To script or not to script

Spoken | October 30, 2010

Do scripts belong in the call center?

In the call center, agent scripts are common. The advantages are clear: scripts help the agents to deliver a consistent and polite message, no matter what the situation or their mood on that particular day.

However, scripts often fall flat, because unless the agent is a professional actor and capable of delivering a script without sounding like she’s delivering a script, the interaction can feel stilted and homogenized for the caller.

So what is the solution? Send agents out into the wild woods of customer service with no survival gear, forced to provide solutions based on their outgoing personalities alone?

I asked the question on Twitter, curious what experienced call center managers and customer support specialists would recommend. And the answers were as clear as the bullets in the blog post: give guidelines but not exact scripts.

In fact, my faFootball play on chalkboardvorite bit of advice came from Richard Natoli, who offered this gem: “Scripts are an indicator of poor agent empowerment and ability. I use playbooks. They outline direction, not verbiage.” He blogged about playbooking sales calls here.

Playbooks, not scripts.

Here is why this is brilliant advice. I spent ten years coaching sales reps, consultants and CEOs in the art of delivering effective presentations. Prior to that, I spent several years as an on-camera narrator for corporate videos, not all of which had especially scintillating scripts. And there is a reason why I had plenty of business.

It is exceptionally difficult for those who are not trained actors to speak pre-scripted words without sounding scripted. Go ahead; try it. It’s harder than it looks. And scripting in the call center comes across as inflexible and insincere. Go ahead and do a quick Google or Twitter search for “customer service” and see what the top complaints are. At least three times this morning, frustrated customers Tweeted out the specific complaint that the agent was too uninformed or inflexible to vary from the script.

When I trained in presentation skills, I always recommended speaking from an outline with key words but not an exact script. A bulleted outline, along with key phrases and messages, gives enough information to assure a consistent caller experience while giving the agent enough freedom to act and sound like a genuine human being.

What are your thoughts on scripts versus a playbook?

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