service professionals, the real “juice” also needs to be in the day-to-day process. It doesn’t matter if you’re bagging groceries or performing a blood transfusion, how you approach the process determines your experience and the experience of those around you.

Jennifer Lopez explained it perfectly when she said, “If you’re going to do it to ‘get’ somewhere, forget it. It’s all about enjoying the work, the classes, the rehearsals, the entire process. It’s doing the work. It’s getting up, it’s getting down, nothing else.”

Leonardo Di Caprio says it’s all about making hard work look easy. So with that in mind, let’s go over the hallmarks of acting that are the same hallmarks of great service.

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