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The Fourth Wall of Customer Service


In the theater, the "fourth wall" is the wall between the actors and the audience. Behind this wall - the world of the actors is exactly as the audience imagines it. The good guys and the bad guys all fit within the story being told. The audience gets lost in the characters, the plot, the sets – they forget it’s all make-believe and simply fall into the world that’s been created for them.

If the fourth wall is "broken" the audience is directly acknowledged - the spell broken. Once broken, the fourth wall is hard to reconstruct and the audience may not be happy. Think of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, in the middle of the first act, turning to the audience, breaking character and screaming, “Get off your phone, I’m acting here!”

The Fourth Wall of Customer Service is similar. On the front lines of the business, you are the problem solver to your customers - you are their "hero." If you are a customer service pro, clients look to you as their rescuer. There is pressure to maintain the "fourth wall."

Customer service providers break the ‘fourth wall’ when they put internal company issues in front of the customer. When customers see you complaining, shifting blame, or citing internal company problems the spell is broken. Customers don’t need to, or certainly don’t want to, peek behind the curtain. They prefer that you just do the magic like it was nothing at all. They want to be lost in the world where you will easily fix their issues to their satisfaction – they don’t want to see the director arguing with the actors or the sets falling apart.

Business relationships are frequently dissolved for "too much information from what’s going on in the background.” In my career, I have seen customer service people lie, place blame and externalize, accuse, threaten and complain about coworkers and their company. They lost my loyalty and my relationship changed to one of mutual distrust. Why? Because if they would do it to them, they will do it to me. They broke the veil of the fourth wall – the magic is gone. Customer care is a Broadway play, performed by a psychiatrist. Read your audience, know your lines, and be what the audience expects – every time.