by John Swinburn
There are few things more annoying in a “customer service” experience, in my view, than an obviously scripted interchange with an employee. The discussion that starts with “How can I make it a great day for you today?” tends to trigger instant resentment in customers who are sufficiently sophisticated to know the programmed pleasantry is artificial. Most customers, by the way, are sufficiently sophisticated to recognize scripts.
While scripted conversations are more typical for call center conversations than for in-person transactions, they are annoying regardless of the context. Aside from the inherent irritation factor built into customer service scripts, they tend to produce completely unintended results. Instead of generating customer satisfaction, they generate customer mistrust. Customers who are subjected to scripts are, by and large, offended by them. While their reactions vary widely, very rarely will their reactions be “oh, what a wonderfully pleasant company…I think I’ll buy more!”
Customers who are subjected to scripts are, in effect, treated as if they were subjects in a Pavlovian response exercise. But, unlike unwitting participants in such an exercise, customers know it and are not so easily conditioned to respond as desired. Instead, they may be apt to respond by trying another company whose motives are not so blatant and not so transparent. Customers do understand their purchases are part of the process of generating profits for a company. But, programmed pleasantries are perceived as smokescreens designed to hide that motive from the customer. Moreover, they are viewed as slick sales tools (even though they are not very good at selling) that automatically trigger defensive responses.
A far more effective way of giving customers the “warm fuzzy” feeling that programmed pleasantries do not is to hire right and train right. Reasonably intelligent employees who are given the freedom to use their own words to establish rapport with customers are far better emissaries of a company than speaking robots. Employees who appear genuine and who are not required to use scripted speech are much less likely to trigger those defensive responses that are so detrimental to the likelihood that a customer will buy.
The ways in which employees can be trained to use their own words to develop rapport with customers vary, but invariably they take more time than memorizing scripts. That extra time, though, is a good investment, both in employees and in customers. Both will be happier.