This was written as a guest blog post, and originally posted on the PatronManager page.
I don’t know if you’re like me, but I dread calling up customer service representatives. We all have a nightmare story about the time you called “Company A” and they treated you so poorly that you’ll never do business with them again. Don’t worry; I won’t ask you to relive that maddening experience. In fact, just for good measure, take a breath.
I was worried that I was going to have a situation like that a couple of weeks ago: I had rented a Zipcar, the well known car-sharing service which allows you to rent a car for a couple of hours at a time. But, when attempting to return my rental to the parking spot reserved for it, I noticed another (non-Zipcar) car parked there — I immediately got a knot in my stomach. After checking the “Someone is in my spot!” button in the app, I accepted that I was going to need to call and talk to someone…
Within the first minute of the call, I explained the scenario, and the Zipcar rep said: “Oh man, that’s so rude of them.” This comment was quite a turning point in the conversation, because (as far as I’m aware) no company would script that kind of off-the-cuff reaction. I knew I was working with a real person.
I understand the draw of scripting calls from a management standpoint: you can ensure that the same information is getting to the customer regardless of the employee with whom they are talking. While you may gain a level of consistency, you lose the personal connection which will keep your patrons engaged with your organization.
I may be overly critical of the practice, but as a customer, I find it a little insulting when a company scripts a conversation with information which can (hopefully) be found on their website. Most scripts also try to replicate a personal connection with phrases like “I understand that must be frustrating for you” or “please know that your call is important.” When I hear that, I know that my input is not truly going to affect this conversation. Typing my conversation into screamintothevoid.com would probably have the same effect. On the flip side of the situation, the times when I’ve called to speak with a support team member, and had a real conversation — those are the times that have made me want to continue doing business with that company.
How can you reap the benefits of the consistency of information that a script provides, but also allow your staff to communicate genuinely with your patrons?
Answer the 5 W’s (Who, What, Where, When, Why) for your reps in advance:
I’m a firm believer that you should never ask someone to enforce a policy blindly. It places that person in an unfortunate situation of only being able to parrot back the information from a manual, (or script) to the customer, rather than actually providing a service. Additionally, this practice can help prevent policies from becoming stale, and falling into the trap of “that’s just how we’ve always done it.” Or telling a customer “there is no reason, it is just our policy.” (That is an actual quote said to me by a company who will remain nameless.) Nevertheless, If there is not a reason for a certain policy, it may be time to have an internal discussion about whether it is still needed.
Let your team know where there is wiggle room:
If a patron calls the box office a week after a production has closed and is wondering if they can get a refund on their unused ticket, which is against your policy in this hypothetical scenario, the benefit of having a person interacting with that patron is that they can explain why the policy is in place to help diffuse a potentially tense situation. Above that, they can also listen to the patron much better than a web page can. So, if they find out that the reason the ticket was unused was due to an exception-worthy situation, they can reach out to someone to see what their options are.
You should always be transparent with your staff to let them know the situations where they are free to make exceptions as needed, as well as the situations where they would need to check with a supervisor beforehand. This procedure is especially important when rolling out new policies. Not only will it cut down on the number of escalations because you’ve empowered your staff to resolve the “of course” exceptions, but it also conveys to your staff that you value their input in the organization.
Note when exceptions are exceptions:
This section is a bit of a tangent, but I think it’s an important one to include. If your organization has a policy, and you are going to allow an exception to it: consider allowing your staff member to be the one to give the good news. If that is not possible, please be sure to mention that the staff member they first spoke with was not incorrect in initially enforcing the policy before handing off the situation to a superior. Without doing so, your patrons will quickly learn not to trust the information from your front line staff and will rush to escalate things to the manager. If you make a point of standing behind your staff in those situations, your staff will appreciate it, greatly.
Don’t be afraid to let them use their own voice:
I once hired an employee to work in the box office with an incredibly outgoing personality. I was continually in awe at the jokes that he could get away with making. Jokes that if I ever attempted, would result in stares as if I had three heads. For him, that was the way that he was most comfortable communicating, and patrons responded really well to that. If I had handed him a script written in my voice, it would have removed his sense of humor and authenticity, and replaced it with a forced recitation of policy.
That certainly doesn’t mean that you just let them say whatever they want. It is important that the people on the front lines of your organization know the key points to convey to a patron in a situation, as well as the communication style expected by your patrons (i.e. Are they always expected to be formal? Is it unacceptable to use contractions? Or can they be more familiar?) Whatever you decide is great. But just remember to leave the scripts on stage.