In Defense of Customer Service Scripts

March 21, 2013

Scripts have a bad rap in the customer service field. No matter the format — speeches, blog posts, chats — it is common to hear customer service professionals say things such as…

  • Lose the scripts
  • No more scripts
  • Dump all scripts

And they are right…

For the most part.

Why Scripts Suck

Customer Service Scripts | Fountain pen and ink well

Who doesn’t hate having a semi-skilled customer automaton robotically read a canned customer service script? We all do!

The problem with most scripts is they are used as a final solution, a way to ensure that customer facing professionals (CFP’s) say the right things at the right time.

In reality, the results are much different. Robotic adherence to scripts usually results in CFP’s saying the right thing but at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

However, blaming scripts is misguided and is akin to blaming a hammer for being used to bludgeon someone. The tool is never at fault, only the person using it.

Why Customer Service Scripts Are Needed

Much of the negation of scripts comes from what appears to be a rather fantastical belief that all employees are experienced operators with a toolkit of customer service skills who have had time to be thoroughly trained before ever coming into contact with a customer.

In most companies, that is not what happens.

In many companies and industries, much of retail and food service for example, employees are often just entering the workforce. Many do not have business experience and, even worse, have often acquired bad habits in the little bit of work experience they have had.

Let’s take the example of Julie.

Julie is an early Twenties, high school graduate, who is working her way through her associates degree. Her previous work experience was as a lifeguard in high school and then as a salesperson at a  shoe store in the mall.

She learned very little in the way of transferable skills as a lifeguard. At the mall, she learned basic sales skills and how to text her friends with one hand under the counter without a client noticing.

You just hired Julie, because out of the hundreds of applications you received and the dozens of interviews you performed, she was one of the few people who showed any real promise and who was willing to work the hours you needed to cover.

Now, you have to decide how to train Julie, because she literally knows next to nothing about your product, your systems, or business in general. Here are some options:

1. You can send her to Retail University, the plush, fully-staffed campus you setup for the 7-10 part-time employees you hire each year. Oh yeah, you don’t have one of those.

2. You can keep Julie off the schedule and pull another employee off the schedule to train her for 3 months straight. You can afford that, right? Or…

3. You can throw her on the schedule, try to squeeze a few days of training in prior to her first shift, and assign a senior associate to train her on the job, while you deal with auditors, insurance claims, and the employee who just quit, leaving you to look for yet another Julie.

Most likely, Julie’s getting thrown to the wolves. The best thing you can do is give her the most efficient tools and most effective training that your budget and operations allow.

Enter the dreaded script.

When Customer Service Scripts Work

So, here is when customer service scripts work: Scripts work when you need to equip team members with the proper language and the proper information to handle specific interactions with customers — and they do not have the skill set necessary to do so without a script.

The key distinction to bear in mind is that…

Customer service scripts are a starting point, never a finishing point.

Customer service scripts help give those who are without developed skills or specific knowledge a way to use better language in an orderly presentation with correct information.

If well prepared and properly tested, scripts can actually help team members feel more comfortable, not less. The scripts can provide a support mechanism for team members who are unsure of themselves.

If you have hired well and provided adequate training and support, the script will not be a crutch but a guide that a team member can milk for its takeaways and make into something personal and genuine.

Scripts can work if you work them.

So, do you think scripts have a place in business, or are they always a bad thing?

13 thoughts on “In Defense of Customer Service Scripts”

  1. Can’t say I’m a fan of scripts in most situations. As a training tool – yeah, maybe. As a last resort kind of option. But definitely something to think about here.

    Thanks for presenting a different take on them!

    1. I know what you mean Chase. In the wrong hands, scripts really can be awful. I do believe they have can be an effective transitional tool however.

      Thanks for sharing!

    2. Totally agree with Chase here, I usually find Sales scripts really frustrating (or comical, like in Parks and Rec). But you’re right, they can really assist people who otherwise wouldn’t have appropriate conversational/sales skills. As long as they’re approached as a startoff point, I agree that they are a useful tool.

  2. Having scripts, as a backup, is essential. I wouldn\’t use them word for word, but they can be very beneficial for someone who isn\’t as knowledgeable about the subject, generally nervous, or needs reminding of the important points.

  3. Hmmm. Coming from the angle of a customer who complains, a lot, successfully, I’d still be very wary of advising companies to use scripts. Whilst you need to look at the costs of training with the time lost not having staff at the ‘phones you also need to balance that against the customers you may lose. Most customers can tell when a script is being used and hate it. It’s just rude. Pure and simple. Also you need to look at; if Julie has no experience and you aren’t giving her much training how do you know that she will use the script as a guide and not just read from it? As a customer if I pick up on anyone not listening never mind using a script the complaint is escalated usually to the CEO. How costly is that? Far more than letting Julie sit next to someone for a couple of days and that person sit next to her whilst she takes a call and step in if necessary or doing some tests in the interview process…
    A crib sheet with keywords and more than one suggestion in note form so they have to make up their own sentences and therefore THINK about what they are saying for how to deal with x is different and more appropriate than a script.
    But I’m only a customer….

    1. Hi Helen, I understand where you are coming from on this. As I said, scripts generally just stink. That being said, I have seen them be useful in two ways: 1) as a training tool and 2) as a transition tool. Long scripts are certainly where most of the problems arise; short scripts of a sentence or two can be used similarly to the way you recommend using keywords.

      Thank you for adding your perspective.

  4. Pingback: When Customer Service Scripts Work

  5. Your post inspired one of my own. Secretly, I understand your point that scripts can be a tool of last resort, but a little professional disagreement makes for better blogging! I hope you enjoy the post.

    BTW – a link to my post comes up via the Comment Luv feature, but I received an error message when I tried to paste it directly into this comment. If you don’t see it, try going to www (dot) toistersolutions (dot) com/blog

    1. Jeff, thanks for the heads up! I am always up for a good customer service debate. At a conference right now, but I’ll be over to check it out soon.

      PS. Looks like the commentluv found it.

  6. Thanks for this article! We’re having a reflexion on scripts at our company. I personally always hated them, or let’s say how they are used. Employees often seem to be compelled to use them and it just becomes really frustrating to talk to a robotic person.

    However I agree with your article and think that scripts are needed for new employees. They should be use as a learning device. I feel that you learn a lot more when studying concrete situations, even real phone / chat scripts good and bad. It’s always easier to see what goes wrong when you calmly read it on paper. It can then help employees to avoid easy mistakes.

    1. Hi Aurelie, Thank you for your comment! I agree; scripts get a bad rap because they are so often used poorly. Like any tool, they are only effective when used properly.

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