At the death of TV host Johnny Carson, the thought occurred to me "Just how does someone last 30 years in a highly competitive business?"

The answer is great customer service. If you grew up with Carson and the "Hi-yoos" and "It was so cold that ..." you may have an inkling of what customer service means in the word of television comedy and talks shows. Here's a view of the unwritten rules that made Carson a good purveyor of the product of comedy and talk.

Rule No. 1. A good entertainer knows what the customers want and how to deliver it to them. A good comedian doesn't deliver lines that he thinks people will find funny; he learns what makes people laugh, instead of trying to force an audience to like the jokes.

Rule No. 2. Keep the focus on the customer, not on yourself. This may be a corollary to knowing what the customer wants. Carson, like no other talk show host since, kept the focus on the people he was interviewing--who were, after all, also customers--instead of putting the spotlight on himself.

Rule No. 3. Manage expectations. One of the secrets of the success of the Tonight Show under Carson was its almost ritualistic approach. There were catch phrases that helped make the studio and TV audiences comfortable, a familiarity that meant that there was some predictability.

Rule No. 4. Don't be too predictable. If too much variation produces chaos, too much predictability breeds monotony. People like to try something different now and then. See if something new will work better in the business.

Rule No. 5. Don't take yourself too seriously. That goes for about anything you do in life. But it certainly made Johnny more approachable and likeable and that's the kind of feeling that makes relationships of all kinds easier, including business relationships.

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