Three summers ago, I made ten dollars an hour plus commission portraying “Jessica”, an online shopping assistant program designed by InQ serving the WhiteFence.com website. On WhiteFence.com, a customer can purchase phone, cable, internet service, and other products specific to their address. If any questions about the products or ordering procedure were to arise, the customer could initiate an online chat with Jessica simply by clicking on her picture in the upper right hand of the page. Jessica looked the part of an intelligent and congenial assistant with blond hair pulled back, a collared white shirt, and a pair of stylish librarian glasses. However, this image of Jessica rarely resembled the individual who answers questions as Jessica. In fact, in the first two months of the WhiteFence.com account, all of the agents working as Jessica were males of ages 20-40. The InQ office was filled with Jessicas working on different websites such as bellsouth.com, sprint.com and vonage.com, all corresponding to roughly similar pictures of the blond, attractive woman ready to answer all your questions. As agents, we were encouraged to maintain our “Jessica” identity at all times. Jessica provided a human face for the website, a form of branding which personalizes an online experience usually marked by anonymity. The overwhelming majority of customers fully bought into the Jessica masquerade, often typing personal testimonies of their trials and tribulations in trying to get their phone connected and appealing to Jessica’s implied sense of personal concern and warmth. Jessica was always sympathetic, but she was also a saleswoman, trained to guide customers to the latest long distance plans and rebates so she could make a fifty cent commission on each sale.

(Full article available on As It Ought To Be)

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