Customer service reps need to throw away their scripts

Discussion
Sep 29, 2015

I recently overheard my wife on the phone with a customer service rep. "Listen," she said, "I need you to stop reading me your script and just answer the questions I’m asking you."

One of the keys to excelling as a customer service rep is the ability to read people. Being able to read scripts, well, that’s not a skill on the being a difference-maker list. That’s why some of the most customer-centric retailers in the business are throwing away their scripts and investing in training reps to instead handle service issues on a person-to-person basis.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, Bonobos, Dollar Shave Club and Zappos are three companies that have invested in hiring and training the type of people who are able to engage customers in a more genuinely human way.

Training associates to work off-script takes more time and certainly costs more, but proponents say the benefits in repeat business, word-of-mouth and social media kudos make it an investment well worth making.

Customer service reps

Source: zappos.com/contact-us





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"Rather than looking at customer service as an expense, we see it as a fundamental investment, just as we invest in the design and quality of our clothing product," Melissa Baird, vice president of operations and product for Bonobos, told the LA Times.

Today with email and online chat, customers have a variety of ways to communicate with companies. While other avenues have their advantages, consumers still want to speak with a human when it comes to problems they perceive as serious. Who would you rather speak with, someone reading from a script or someone answering the questions you ask?

Have you experienced a customer service rep sticking to a script instead of addressing the issue you were calling about? Do you think it pays for companies to train customer service reps to work off script? What do you see as the challenges of making an off-script system work?

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Braintrust
"Working off-script is simply another form of empowerment. Giving staff responsibility also means giving them the ability to respond. An empowered organization doesn’t require associates to say the phrase "let me check.""
"How would you feel if you walked into a retail store and got scripted replies from the people you were dealing with face to face? Yes, hiring and training the right people is more expensive but repeat purchases is the pot of gold at the end of that training rainbow."
"For better overall results, my advice would be to improve screening during the hiring process to be able to up the level of empathy ranking in candidates."

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15 Comments on "Customer service reps need to throw away their scripts"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Just like a salesperson needs to have a script to know the order and steps in a sale, so too does customer service. There are call centers and there are call centers. The best still follow a formula but don’t have to make the other person feel like they have a process.

To throw the doors open and say everyone should be off script handling each one as an exception would add needless expense as many calls will fall into predictable buckets that can be dealt with succinctly — with a process.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Anyone who has ever had a service problem has experienced roboscripting, myself included — sadly on multiple occasions.

As for the cost/benefit ratio of providing better training I guess that depends on the company.

If, for example, you actually care about your customers and are worried about your service image, then you have little choice but to invest in higher quality employees and training.

If on the other hand you are a cable company or a utility … well … I think you can finish the sentence yourself.

George hit it on the head. The secret to making an “off the script” approach work is having people on your end of the phone that are better at reading people than they are reading questions off a screen. But again, that means investing more in people and their training, and making sure they can access tools to solve the customer’s problem, and that costs real money.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Working off-script is simply another form of empowerment. Giving staff responsibility also means giving them the ability to respond. An empowered organization doesn’t require associates to say the phrase “let me check.”

The key is the staff training. People want to help. They simply need guidelines or boundaries for going off script. In the absence of an appropriate training program there is the potential for customer service chaos.

Ian Percy
Guest
6 years 3 months ago
For the most part I regard scripts like I regard policies. Both of them take away the need to think. We try to program and automate our computers, our employees and our customers. Could it get any sadder? “Policies,” my VP of Nursing friend once said, “are just scar tissue over an error.” Someone does something dumb and we add a policy giving evidence to a belief that everyone else in the company is just as stupid. Apart from keeping people out of jail, preventing physical or mental harm and protecting the company from financial loss, there is not much need for policy. Having empowered and thinking people is so much more effective. Scripts, again for the most part, are literally “mindless.” Frankly so is the writing of them. Why ask “How are you?” when you don’t care and it will make no difference to what is said next? The other oxymoron is “This call is recorded for quality purposes.” You just need to know how to read, usually with no energy in your voice.… Read more »
Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
6 years 3 months ago

Let’s not forget that many of these jobs have been off-shored to save money. So in many cases English is not the rep’s first language and they have trouble handling things, even with a script. Another issue is call centers tend to hire a lot of entry-level employees who really have little-to-no idea how to handle various situations. As Ryan said, if the company actually cares about their customers, then more training, higher quality employees and more experienced employees would be a good place to start.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Not only have I and my wife had the very same experience as George’s wife, I will go one step further. And this has happened on a few occasions:

I tell the rep my problem.
The rep starts the script.
I interrupt, “You aren’t addressing my issue.”
the rep says, “Sorry” … and starts the script from the very beginning.
We repeat that three times, then I turn angry and rude (I know I shouldn’t) and give up.

