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What Happened to Backstage?

Monday, Jun 11, 2018

The following article was excerpted from Science of Story, where customer servicespeaker Louie Gravance is a frequent contributor. Louie is a humorous speaker, writer, former Disney Institute professor and customer experience expert, often referred to as “the guy that can make the ‘Disney thing’ work outside of Disney.” A premier example is initiative Gravance introduced to high-level executives and employees of Bank of America entitled “The Bank of America Spirit.”


“If a guest can see or hear you, we consider that ‘onstage’. If they cannot you are ‘offstage’,” I would illustrate to literally thousands of new Walt Disney World cast members during their first-day orientation. This same, simple, concept has been a cornerstone of my post-Disney consulting and keynotes. But the partition separating on and offstage has become fuzzy. More accurately, it has become almost completely transparent.

Perhaps this trend can be traced back to the 90s when restaurants opened-up their kitchens, office doors gave way to low-walled cubicles and we were suddenly told that all our service calls, “may be recorded for training purposes.” The proscenium around the stage has been dissolving for some time. In fact, does your business even have a “backstage” anymore?

Take the current stab at disruptive business models that is Moviepass as an example. For just under ten dollars a month the service allows one to see any single movie a day at most local theaters and mini-plexes. A membership card is acquired and connects to a (still somewhat clumsy) phone app. Moviepass has taken the step of dispensing with any service moment whatsoever occurring “off the grid.” Everything is done onstage. Everything.

During months of trying to obtain and activate my own membership card I was to learn that Moviepass is impossible to reach by phone. Speaking to a live person (by phone) is not an option, period. Go ahead and try, they practically dare you. Getting an answer to an email was equally elusive. However, going to their Facebook page and posting, “This service is a mess and completely unreliable,” got my problem solved in under ten minutes—right there in front of a global audience.

I question this tactic as an absolute in delivering service-excellence as it is tantamount to inviting potential customers to come watch how you make sausage before market. Ever seen a picture of Jell-O being made? No, and you won’t for a reason. Yet, fully transparent, full-view service recovery for a global audience may be the new frontier in the customer experience. An art to be mastered.

Do we have a choice? Since every customer (in one way or another) is now a content provider, perhaps we should perform as if every point of the customer experience is being broadcast on a twenty-four hour channel for YELP. “Use or be used,” would be my counsel.

Just as “show kitchens” forever altered the behavior (and trust me, they did) of kitchen and service staff behind the scenes at American restaurants, there is a good chance that social media will forever change the delivery of customer service. Our new cultural need to be looked at all of the time means we’re all being, um, well, looked at all of the time. Nothing is offstage, nothing.

Finally, in light of what we’re learning about the conduct of powerful employers over decades and the #metoo movement, perhaps conducting ourselves as if our customers, clients, patients and guests are always observing is not such a bad idea. They deserve it and the great brands we serve now require it.

The title of my most popular talk has never been more true: “There’s No Business BUT Show Business.”

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