Fully Committed: A One-Man Customer Service Nightmare

1blairThe hip-hop musical Hamilton, with its enormous and diverse cast, nabbed all the top prizes at the Tony Awards Sunday night. But a play featuring just one extremely talented actor, Fully Committed, is actually more relevant to retailers. And tickets cost a lot less than the hundreds (or thousands) they are charging for Hamilton seats.

Fully Committed is an object lesson in how lack of respect for those on the front lines of a customer-facing organization can easily cascade into wretched customer service. It’s a reminder that first impressions are as important in retailing as they are everywhere else.

Fully Committed may have just one actor onstage (the remarkable Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays Mitchell Pritchett on TV’s Modern Family), but it’s populated with dozens upon dozens of characters. Let me explain. Ferguson plays Sam, the reservations guy for what the program describes as a “world-renowned, ridiculously red-hot Manhattan restaurant.”


From the moment Sam comes on stage the phone literally never stops ringing, and Ferguson acts the part of not just Sam but an entire cavalcade of entitled, easily enraged egomaniacs, as well as put-upon personal assistants to the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow. (Among her demands are “no female wait staff” and her own light bulbs in the sconces, to provide her with more flattering lighting during dinner.) Ferguson switches back and forth, playing the callers and the called, changing accents and body language with lightning speed.

You see, EVERYONE wants a reservation, (despite the fact that the restaurant is “fully committed” three months in advance), and when they can’t get what they want they resort to threats, intimidation, bribery and just plain nastiness. Stuck in a basement that looks as dingy as the unseen dining room is undoubtedly chic, Ferguson also plays the rest of the restaurant’s staff, including (hilariously) the celebrity chef with the manners, wit and insecurities of the world’s most obnoxious adolescent.

It’s a very funny play, not least because it’s also a revenge fantasy for poor, put-upon, screamed-at Sam. We cheer as he finally gets at least something of what he wants — if not respect then at least a little money and a few days off for the holidays. Minor victories but victories nonetheless.

Why is Fully Committed so relevant to retailers? It reminded me that the people who are on the front lines of any establishment — a restaurant, a store, a call center or an e-Commerce chat room — represent a company’s best opportunity to make a positive impression on the customer. Conversely, these gatekeepers also represent the biggest danger to a brand’s reputation. If they are rude, impatient, uninformed, visibly or audibly bored or angry, it doesn’t matter how great your products are. You won’t even get the chance to sell them, because your potential customers will have gone somewhere else.

Many retailers, such as Backcountry, have made great strides in providing their employees with the training, the support, the technology and yes, the respect they need and deserve to do a good job — even when customers are being impossible (which definitely does happen). To get an object lesson in how not to treat those who are the first voice a customer hears, go see Fully Committed. In addition to being entertained, you are likely to have more sympathy for whoever answers the phone the next time you call for a reservation.

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