Off-script customer service: how to be truly human

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In an increasingly automated age, customers value truly human interaction more than ever before. 

When customers ask to speak to a representative, whether on the phone or in person, they are in need of human help. They have rejected the automated response and want a real person to hear and manage their problem.

Unfortunately, customers rarely receive the guidance and support they need, because customer service representatives are trained to ‘stick to the script.’ Specific greetings, phrases and company slogans are recited to all customers in a cheerful upbeat voice.

Often employers put little effort into training employees to handle situations that may require them to think outside the box or add in extra effort that will improve the customer’s experience. 

These employees aren’t engaged or personable, making it hard for customers to feel like they’re being helped in the best way possible.

Respond honestly with your thoughts, plans and whatever resources you have. Be crystal clear and promise only what you can deliver.

A script tends to address only typical scenarios and does not account for circumstances that are out of the ordinary.

This can cause problems because customer service representatives may be caught off guard and will likely not be able to relate to the customer’s needs or feelings. How can an interaction with a customer be effective if they are not on the same page as the person they are speaking with?

It is essential that organisations incorporate a degree of employee autonomy into their processes, so that individuals feel empowered to address customers' concerns more directly. 

Ditch the script

A ‘one size fits all’ script fails to provide the individual attention and the human contact that customers are seeking.

Employees need to go off script. Going off script allows employees to use instinct, values and common sense to make a meaningful connection with customers. In other words, be human.

Whether you're in retail, hospitality, telecommunications, restaurants or banking, learning how to effectively engage customers will help improve customer retention and garner an esteemed reputation for your businesses. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of empathy, direct communication and practical solutions.

With this in mind, here are my tips for improving your customer relationships.

Listen

The customer needs to be heard and feel that the listener is invested. Do your best to hear out the story before you say anything. Take notes: questions, comments, facts you’ll need to work through the problem. Stay quiet and take in what the customer is saying.

Empathise

Connect to the feelings the customer has expressed. Make a simple statement, like "that sounds awful", or "that must be so frustrating". This shows you have heard and connected to both the story and the emotions that accompany it. This will help the customer to understand that you get it and are therefore much more able to relate and help solve the problem.

Get the facts

Go through the story with the customer and make sure you have all the factual information. This is crucial to assessing and finding a solution. You don’t want to miss important details of the problem and end up with a faulty solution.

Ask for specifics - times, dates, names- and restate what you heard: "let me see if I understand. You said.....then you went to...... etc." If you do miss out on factual information or don’t understand your customer, always ask them to repeat what you’ve missed.

When employees ‘go off script’ they increase their ability to assist and satisfy the customer, which ultimately benefits the business.

Not only will this show you are trying to find a solution, it gives customers a reassurance that you are listening to everything in detail.

Be direct and practical

Once you have the facts and a sense of the problem, you need to give the customer a direct answer and practical solution.

Respond honestly with your thoughts, plans and whatever resources you have.  Be crystal clear and promise only what you can deliver.

Don’t give the customer unrealistic expectations, and remember that the direct approach is always the best approach.  

Stay calm

Whatever is thrown at you - anger, hysteria, or accusations, stay calm and take control of the situation.

Direct the customer and point out inappropriate behaviour without being rude or inconsiderate, for example by saying, "you’re shouting. You’ll need to lower your voice so I can understand and help you".

Be confident and strong, the customer will follow your lead. A soothing tone and patient manner are always effective in helping an angry customer to relax and will make it much easier to get to the root of the problem.

When employees ‘go off script’ they increase their ability to assist and satisfy the customer, which ultimately benefits the business in many ways. Being human is all it takes.

For more insights of how automation is affecting our business practices, read Automation and humans: what's the real story?

About Laura MacLeod

Laura MacLeod, LMSW

With a background in social work and 2 decades of experience as a union worker, Laura MacLeod created From The Inside Out Project® with all levels of employment in mind to assist in maintaining a harmonious workplace. She is an adjunct professor in graduate studies at the Hunter College Silberman School of Social Work and leads training sessions for social work professionals at The Coalition for Behavioral Health and Institute for Community Living in New York City and speaks on conflict resolution, problem solving, and listening skills at conferences across the country.  

 

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