Agents Without Scripts? It's Time to Have Real Conversations

Let's start with a basic truth: People mostly dislike having to call the companies with which they do business. It's time-consuming, it's often about a problem, and, frankly, it's usually pretty frustrating. What's worse, many times the people on the other end of the line either can't help, don't act like they want to help, or don't even feel like actual people because they're spouting off pre-written thoughts from a stale script.

When consumers need to speak with customer service agents to resolve issues, they expect the experience to feel human. People don't want to speak with an agent who reads from a script. And people really don't want to repeat basic information, like their names or order numbers, over and over as they are transferred from one agent to the next. Today's customers demand personalized service from well-informed agents who are ready with recommendations on how to best fix whatever issues they are having.

This isn';t just an opinion. Research and surveys tell us that 78 percent of customers believe their call experience is better when the customer service agents don't sound like they're reading from scripts. While we're definitely living in a digital world, we can';t forget that the human touch is still so important, and it needs to be genuine. So, how do you balance all of the contact center technology that exists today with the service provided by actual people?

Creating an outstanding customer experience doesn't just happen. Leaders need to do a little work first, starting by hiring the right people and giving them the right tools to be successful. Once you have the right people on board, here are three steps to follow to achieve off-script success:

  1. Empower your people to truly own their positions. Every agent needs to be able to make snap decisions that best resolve the issue at hand, which in turn creates happy customers. This leads to repeat purchases and favorable word-of-mouth, steering the business toward greater success. Encourage employees to own their positions by instilling confidence in them to make the right decisions and be successful at their jobs. This is key to creating a customer-first culture. Most employees don't automatically feel like owners, however. Leaders need to provide agents with the knowledge and support to make this a reality. Everyone inside the company who interacts with customers must understand the brand, own her role as a brand ambassador, and have the tools and knowledge at her fingertips to deliver the best customer experience possible. It's critical for the right training initiatives to be put in place to give your agents the intel and confidence to become owners, too.
  2. Empower your people to be real. Leaders must have faith in their peoples' abilities, personalities, and intellect and let them know this. Tell your teams that you trust them and want them to feel comfortable to speak in their own voice (while staying within the company's guidelines and brand personality, of course). When an agent can respond more naturally to a customer, the conversation feels genuine. It has the human element that customers want when talking to a person. Since you still want people to represent the company appropriately, you need to ensure everyone within the organization understands the brand, the mission, and lives and breathes the customer experience strategy. Communicate your goals and the experience you strive to provide with every employee. With buy-in and encouragement from leadership, along with the right support and knowledge, agents will feel empowered to speak and act authentically in the name of what is best for the business and the customer experience.
  3. Leverage the right technology. While we are discussing how to empower agents to go off script, the technology you're using plays a big role in how successful your agents will be. A recent Forbes article stated that a staggering 81 percent of customers across all industries attempt to resolve matters themselves before reaching out to live representatives. This is great news, your agents are freed up to manage more complex problems! But, that's not the only way tech can help your agents speak off-script. For starters, bots can help cull information from the customer that will help the human agents provide stellar service. Let's say a customer starts off by choosing the self-service route. A well-built bot can determine when the customer needs more advanced help and transfer him to a live agent. And that's not all. Upon transferring a customer to an agent, the bot will automatically supply all the information gathered in the initial interaction, pull up the customer history, and make intelligent recommendations on how to solve the problem at hand. Agents won't have to ask customers for their information a second time, and they'll already know what they're calling about, including the customers' sentiment, too. A smart bot will empower agents and give them the freedom (and the knowledge) to speak off-script with more success than ever before.

For a long time (too long if you ask me), those running call centers believed that giving customers a consistent experience—driven by a script every agent was instructed to follow—would result in happy customers. That's no longer the case. It's time to empower your call center agents to go off-script. It might feel a little risky, but if done right, the pay-off is big. First, your agents are going to feel great about what they're doing and be happier at work knowing you trust them to do their jobs and be themselves! Best of all, they'll feel totally empowered to make decisions in real time to benefit the people they are trying to help, creating happy customers who'll shout your praises all over social media. That sounds to me like a smart strategy for creating the experience every customer today wants.

Cameron Weeks is co-founder and CEO of Edify Labs.