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  • October 8, 2021
  • By Ian Jacobs, vice president and research director, Forrester Research

Do You Have Contact Center Stars? Advertise Them

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“I don’t like reggae, no no/ I love it!” —10cc (“Dreadlock Holiday”)

BACK IN THE HAZY days of the mid-’90s, I got to live out one of my dreams from when I was a teenager: I started a regular gig as a DJ at a club in San Francisco. I stumbled into the opportunity through connections from a few Usenet groups—for those too young to remember, Usenet was social networking without much of the immediacy, memes, or GIFs, but with all the vitriol intact. I knew someone from one newsgroup who knew someone from another newsgroup who was starting a club night and who needed more DJs to ensure that she could have a functioning weekly roster. Luckily enough for me, the organizer mustn’t have been that picky about who she chose, because I found myself in the regular rotation. I would describe my DJing as significantly more enthusiasm than talent—but there I was, onstage, spinning vinyl (it was the ’90s, remember?).

Did I mention that it was a dub reggae night? And it was on Sunday nights? Yeah, that might have something to do with how I made it to the stage. A musical genre with almost no club presence at the time, on a night when packed crowds tended to be rarer than a white crow? Yup, that was my gig.

Except that after a few years, our little dub night began to take off in popularity…not to conquer-the-world-like-Diplo levels, but holiday weekends became sweaty, sold-out affairs where I learned that contact highs are not just a myth, and even regular old Sundays were profitable. And I am here to take all the credit for it! Oh wait—no, I just rode the coattails of those who really knew what they were doing. It was my colleagues that brought in the punters because they were the stars.

At this point, some of you are wondering how the heck I am going to stick the landing and bring this back to customer service or customer experience. Yeah, me too! OK—not really; I do know where I am going with this. Honestly! When I was reliving those glory days in my mind, I realized that my experience was totally distinct from contact centers. No duh, you say—one is DJing Jamaican music that emphasizes the rhythm section, and one is providing service to a bunch of customers at scale. But that star factor idea really stuck with me.

Contact centers also have stars—agents that can talk upset customers off a ledge or upsell the need for steak sauce to a commune of vegans. And then there is everyone else who works there. Patrons of my dub night put up with me because they knew they would also get to ride the grooves of the gifted performers; but customers calling into a contact center essentially play agent roulette, hoping they get lucky and get to speak to an exceptional service rep.

Could a model like my reggae collective work for contact centers? Advertise the star performers, but also acknowledge that the less-than-stellar will also be part of the price of admission? We de facto have that system already (without the billboards touting the best performers)—so why not start to play up the stellar agents? Even build marketing and advertising campaigns around them? I can see a TV spot with a chyron that reads “Actual customer service representative” over images of a helpful, smiling face, followed by a testimonial from a real customer helped by that agent. OK, maybe I’m just dreaming—or flashing back to those ’90s contact highs.   

Ian Jacobs is a vice president and research director at Forrester Research.

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