Friday, 10 June 2011 16:03

Keeping the Comedians Employed

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As I was unwinding from a later-than-average evening last night, I happened to catch some of the David Letterman show on TV.  Since the show featured the finale of “Drum Solo Week” I thought I’d stay up late enough to watch the featured drummer.  That meant sitting through the brief act of a comedian who preceded the drum solo extravaganza.


The comedian’s name was Mike Birbiglia and he owes the contact center industry a big debt of gratitude.  His entire routine, about five minutes or so, was about his experience contacting the call center of his mobile phone provider.  The clichés were coming fast and furious – hundreds of incoming calls and five agents on duty, send all the calls to a voice mail “machine” so no one has to talk to customers, send the calls to Indians (“Native Americans?  No, Indian Indians”), leave the calls on hold while we go play golf, etc. etc.  For comedians, the contact center still seems to hold a wealth of material even if it’s been recycled a hundred times or more.


It occurred to me as I watched this comedian that the contact center industry is itself a little like a comedian – Rodney Dangerfield.  Like Rodney, the industry “don’t get no respect.”  I’m betting you already have a visual image of the late Mr. Dangerfield in your mind right now, seeing him straightening his tie, sort of rocking on his feet and saying something like, “A girl phoned me and said, ‘Come on over, there’s nobody home.’  I went over – nobody was home.”


According to a recent study I read and wrote about in the National Association of Call Centers (NACC) In Queue newsletter this month ( and which is also the topic of my column in the upcoming July issue of Contact Center Pipeline magazine, customer service representative is number two in the top ten post-recession comeback jobs.  These are jobs that have seen the greatest increase in demand and in salary over the past two years.  Number one on the list is tax preparer.  Right behind tax preparer with a 26 percent increase in average salary since 2009, is the much-maligned job of customer service representative.


As contact center jobs continue to be repatriated and we look back and see eight consecutive quarters of job growth in the contact center industry, why is the industry still the butt of late night comedians’ jokes?  These bad experiences may have been commonplace in the past but today’s reality is different.  No one can afford provide bad service and not many agents will risk joining the ranks of the unemployed these days.  Yet these bad customer service experiences appear to be fresh in the memory of many people – fresh enough that they can still relate to them and laugh along with the comedian.


Remember when phone company employees were the butt of comedians’ jokes?  They’re not anymore.  Today it’s the cable guy who will show up, maybe, sometime between noon and dark, who is the target of jokes.  I guess the best we can hope for is that the jokes about the bad customer service rep will fade away like the jokes about lazy phone company employees did.  In the meantime, concerned organizations can help the industry by recognizing the importance of the contact center as a profit center and as the front line of defense in the battle to get and keep customers, and invest in it accordingly.  Otherwise the contact center industry might, as Rodney would have said, look up the family tree and discover it was the sap.

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