Behind the Curtain: The Theater of Customer Service


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I’ve been a fan of the theater for as long as I can remember. So much so that when I am not working to enhance customer experience (CX) by day, you can often find me writing plays. While it may seem that these two areas have very little in common,they have more than meets the eye! When you peek behind the curtain of a theater production or see all that goes into customer service at a business level, they both focus on delighting customers (audiences) with creativity and collaboration.

Casting Call

Whether you’re pulling together a production or a customer service program, it takes a team of peers who can work together, yet hold their own in their designated areas of expertise. In both theater and customer support, it’s critical to work together to create a coherent, holistic experience for the audience or customer to enjoy. Theaters need actors, a director, a producer, a stage manager, lighting technicians, set and lighting designers, choreographers… the list goes on. Similarly, customer service agents must collaborate effectively with other teams such as IT, sales and marketing to do their work well. It’s important for each individual to know each other’s roles, while also working in an agile way to respond to the changing needs of customers.

Setting the Stage

After assembling a standout cast (customer support team), the CX leader needs to build a strong infrastructure of the program – and this is where creativity comes into play. In theater, productions face constraints on what they can do on stage – we must be mindful of expenses incurred by too many actors, sets, special effects and so on. The more expensive the play, the less likely it will ever see a stage. Similarly, customer support organizations need to deliver efficient, quality service to customers, but can’t solve every problem by investing six figures into elaborate costly and often unnecessary technologies.

In both cases, leaders must find the sweet spot where efficiency and cost-effectiveness meet quality. For customer support, this is where an omnichannel platform comes into play with technologies that enable more with less. Just as a playwright needs to think creatively to minimize theater costs through character doubling, avant-garde theatrical elements, using projections rather than building massive sets, agents can use automation and agent assist technologies to streamline routine, mundane processes and focus on zero contact resolution and contact deflection – saving time and money along the way.

Knowing Your Audience (and Your Actors)

Knowing your audience in CX and theater is critical to leaving them entertained and wanting more. When putting on a play the cast and crew must think about the impact on the audience and how an audience views the characters and how they fit into the story, otherwise the story may be uninteresting, unrelatable or simply incomprehensible. It’s analogous to an organization providing customer support – always peering through the lens of the customer and their experience. To succeed, leaders need a platform to understand the customer with a 360-degree view to appreciate who they are and where they are in their journey, illuminating how one interaction colors their overall experience.

It’s also important to consider the customer agent experience, just like a director or playwright must think about how things work when it comes to the actors. Take a monologue. While it may seem perfect in writing, certain aspects of a speech may be difficult for actors to recite clearly – which can undermine the audience experience. A CX leader must prime agents for success with an intuitive, easy-to-use platform, rich with customer information and automation technologies, just like a director and playwright must prime actors with a script and character that sets them up for compelling and clear communications.

The Show Must Go On

When putting on a live production, there’s no time to pause due to mechanical issues. Actors must react quickly and be “resolution-focused” – continuing the narrative if a wall collapses or a prop malfunctions. The same goes for customer support agents, who must stay focused on resolving customer issues no matter what. Agent assist technology and zero-contact resolutions via chatbots are critical to reduce friction around mechanics (like a missing prop), so they can focus on completing the story for the customer.

A recent study found that 96% of consumers who experienced poor customer service said that it affected their loyalty to a brand. A customer support agent’s goal is to maintain and strengthen that customer’s loyalty. The same rationale goes for theater – not every audience member is going to love the show, but through creativity and thoughtful collaboration, your cast and crew should always be ready to take the stage and put on a stellar performance.