Make Your Contact Center Like a Broadway Play

"Hamilton" is one of the most popular Broadway plays in history. The play opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York in 2015 and is still selling out every performance—more than 1,300 seats. The average ticket still goes for $750. That comes out to be about $100 million a year. And, most theatre-goers leave the three-hour play saying it was well worth the price.

The play is memorable for many reasons. It is grounded in the life of a historical figure (Alexander Hamilton) whom most every school child recognizes. It features great songs, great singers and dancers, and a theater set that dramatically amplifies the authenticity of the experience. And, most songs and dialogue are done in rap—a crowd pleaser for its target audience. Most of the lead performers are African-Americans, a subliminal lens into the theme of that era and today: ;that all men are created equal. A black Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, intensifies that pursuit-of-liberty sentiment. The play is a demonstration of scenography at its finest.

Scenography originated in ancient Greece. Artists painted on stones colorful stage scenes for theatrical productions. The concept is the integration of all of the sensory elements of a service experience around a compelling service story or vision. The very best service providers in the world use scenography to craft a powerful experience for their customers. We humans favor symmetry and balance. Our psyche reads dissonance in an experience long before our logical mind comprehends a rationale. Far more than the urge to level a crooked picture or the recognition that something is a bit off in a melody we hear, the dissonance even reaches to ideas out of alignment with our beliefs.

So, what is your contact center scenography? When the style of the contact center operator fails to match what was promised on the website or in ads, it is dissonant. You expect the Ritz-Carlton Hotel call center to sound refined and the Disney World call center to sound happy like a kid. Amazon's and Zappos' 24/7 access makes customers wince at the idea of a contact center ever being inaccessible.

Create a Congruent Experience.

"Hamilton" was theatrically pure—every feature belonged and was harmonious with every other feature. Experiences that are not congruent create dissonance. It's that feeling you get when you know something is out of whack, like an angry cast member at a Disney theme park or a slow-moving medical person in an emergency room. Dissonance can be cognitive when produced by conflicting messages. A sign saying, "Ignore this sign" would be an obvious illustration. Or, the more familiar, "Your call is very important to us. Your approximate wait time is 30 minutes!" Such foggy messaging causes customers to experience distrust, putting them on the hunt for other suspicious evidence of unreliability.

Dissonance can be sensory cues that make customers uneasy. A bus driver with obvious alcohol breath is not just about the driver's personal habits. The dirty bathroom at a restaurant creates unease about the food. As customers, our perceptions can take us way beyond what we observe to what we conclude. Calls that feel rushed signal greater interest in cost reduction (handle time) than in a quality experience for the caller. Hearing other operators in the background can convey to customers you are not respectful of customer privacy. Complex channel negotiation telegraphs the system was built for your convenience and not for your customers' ease.

Add Sprinkles to the Experience.

"Hamilton" was a sprinkles experience. As customers, we enjoy consistency and the confidence that comes with a disciplined operation. However, too much, "Have a blessed day," can make customers long for a robot that they know has no heart instead of a front-line person who has one but is not allowed to (or chooses not to) use it. &Authentic trumps mechanical. A problem-solving, take-charge front-line is valued over an order-taking, just-doing-my-job human droid. Before you laud the efficiency and "like-a-well-oiled-machine" features of your contact center, take stock of what your customers prefer.

I recently interacted with a contact center. As if it were a part of her script, the agent answered the phone, "Acme Enterprises, thanks for call. How 'bout those Cowboys?" followed by a slight giggle. She obviously spotted my 214-area code and took a chance I would likely be a Dallas Cowboys fan. It did not matter if I was or not, it was the thought that mattered. My phone contact came with sprinkles.

Go for a Tony Award Everyday.

A big takeaway from "Hamilton"—the winner of 11 Tony Awards—is the way it profoundly impacted its audience. People were more than entertained; they were stirred. We live in an era when chatbots, interactive voice response (IVR), and artificial intelligence are replacing some roles formerly performed by live agents in contact centers. Google's new Duplex AI sounds cleverly like a real person. And, there are clearly efficiencies gained through technology just like there were actors on the Broadway stage—someone pretending to be Hamilton, George Washington, and Aaron Burr. But, their performances were so compelling you easily forgot it was a well-trained thespian and not the actual people being portrayed.

I worked with a large contact center for a major e-tailor. The leader of the center hired an acting coach to work with agents. She had local aspiring actors from the nearby college provide demonstrations on various ways to convey emotion more effectively. "Are you teaching your employees to fake empathy or feign concern,"; I asked her? "Oh no," she said. "We want our employees to be authentic. But, it is also important for them to remember that, just a like Disney cast member, when they are on the phone, they are on stage. Our customers expect and deserve a masterful performance."

Scenography is the craft of making every component in the service experience fit with the promise made, or implied, to customers. Conduct a service scenography audit of your call center with input from your customers and your employees. Then, go to work making every component fit so that every contact delights.

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several national best-selling books. His newest book is the award-winning, best-selling Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles. He can be reach at

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