5 Tips for Effective Contact Center Scripting

Customer Service
Customer Service
Scripting contact center conversations can leave customers feeling like companies view them as a number. Experts share tips for writing effective scripts that deliver a relevant experience for customers.

Today's customers have very high expectations from the brands they do business with. When it comes to service, they want their issues and questions addressed as quickly and efficiently as possible and when they need to speak to a company representative expect to be treated with respect and have the conversation tailored to their specific needs.

However, several organizations are still scripting their contact center conversations, either due to regulatory concerns or because they are worried agents will not say the right things to customers. While following a script ensures that an agent is passing on the exact message that the brand wants, heavily scripted conversations can put customers off by appearing too robotic and detached.

Scripting often becomes problematic when it leads to a less personal experience, leaving customers angry and feeling that their particular issue isn't important to the company, notes Chad Forsyth, senior manager for business process outsourcing, customer operations management at Capgemini. "It makes the conversation robotic," he says. Yossi Zohar, head of product marketing for Amdocs' customer management division, agrees and points out that one of customers' main pet peeves is being treated like a number through lack of personalization.

A common fear that companies have when considering moving away from a scripting model is loss of control. In fact, there are instances when because of regulatory and legal concerns, companies cannot avoid scripting at least part of the conversation. Paul Shockey, director of call center operations and NIIT Media Technologies, believes that organizations which insist on sticking to a script haven't really looked at the impact this will have from a customer's perspective. Experts note that rather than scripting the whole interaction, organizations should give employees leeway to go off script when they feel that the conversation demands it. "What you don't want to do is script every single interaction, word by word," says Kate Leggett, senior analyst at Forrester Research.

Publishing and media company Morris Communications uses skeletal scripting in order to ensure that the conversation is relevant to the individual consumer. Shockey, whose company provides contact center services to Morris, notes that the aim of avoiding a heavily scripted dialogue is to establish a relationship with the client, which is especially important in outbound retention and sales calls. "Customers will know if an agent is reading from a script," he notes. Customers, Shockey adds, want to feel comfortable speaking with an agent and reading from a script can make them feel like they're just a number rather than an individual.

Karen Sweeton, senior manager for business process outsourcing, customer operations management at Capgemini, uses the example of a large utility company which was adamant about retaining a strict scripting model to ensure agents were adhering to regulations. The company had long struggled with low customer satisfaction scores and agreed to a pilot project where a group of agents had access to a customer knowledgebase that provided them with ample information to allow them to go off script and enabled them to conduct a conversation and show empathy while still respecting regulatory requirements. Sweeton says customer satisfaction scores grew significantly higher as a result of this pilot.

While customers feel that scripted conversations lack the all-important personal touch, agents are also typically not keen on being told what to say. Sweeton notes that there's a direct correlation between over-scripting and lower employee satisfaction. Her colleague, Forsythe, agrees. "By giving employees guidelines and flexibility, you're empowering them to own the problem," he says. Experts share five tips for organizations which need to use scripting within their contact centers:

  • Involve customer service experts when building a script: Stefan Captijn, product marketing director for business applications at Genesys, says a big problem with scripts is that they're normally written by legal or HR teams and the parlance isn't very customer friendly. He recommends including customer service experts in the development phase, allowing them to look at the script from the customer's perspective and recommend changes that would improve the experience. "Be careful that the script doesn't turn agents into robots," he says.
  • Regularly test the efficiency of scripts and make the necessary changes: Shockey notes that very few scripts are ready-to-use from the get-go. "You need to test [scripts] and have a team who will really critique them," he notes. Captijn agrees, pointing out that if part of a script doesn't make sense to customers and triggers other questions, then the verbiage needs to change to be more explanatory. "If customers don't understand what they're being told, the script isn't working even if it's legally perfect," he says.
  • Train and empower agents to go off-script when they feel the need: Scripts are no replacement for proper agent training. Instead agents need to be properly trained to listen to customers, understand the context of the conversation, and do their utmost to answer the clients' questions and help them with their needs. "You have to trust them to do the right thing," Shockey says. He notes that organizations need to keep this in mind during the hiring process to ensure they hire the right people who will say the right things to customers. Further, agents need to be trained to make sure that they speak to customers rather than at them and avoid sounding like a robot, an enormous aversion for most people. "Customers like being talked with and not being talked to," he says. "They want to know that the company is sincere and is trying to help them.
  • Have different levels of scripting according to agent experience: A script can be a good tool to supplement training while agents are being exposed to real customer interactions. Sweeton suggests using scripts when agents are brand new until they're comfortable with going off script. She recommends investing in tools, like a robust knowledgebase, which can help employees find the right information to answer a customer's question. Captijn also recommends having a group of agents following a script and another who are empowered to own the conversation, measure key performance metrics, and compare which group is doing better.
  • Use guidelines to help agents adhere to requirements: Rather than giving agents a script which they have to read word for word, savvy organizations are using guidelines to make sure that agents adhere to all the requirements. For example, agents are guided through the questions they need to ask to authenticate a customer, but allowed to put them in their own words. "Don't hold agents to a very narrow script," Forrester's Leggett warns. The only exception is with certain phrases or sentences that are mandatory by law to read aloud. Otherwise, agents should be allowed to phrase the conversation in a way that's most appropriate to the context of the exchange.

Finally, Amdocs' Zohar notes that organizations need to put systems in place to as much as possible determine the reason why a particular customer is contacting the company and route the call to the appropriate agent. For example, if customers are calling because of a change in the billing process, having a system that can detect the reason for the call allows companies to route that call to the right agent and provide him with the most appropriate script related to the billing changes that can quickly address the customers' needs.

Totally unscripted conversations might not be possible for every organization. However, business leaders need to be cognizant of the constraints of scripting and develop a carefully-planned strategy that balances the requirement for scripts while still allowing agents to engage customers, leading to long-term benefits for the organization.