De-scripting Customer Service

I have been involved in customer service for most of my career. The blessing and curse of this is that I can easily recognize when I am on the receiving end of very bad customer service. Such was the case when I had to call a company because I suspected foul play with my account. Now, each person I spoke with was very polite… actually too polite. See, their politeness was not genuine – it was scripted. Person after person thanked me, apologized to me, and never heard a word I said. In fact, they apologized so much that they were cutting me off, interrupting me as I tried to explain the actual issue – I had to tell one person to stop apologizing.

How did we get to the point where what we tried to accomplish by being nice turned into a scripted training exercise devoid of real human emotion or contact? What’s more, who do we think we are fooling with this over abundance of manners when nothing is actually getting done?

According to a couple studies by University of Utah David Eccles School of Business, not all customer interactions that involve scripted conversations are bad. In fact, in certain situations, customers don’t mind. These situations are pretty standard, where there is a need for the checklist. Checking into a hotel is a situation where you would expect a warm greeting, get asked the same questions, and receive the same information as to elevators, rooms, etc. If however a customer has a problem, or needs to be heard, or if the interaction is complex, scripting often gets in the way. Take the example of a network manager trying to troubleshoot a problem with a vendor. First line tech support teams are often given a script to ask basic questions, regardless of who the customer is or what they have told them. So, the support person is nice and cordial and apologetic and all of those wonderful things that are part of the script, while the network manager gets more and more angry because he feels his time is being wasted (I have been that network manager, too).

This was how I was feeling when the nice scripting was getting in the way of actually listening to me, when each time they repeated back to me what they thought they heard they got it wrong. The script was both flawless and flawed. It was executed perfectly, but failed to get to the root of my problem – for 3 hours.

So how do we balance this? After all, companies need to be sure that those that serve their customers are doing so with the right information, the right attitude and the right “brand” of the company. Companies spend a great deal of money to retain customers and to analyze the transactions, to raise NPS and shore up any possible holes the competition can use. Ensuring that each person is giving the same information is one way, but I don’t think turning humans into automatons is the full solution.

Amazon released a product called the Echo. In the promo video above, one of the lines from one of the children grabbed my attention: “with everything Echo can do, it’s really become part of the family“. I think our scripting has tried to get us there – where the service person and the customer are tied together in a beneficial relationship. The customer leaves the transaction knowing that they have been taken care of, and that the experience was pleasant and uplifting. But the second part of this – the uplifting and pleasant experience – cannot happen without the first… the customer must be cared for. For this to happen, humans must be allowed to be human. True care cannot be what is listed on page one of the sheet. It has to be part of the business plan and goal of every person that serves, and they must feel that they have the autonomy to actually care for the customer.

My 3 hour ordeal was not all bad. Out of the 6 or 7 people I spoke to (yes, I was transferred at least 6 times for one issue), one person did step up to the plate. She was in the middle of the ordeal, heard the frustration in my voice, and took the time to listen to my issue, as well as to make sure she fully understood the situation. She didn’t go forward until we were both speaking the same language: We both knew we were speaking about an email transaction, about what was contained in the email, about the areas of my concern and about what my bottom line was. Only then did she begin to do her research, kept me informed, and used the script to her advantage – where there was a need for it she used it. Otherwise, she remained a caring human trying to solve a problem for another.

In the article mentioned above, Don Wardell says that “the people designing the services need to be careful about what kind of scripting they are going to use”. I wholeheartedly agree, and would add one more thing: we need to take the time to teach our service professionals how to use the script as a tool so that they can confidently care for the customer, and raise the quality of the interaction for the customer. It is in those instances that customers will gladly recommend the products or services of the company, because they feel valued and cared for… not just because the service person was nice, but because they exhibited true customer service.

Notable Notables

I wanted to find some examples of good and bad service (yes, I have my own, but seeing them in video is often better 🙂 ). This first one we have all probably experienced from time to time:

This is a great example of service done right. Kevin Eikenberry describes it as “we are going to solve this problem for you“. Taking the time to hear the problem and use the tools given to come to a resolution.




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