Years ago I had this exact problem with an HP rep. I have never bought an HP product again. I wonder if some good off-script training investment would have paid off?

Mel Kleiman
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

We all have experienced dealing with customer service reps and scripts. Let’s just start with the basics that are driving me crazy. You call technical support with a problem and what is the first thing they are told to ask the customer? “How are you today?” We all know the answer: frustrated, because we have to call customer service. If you are going to start with a script why not just say, “This is customer service, what problem can I help you solve today?”

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Training always pays off, primarily because the staff feels more competent in their role and they tend not to get frustrated with serving customers. Hiring practices need to evolve to see how the potential staff candidates react to off-the-cuff the questions from the interviewer. If they are good on their feet, they will most likely be an asset for customer-facing jobs.

Brian Numainville
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Nothing is more frustrating than customer service that turns into a customer disservice. Clearly a combination of hiring the right people, training them appropriately and empowering them. While talking points might be important, a script with no power to fix the problem is a bad idea.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

How would you feel if you walked into a retail store and got scripted replies from the people you were dealing with face to face? Digital and phone customer service is more and more important as buying products is increasingly done online or through the phone. These people are the retail store employees of this genre and nothing turns a consumer off more than a non-personal understanding and handling of their particular issue. Yes hiring and training the right people is more expensive but repeat purchases is the pot of gold at the end of that training rainbow.

Lee Kent
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

One of my biggest pet peeves! OK, i do understand that a script or outline for problem resolution is good to have in hand, however the call center rep should be trained to listen to the customer’s problem and then decide where in the script or outline to go.

Oh, how many times have we called for support, given our spiel and the rep starts at A on the script? Argh.

Or even worse, you give your spiel only to be told they will connect you to the right department. Why oh why did they answer the call “How may I help you today” when they are simply an operator? Please train reps to ask the right questions.

Ask the right questions, listen and know enough about the product/service you are supporting to think before responding … that’s my 2 cents on this subject.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
6 years 3 months ago

I do believe that the annoying “script thing” started to get really out of hand with the advent of offshore call centers and for the reasons others here have already written. But as many companies learned their lesson and pulled back their offshore customer service contracts, they unfortunately *missed* the piece of the lesson that the scripts themselves were a huge part of the problem—not just the language difficulties. Therefore they continued using scripts in their domestic call centers.

In my opinion, customer service reps cannot succeed in their jobs as problem solvers unless they know something about the company: its products both past and present, how it operates, and who its customers are. Developing this expertise takes considerable training and unfortunately, most companies are just not willing to invest that much time in what is considered a low paying job with significant turnover.

Anne Howe
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

There’s a huge difference in what scripting means to different people in the customer service/call center industry. For better overall results, my advice would be to improve screening during the hiring process to be able to up the level of empathy ranking in candidates. And then I would advise the creation of scripts to have off ramps in key areas based on history and tracking of common issues.

These two changes should improve results and effectiveness and also give any business some new ways to track and evaluate what’s happening and where to focus on improvements for the future.

Shep Hyken
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Every customer is different. Every customer has a unique personality. What makes one customer happy may make another upset. Scripts are guidelines. Don’t be encumbered to take care of your customer because of a script. The biggest challenge? Training people to make good decisions (that’s the easy part) and then trusting them to do so. Empower them to make good customer-focused decisions, and they will.

Kai Clarke
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Companies who invest in their customer service model realize that this is a direct investment in their customer, and ultimately in their future. Script reading is a poor reflection of this investment, and the companies who are recognizing this already understand that the cost of moving to enhanced training will be reflected in happier customers who continue to return to a company because of their experience there…especially during a period when the customer is not satisfied.

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Braintrust
"Working off-script is simply another form of empowerment. Giving staff responsibility also means giving them the ability to respond. An empowered organization doesn’t require associates to say the phrase "let me check.""
"How would you feel if you walked into a retail store and got scripted replies from the people you were dealing with face to face? Yes, hiring and training the right people is more expensive but repeat purchases is the pot of gold at the end of that training rainbow."
"For better overall results, my advice would be to improve screening during the hiring process to be able to up the level of empathy ranking in candidates."

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