Laughter has long been hailed for its therapeutic benefits. It’s the best medicine, after all. Humor also packs a business punch(line), research points out. Companies that appreciate and encourage humor can open themselves up to “outrageous results,” says Michael Kerr, author of “The Humor Advantage.”
That’s good news for Chris Anderson, consumer engagement specialist for Hormel Foods and an all-around funny guy. He finds an outlet for his comedic bent by doing standup at night, but he doesn’t leave his bag of tricks behind when he walks into his day job. In fact, Chris’ sense of humor may well be one of the keys to his success at the Austin, Minn., company.
“He’s very smart. Quick on his feet,” says Alex Whitson, who heads up consumer engagement at Hormel Foods. “He does a great job of making consumers realize we take their feedback seriously.”
In an age when customer service is increasingly prescribed and “robotic,” according to a blog on Skylinkintl.com, Chris’ interactions with consumers are a breath of fresh air.
That was certainly the case for @mw_klein, who contacted the company recently via social media. He posted a snapshot of a package of sausages that were not uniform in length, each one a bit shorter than the last. “@HormelFoods we should talk about QC …. I wonder if I can play these like a #xylophone,” he wrote.
Without missing a beat, Chris promised “those sausages tend to taste better than they sound.” He then asked for information to be able to make it right for @mw_klein and to address the issue at the company level.
The consumer appreciated the “quick and witty response,” and he let scads of Twitter followers know it. “Must be taking some lessons from @Wendys,” he said.
“That’s pretty high praise,” says Beth Hillson, a digital communications professional who spends her days at Hormel Foods helping to oversee the company’s far-reaching social media presence.
Congratulations It’s A (Funny) Boy
Chris was probably a crowd-pleaser from the get-go. However, his aha moment came in third grade, shortly after he was fitted for prescription eyeglasses. “After about two weeks, someone told me I was funny with my glasses. Maybe I was overcompensating,” he says.
With the recent help of LASIK, Chris no longer needs corrective lenses. Does he sometimes feel like Iron Man without his suit of armor? “Yeah. I’m waiting to see if I’m still funny,” he says.
Fear not. During an open-mic night at a comedy club in Rochester, Minn., Chris stood out as a seasoned guy and very much his own person. Like Jerry Seinfeld – who looks at profanity as a crutch – his humor errs on the clean side, playing on the quirkiness of people and life, and of the sucker punch called aging.
When Chris has the stage, middle-age romance and skin tags are funny business. “I don’t know if there’s a sexy way to whisper, ‘They’re benign,’” he says. When he talks about eating cheese doodles in the bathroom and pretending it’s macho to ride his bike to work, you get the idea Chris lives for a laugh, and more, that he’s willing to work hard to get it.
He practices, studies and finds humor in everyday situations. Dana Carvey of some 30 years ago was the first professional comedian who caught Chris’ attention. “I did the Church Lady at school. Even as a little kid, I was always trying to get laughs,” he says. The late Mitch Hedberg is a comedic hero of his adulthood. Chris and his wife, Maria, share an affinity for his work and “really unique delivery.”
How Does This Sound?
Where new material is concerned, Maria is one of Chris’ best sounding boards.
“The hardest part about doing standup is that you think you have a great idea, but the only way you can practice is in front of people. People’s reactions are how you know if it’s funny or if it needs more work. It feels vulnerable,” he says, speaking from experience.
“I bombed at a movie theater once. The air conditioning was out. I was the first one up, and I found out I was doing much more time than I thought.” As a result, Chris feels for performers who are tanking on stage. “I’m probably more generous with my laughter than I should be,” he says. Indeed, he is nothing if not a nice guy.
In that vein, Chris’ humor is not hurtful or cutting. It’s his cure-all, the tool that has saved many a day for him and those around him.
So, when he met Maria at church camp 22 years ago, she didn’t have a chance. He broke out the secret weapon. “It helped being a funny guy,” he says. “It all goes back to tension diffusion.”
It wasn’t the first time – nor would it be the last – that Chris crushed it with some well-executed one-liners. “I’m pretty sure there was a class in college that I should have failed. The professor passed me because I was entertaining,” he says.
Out And About
Chris grew up in Iowa, heading to Chicago after college. “There was a lot of improv going on there,” he says. “I wasn’t necessarily thinking of doing it for a living, but I wanted to keep it going as much as possible.”
He moved to the hometown of Hormel Foods to be close to family. After a couple of years as a staff member at a local hotel, he answered an employment ad.
Chris joined the Hormel Foods purchasing department in 2007. He advanced quickly, taking on a role in corporate communications, where he was monitoring social media channels. “People were talking about things on a large enough scale that it was having an impact on the food industry,” he says.
Chris was one of the early administrators of the company’s digital presence, helping to maintain websites. Just for fun, he was the model for the SPAM® brand costume on SPAM.com. Three years ago, he accepted a role in consumer engagement.
Is Anyone There?
Chris is one of nine workers who handle more than 120,000 annual contacts with consumers. Ten percent have compliments to share; most consumers need information, according to Alex.
“Our jobs can be stressful,” she says. “Chris is the class clown in the nicest way possible. He lightens the mood for us. He has great rapport with our team members.”
His way with people extends to consumers just as naturally.
“One time, he responded to someone on Facebook and made a comment about his profile picture. The guy was delighted. It made him feel like the company was taking an interest,” Alex says.
According to a Harvard Business Review article entitled “Leading with Humor,” that’s exactly what was taking place.
“Every chuckle or guffaw brings with it a host of business benefits. Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity,” it says.
Chris is the class clown in the nicest way possible. He lightens the mood for us.Alex Whitson, consumer engagement manager
Lest you think Chris can’t be serious, he knows discretion is sometimes the better part of valor. “Something about a situation might be funny, but it might not be to the person you’re with.”
That played out when Chris and Maria were wrapping up their winter vacation, only to find out their flight home had been canceled. One look at his wife told him not to jump on it. “I’ve learned not to always make a joke.”
But when the time is right, it’s very, very right.
“I feel it out. How can I connect with this audience?” he says. “That’s what I try to do with standup, and that’s what I try to do at work.”