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Gaea's Blog


Perlandria, in Shore Leave, made a post which linked to the Cluetrain Manifesto. If you're in the part of any business which has communication as a focus, there's probably a lot there which will resonate with you. It certainly did with me.

One of the things which I really like about my job is that I'm not given a script to recite from. There's no "Ahoy! Thanks for petitioning with Puzzle Pirates, this is Gaea, how can I help you today?". I do begin most of my petition answers with "Ahoy!", but that's a personal thing on the level that if you're going to talk to someone, in whatever form, it's nice to say hi first.

Like most of you, I call customer service lines from time to time, or tech support (I know a fair bit, but a lot of that involves knowing that I don't need everything, and that I should probably call for help before I Break Things), and I wait on hold if there're a lot of queues, and I get annoyed when they try to upsell me on a service plan. I remember, though, that they're required to hit all the points on a checklist which is created by someone who doesn't talk with the owners of their products on this sort of level.

I've worked for some very large companies (I'm talking multinational corporate giants, here, with higher gross annual revenues than many small countries), as well as for some comparitively very small ones. I've enjoyed working for some of the larger ones almost as much as I've enjoyed working for Puzzle Pirates, but the larger ones do tend to give one a script to follow. "If the customer calls about this, say this: ___________________________________". The paragraph in question invariably is written to not say anything which could possibly be construed as negative. I imagine that in the current economic brouhaha, there are probably FAQs out there for customers who call in worrying that Whatever Corp is going to go bankrupt and then where will they buy their Whatevertheyares, and I will bet any amount of money that the paragraph will provide very little actual information, and will include the words "streamlining" and "caution", as well as a statement about how Whatever Corp is working with employees and consumers to emerge a stronger, leaner entity. It may actually use the words "stronger, leaner entity".

Most companies will allow their agents (customer service reps, ambassadors, any of a bazillion possible titles which amount to "person who answers the phone/emails or mans the front desk") to improvise on the theme, which is a very good thing, and most agents who have worked at Whatever Corp for more than six weeks and are comfortable doing so will improvise, which is also a good thing, because people know when they're being read a script. The script is good for newer employees, though, or ones who tend to get nervous, because they're usually there to provide an answer for very tough questions, and even a scripted answer is better than having someone going "uh... uh... uh..." because they're so nervous and worried they can't think of anything to say.

It's worth noting that there's one section of the communications industry (here I'm lumping customer service in with any person whose job it is to talk with people) in which following the script exactly is very important, and that's in polling and surveys. Anyone who's had a basic education in statistics (which I imagine is a lot of you) has likely had at least a few classes on survey design, and is aware that the way a question is phrased can significantly impact the outcome, which is why such questions can take weeks to be developed by teams of people working for survey companies in order to be as un-leading as possible. Sticking in an adjective or missing a word can cause the results to not be valid.

Full disclosure here: Oceanmasters do use shortkeys for some questions, usually the most common ones we get, or the most potentially complex (so we don't miss anything!). We'll often tailor them or add to them, but we do use them and find them very helpful, because they're designed to include all the relevent information, including links, in a fairly simple format. You've probably noticed by now that I have a tendency to be kind of long-winded, and that's not always a benefit when answering a question like "how do I reset my password?" They're also handy in the event that, say, a server has gone down and we're not sure why: "We know something's wrong, and we're working on it! We'll keep you posted".

I'm sure I had a point when I started this. Hm. What was it?

I guess it might be to be patient when the guy at the computer company gives you the scripted upsell of a service plan, or when the agent on the phone gives you something longwinded and awkward. Let them get through it, because they're probably being graded on it, and if it doesn't completely answer your question, say so. If the script is really bad, keep in mind there's probably a good reason that they're saying it. There are some really bad scripts out there, and the folks saying it probably don't like them much either.

My other point, here, is that I'm lucky to work for people who give me a script (in shortkey form!) and then encourage me to deviate from it so long as I convey accurate and helpful information. I'm also lucky to have customers (that'd be you guys. I lub pirates) who'll point out to me that hey, I missed something, or hey, I misunderstood the question, so that I can fix things.

There're probably a few of you reading this who work in the customer service sector. It's a big industry. Any additional comments?


Posted by IVdripper

As an ER nurse, I guess I do customer service, sort of. One of the ER's I worked for tried to have us do scripting. They gave us these sentences we had to say at some point or other to every patient. Several of us rebelled. We got disciplined. I quit the job. I'm sorry, when doing patient care, the operative word is CARE. Don't tell me words of compassion that sound like a "line." If you truly have compassion, you don't need a script. That being said, I can certainly understand a company wanting their reps to be positive and not say anything that will be misconstrued as negative either by voice or written word. However, when face to face, I feel that speaking from your heart and who you are is much more important. Just my 2 pennies worth.


May 15, 2009 at 09:15 PM PDT | permalink

Posted by Gaea

I agree absolutely. You can't script empathy. A few places I've worked for have "examples of empathetic statements" available for folks who aren't really sure, but it doesn't boil down to a list of preapproved phrases, that's for sure.

(I didn't know you were in healthcare! Given the name, I should have guessed. I hope never to meet you in a professional capacity, but I'm glad you're there if I ever need to!)

May 15, 2009 at 09:22 PM PDT | permalink

Posted by Padmemaster

I typed in the nme box first. Anyway, I"ve gotten an autokey response to a petition once, at least (and my next response will probably be "Do you petition every time yer online?").

My mom takes calls for the Instyler (and more, but that is the one I know). She makes 25 cents a minute, so if you just stay on the line for the upsells and say no patiently, she and her co-workers aare happy. She uses a script, but she can word it differently as she feels necessary.


May 16, 2009 at 04:46 AM PDT | permalink

Posted by Everclearboy

I work in communications as well, tho never given a script there are common things like the buisness hour speech I can rattle off without any effort. which is weird in hindsight. Typically when dealing with our listeners/customers I put myself in their position & attempt to answer all questions I'd have if I were them. rarely use any kind of script.

In working with Corporate Radio, especially now tho there is a sweeping format change going on now that will make everything into "cookie cutter" radio. It's sad because it means a loss of the local connection and the introduction of nothing but scripts from DJ's because they arent in your area.. they have to make it all sound generic to suite every region in the country.

May 16, 2009 at 05:45 PM PDT | permalink

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Posted by Perlandria

I had just been let go from a fund raising drive when reminded of the Cluetrain Manifesto; mostly because I am absolutely terrible at sales. There is a pause to listen, or just read carefully, in most customer service that is essential to providing service well. That pause killed my sales numbers. I am terrible at closing. :D

After that toxic experience, knowing that Three Rings exists as an opposite example was really soothing. :D I love you guys.

May 21, 2009 at 05:57 PM PDT | permalink

Posted by Capberry

This make me laugh somehow.

I certainly hate it when I call the helpline (My ISP, for one) and they goes "Hello, thanks for calling <company name>, I'm <person's name> attending you, how can I help you?"

It certainly bugs me ALOT. FIRST thing came to mind would be "Am I talking to a real human or is this some kind of a bot that auto response?".

May 23, 2009 at 07:51 AM PDT | permalink

Posted by Gaea

Well, to be honest, that scripted greeting saves a lot of confusion! I recall hearing about one person who called another country's cable company support line thinking it was their congressman's office, and who got very confused. 99% of the time, too, people like to know who they're talking to in terms of a name. Imagine how weird it would be if they just picked up and said "hello?" - you'd need to spend five minutes making sure you were in the right place!

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