Most of us associate laughter with amusement, humor, and joy – and, unsurprisingly, we wouldn’t be wrong. However, did you know that most laughter (between 80-90%) actually occurs simply within the context of general conversation and is often produced by the speaker?1 It turns out that laughter is an evolutionary tool that we share with animals that complements our non-verbal communication skills. Infants develop the ability to laugh as early as two months old, and, as early as 1897, Charles Darwin noted that blind and deaf individuals can engage in laughter without ever having heard or seen it.2
Social neuropsychologists point out that we have two opportunities to laugh on a regular basis:
1. As a positive emotional response. Spontaneous laughter can be linked to joy, amusement, and positive interactions in social settings.
2. As a response to negative stress. This type of laughter may occur both voluntarily & involuntarily to help individuals mitigate frustration, fear, or worry artificially; to “act” engaged in conversation; and/or to fill uncomfortable silences.
More importantly, individuals can learn to strategically employ laughter at opportune moments. In fact, this tactic is often utilized for the customer service population (particularly front line contact center agents) that is tasked with engaging customers in what can feel like transactional and rote conversations.
Recent research by Cogito reinforces another commonly herald viewpoint: positive laughter of the spontaneous and natural variety can also have a positive impact on the recipients and their perception of the conversation, even generating a positive emotional response. Think of laughter as a social lubricant, which, when employed in a natural manner, can “facilitate emotional stability and health, curtailing negative emotion and stress, and promoting socialization to lubricating social interaction, easing tensions and competition, delineating and maintaining group identities, and coordinating the emotions and behaviors of a group.3
So How Did Cogito Uncover This Link?
Cogito’s artificial intelligence solution analyzes the vocal behavioral signals of contact center representatives and customers across a host of industries. Most recently, Cogito analyzed over 10,000 calls between customers and frontline contact center agents at one of the largest national health insurance organizations. The resulting analysis demonstrated some additional value to laughter in customer calls:
Contact center agents who laugh on a call will make customers feel more comfortable and ensure higher satisfaction. When contact center agents respond to customer laughter, the general perception that the call went well increases, suggesting laughter represents an opportunity to engage with the customer.
Calls featuring laughter reduce handle times and limit moments of silence. This finding also finds some utility in a common downside of contact center experiences – the dreaded moment of silence. Sometimes, when a customer makes a call, they may encounter a silent agent and, in the middle of a conversation, wonder if that agent is still there. “Did the agent say they would look for information, or did they just put me on hold?” This research reveals that a best practice for agents would be to simply laugh along with their customer. These moments of laughter can help decrease the consequences of a silent moment or gap in the conversation.
Rapid advancements in artificial intelligence promise to uncover more benefits of laughter as well as other moments of acoustic synchrony. At the end of the day, sometimes simply being yourself on the phone (as well as in person!) positively benefits your customer interactions and potentially improves overall satisfaction scores.
So, when you’re on the phone with a customer or agent, remember the words of the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox – “Laugh, and the world laughs with you”. You won’t be sorry you did.
1Vettin, J. & Todt, D. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior (2004) 28: 93.
2Darwin, Charles. “The Expression of the Emotions in Man & Animals” (1897)
3Gervais M, Wilson DS. The evolution and functions of laughter and humor: A synthetic approach. Q Rev Biol. 2005;80(4):395–430.