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Scripting Your Way to a Disappointing Customer Experience

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Brian Cantor

If your agents are relying on a script for communicating with customers, those customers unfortunately do not "totally understand."

A new study confirms that customers are very savvy when it comes to detecting scripted interactions with representatives. While that should not come as a total surprise—many transactional interactions rely on antiquated clichês and platitudes that were obviously memorized in advance —intrigue comes from the fact that customers could even detect subtle scripting buried within "improvised" dialogue.

When assessing the sincerity of a brand interaction, customers evaluate more than the agent’s specific wording choices. As such, when a representative attempts to fit the customer’s unique issue into a box and deliver a standard response—even if the representative uses improvised wordplay to actually convey that response—it appears scripted to the customer.

The representative, after all, is formulating his response based on what the "book" or "system" says to do rather than the unique context created by the customer’s inquiry. Is that not exactly what it means to script something?

Communication at hotel concierge desks, the study found, exemplifies the type of interaction that can come across as scripted even when the representative is responding extemporaneously and personally to the request of the customer.

The concierge is certainly not as likely as a telemarketer or live chat representative to deliver clichês like "It will be my pleasure to help you" or "I totally understand," but the form of scripting he employs is often even more detrimental to the customer experience. Whereas customers, including those surveyed in this study, generally expect transactions like hotel check-ins to be heavily scripted (and do not hold it against companies when they do script these interactions), when they approach a concierge, they are looking for a wholly unique experience.

Too often, however, the concierge fails to consider the intricacies of each customer’s request, instead delivering a standard list of restaurants and tourist destinations to every guest who asks, regardless of whether those recommendations align with the unique demographics and tastes of the guests.

Consider a recent example a coworker and I encountered in Miami. There too early for check-in, we figured we’d grab a bite at one of the authentic, casual Hispanic/Latino restaurants that one would assume are rampant in Miami. But when we asked our concierge for advice, she could only offer one—a well-known chain Mexican restaurant that, while generally a great dinner destination, hardly captures the cheap, genuine, "joint" feel we were seeking.

In fact, when we asked her for additional recommendations, her only move was to offer a directory of all the nearby restaurants and shopping centers. While it was great to go through the book to get a sense of the area, it was telling that she had been so seasoned in giving out that single, hollow recommendation that she never felt a hint of pressure to familiarize herself with other local eateries.

She did not use any customer service clichês in the interaction, but make no mistake, this was a scripted encounter.

Note that it is interactions with agents—rather than the holistic interfacing with the brand—that often define a customer’s perception of the experience. When a customer can tell that the conversation is scripted and impersonal, his perception of that experience gravely suffers, even if the brand has hired the friendliest representatives, offered the lowest prices and enforced the most liberal return policies possible. Every investment the brand has made into strengthening its customer experience is for naught if it cannot demonstrate its commitment to fulfilling the desires of each individual customer.

And since customers are so adept identifying scripted interactions, the simple reality is that brands should not script any non-transactional interactions. If the situation is going to require the agent to craft a personalized response for the customer, brands need to assure the agent is empowered and knowledgeable enough to deliver that unique message.

No one is arguing that agents cannot rely on standardized analytics or knowledge bases when interacting with customers. No one is saying that they cannot leverage signals in the customer’s inquiry to identify common answers and responses best suited for that customer’s situation.

What any wise customer management analyst should be saying, however, is that the agent’s mental game plan for formulating a response should be based on what the customer is saying rather than what the script says.

In a stark contrast to the concierge experience I had in Miami, a mixologist at a hotel in Toronto provided information of a vastly different flavor. In response to my comment that I had never been to Toronto and was looking to get a sense of the nightlife and culture, he took out a Post-It note and personally wrote down the names of six bars, along with pithy descriptions of their scenes and crowds, all of which aligned with how a guy in his twenties would evaluate a nightlife scene.

Care to wager which experience I found more valuable?