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Customer Service Reps: The Next American Idol?

Here's a thought: What if contact centers become the breeding ground for a new generation of Internet-created media stars? That provocative idea comes from our friends at Wainhouse Research, Andrew Davis and Brent Kelly.In an in-depth feature over at No Jitter, Andrew and Brent take a serious, detailed look at the development of the market for videoconferencing, and they describe why videoconferencing seems poised to go mainstream in the enterprise. But among their list of predictions for the next three to five years, there's this semi-whimsical item:

Video call centers will emerge. Some video call center workers will attain American Idol status.

When you think about it, why not? YouTube has made stars out of the unlikeliest of citizens. There's no reason a contact center couldn't be the Schwab's soda fountain of the next decade.

Of course, as soon as you say that, the whole universe of potential downsides rises up before you. Leave aside the potential that, once one contact center agent goes viral on YouTube, lots of others will see their job as a full-time audition for the next famous-for-being-famous gig. Like how, after Southwest Airlines flight attendants started to be funny and flip, every airline in the business tried to do their own shtick.

Just think about mundane things like corporate policies and reputations.

We've all found ourselves reminded, while we're on hold, that our call may be monitored and recorded. In the video age, that reminder will really have to be directed at the company itself: Your agents might be video-recorded by the customer contacting you, and if the agent is rude or comically ill-informed or incompetent, your company is likely to be the one that gets the YouTube treatment, and it won't be pretty.

One obvious answer is that only the most highly qualified, competent agents will be assigned to video contacts, and these agents will undergo rigorous training. And indeed, that will probably work in 99.9% of cases. But anyone can have a bad day, or just be completely stumped, or can get pranked or whatever. As political candidates are finding out, being "on" continually will inevitably give rise to gaffes even in someone who's generally pretty disciplined in their communications.

That may be a more apt analogy for the contact center agent of the future: Like politicians, video contact center agents will have to stay on message, smile when they'd prefer to strangle the person they're talking with, and generally woo the public.

And the first time one of them breaks into "She Bangs," they're outta there.