Have you ever been confused by something that a customer service representative says to you? Did they give you the clinical answer using a bunch of jargon instead of using the customer-friendly version? Could they have avoided a lot of confusion by just saying, “Of course I can do that for you”?
This is what I call using “backend lingo” instead of customer service language. I recently sent an email to our timeshare company explaining that I possibly needed to change our reservation but needed some more information. They stated that because it was so close to the reservation I would incur a “$29 CANCELLATION FEE.” Okay, but I’m not cancelling. So I called them to avoid a long, drawn-out email exchange.
“That’s just what we call it,” the rep explained, “because we have to go in and actually cancel the reservation and re-book it, so we call it a cancellation fee.”
Okay, how dumb is that? Call it a CHANGE FEE so we can avoid you telling me what you have to do. I don’t care if they have to call a Shaman and wave a dead chicken over their head in order to clear the spirit world of the old reservation. If it makes no difference to me, the customer, then don’t tell me and don’t give me lingo that makes me question whether you understand my request.
When involved in a volunteer leadership team in college, our advisors taught us a very valuable lesson by giving us an analogy between leadership and a theatrical stage. There was a difference between being onstage, backstage and offstage. The same thing applies here. Following are the differences in a nutshell and would be a helpful lesson for any organization or business that works with customers (hmm, that covers the gamut, doesn’t it?). Enjoy!
Onstage – When you are onstage you are presenting to your customers or audience with a very deliberate voice and manner. You may be operating in a role that you don’t always have and delivering a script that you did not write yourself. You’re representing your company or organization in a formal way and there is no mistaking you are there as part of that role and nothing else. Personnel who are not comfortable up on stage, staying in character no matter what, should not work in customer service. There is something so incredibly infuriating when a customer service person says something along the lines of, “Don’t get mad at me, I didn’t make this decision! I just do what I am told.” Could you imagine an actor in a Broadway play breaking character onstage to say, “I thought I should have played this character gay, don’t you? You would have laughed at my last line if I were gay. The director just does not get it!”
Backstage – This is where the costumes (or even uniforms) come off. This is where you can discuss things away from your audience. You can report or even complain that the customers are not receptive to certain parts of the script (e.g. “They get confused when I call their reservation change a cancellation). Moments backstage are staff meetings, board meetings or time around the water cooler. They can be formal or informal and there are still roles to be played, but the customers are not privy to these discussions. Whatever is decided, whatever changes are made or not made, is what the customers hear as a united front.
Offstage – When you leave your office for the day, you might still be recognizable and therefore need to behave in a manner that would not be damaging to your organization or company. Dichotomies are often played-up in movie characters: the nutritionist who eats a dozen doughnuts at a time; the vegan chef who drives through Jack in the Box; the motivational coach who secretly believes he’s a loser. The irony is delightful in a movie, but disturbing and even scandalous in real life. Think of a reverend who gets exposed for having an affair. The defense is never, “Well, that’s just my job and I was just upholding company policy, but in my personal life, I’m allowed to be a scumbag.” People are watching and they trust the company, the organization and its entire staff to live lives consistent with the values of the company they represent.
From a marketing perspective, make sure that your onstage performance is clearly understood and plays to the audience. Make sure your employees can live up to what you are setting as the standard and make them proud to work for you. If something is not working, make the changes necessary so your performance has a long, successful run. 

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