Author Q and A
Illustration by Polina Flegontovna

A successful theater production requires precise timing and teamwork from the players both onstage and backstage. The stage crew, director, choreographer, costume and set designers, and stage manager all work closely together to ensure that the actors on stage can deliver a thrilling experience to the audience.
It’s a lot like the customer-facing and back-office roles that exist along the customer experience journey—a key theme of Kathleen Peterson’s new book, “Backstage at the Customer Experience: Musings for Contact Center Leaders.”

Kathleen Peterson
Kathleen Peterson

As founder and chief vision officer of PowerHouse Consulting, Kathleen is a well-recognized industry visionary known for her knowledge, experience and humor. The book is a collection Kathleen’s distinctive and keenly astute musings about vision and brand, the customer experience, leadership, management, operations and the human element. She offers insights for the onstage and backstage players who contribute daily to the customer experience that the organization provides—from the executive level to the front lines.

We recently caught up with Peterson to learn more about the book and her thoughts on customer experience performance.

The overall theme of your book looks at customer experience strategy through the analogy of a theater production. Can you briefly explain the comparison?
As I began thinking about the elements of the customer experience, several comparisons to the theater began to crystallize. I expressed the analogy in the book’s Foreword…

The focus on customer experience is a top business strategy in today’s competitive market-place. That experience has many of the same components found in the theatre; we want our staff to “perform” in a way that attracts and retains customers. This is not a new or novel perspective. More than 400 years ago, Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It” that: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” For those in the customer experience world, these words certainly ring true.

We must ask ourselves what it takes to achieve a performance meaningful enough to make our customers (the “audience”) want to return and to recommend us to others. While the experience happens “on stage,” what happens behind the scenes or “backstage” is what ultimately determines a winning performance. While frontline players have an enormous impact on the outcome of the performance, they are only able to perform as well as they are managed.

The concept is that when organizations take on the customer experience as a strategic objective it is critical to understand that the desired performance is as dependent on the overall management of the operation as it is on the frontline agent’s interaction. As any theater production is impacted by the quality of the “actors,” the quality of the actors is impacted by the script, the set up, the lighting, directing, writing, marketing, etc. Great actors alone—like great frontline agents alone—cannot drive home a winning performance without all the “backstage” elements being properly provisioned and managed.

What are the key elements for producing a successful, long-running customer experience performance?
There are six elements that form the foundation of delivering on the promise of excellence when it comes to the contact center’s role in the customer experience. I have organized my book around them:

  1. Vision and Brand
  2. Customer Experience
  3. Leadership
  4. Management
  5. Operations
  6. The Human Element

Vision and Brand musings cover the importance of translating an organization’s vision and brand into tangible and actionable behaviors. The customer experience section discusses the means by which we must identify the specific elements associated with the delivering of said “experience” and plot how to achieve the contact center’s contribution in the real world.

Leadership covers the complex role that leaders play in overseeing the execution of customer experience as a strategy. With topics like “The Conundrum of Certainty” and “To Do or Undo? That is the Question,” readers can jump to whatever topics resonate with them. The material may not necessarily inspire, but it can provide another way to look at a situation and perhaps think differently. Management offers topics that suggest that EVERYTHING being done must be “challenged.” It covers topics from change management to the information gatekeeper.

The Operations section covers specific areas of managing the contact center in the new era of customer experience—how to measure, report and organize a successful infrastructure for a 21st century operation. The Human Element wraps up the book by providing observations, insights and actions with regard to agent retention, training and coaching. The objective here is to continue to challenge ourselves on how we staff, lead, educate and retain the best team to deliver on the customer experience.

You have been working with contact centers for nearly three decades as well as speaking and writing about your experiences. What led you to put your musings together in a book?
What led me to this collection was feedback from readers of my articles and from clients I have worked with. They asked for a go-to resource for new and innovative ways to manage the complexities of the contact center—while simultaneously contributing to the achievement of strategic objectives around the customer experience. Finding the time was a challenge; but I know how busy and yet how thirsty contact center leaders are for “know-how.” This collection is easy to get at, contains actionable insights, and doesn’t take long to read and digest!

I also see the role of contact center leaders changing; they will continue to change as the customer experience grows as an important strategic objective. Contact center leaders need all the tools they can grab onto to demonstrate to the executive level that they are ready for the challenge to lead. Sadly, far too many organizations overlook contact center leaders when it comes to determining who should represent the execution of such an important objective. Hopefully, this book will help contact center leaders to manage their visibility and their value at the executive level because it will reframe how to effectively contextualize contact center realities in terms of achieving strategic outcomes.

Why did you select these specific topics and examples for your book?
The topics, examples, and stories are relevant to those folks involved in “performing” the back-stage tasks and activities that deliver on the customer experience. The material is presented in a succinct and specific manner that is easy to grasp, is based on reality, and in many cases is just funny! I firmly believe that we often enjoy enhanced clarity when we can view situations from the perspective of humor… when people say, “Someday we’ll laugh about this,” I say, “Why wait?”
Seriously, though, my writing is based on my direct consulting work with contact centers. I base very little on pure theory or academics. I am involved in projects from large to small and find that challenges rise up in contact centers every day. This book enables the reader to jump around and locate relevant topics that aid in making decisions.

Who will benefit from reading this book?
I believe that everyone involved in delivering on the customer experience from the C-level to the cube-level will benefit from this book. Its topics can be shared across the enterprise from the front line to crossfunctional partners to executives—for learning, breaking the ice or a tie, or simply for an enjoyable and humorous break from the day’s routine. I want readers to be inspired by topics organized in such a way that they can find and enjoy “snippets of relevance!”