Thinking is Bad – So Why Are You Making Your Customers Do It?

“The goal should not be to remove humans from the equation, but [to] empower human beings who actually have a beating heart and who are caring people to achieve a greater degree of hospitality.”

These words, from Danny Meyer, the CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group, are meant for restaurants, but apply just as well to customer service.

Too many companies want to remove the humanity from their service through automation and scripts. Six-sigma programs try to remove “variability” from customer service, creating standard responses that can be managed and controlled.

But here’s a secret: You can’t script great customer service. You can only script mediocrity.

It’s not only Danny Meyer and myself who feel this way. In Kick-Ass Customer Service from the most recent Harvard Business Review, research firm CEB reports on a cross-industry study that shows that the best agents are those who hate scripts, and feel a need to put their own spin on a call.

It confirms what we know from customer experience best practices. A great experience isn’t controlled. Even in retail, you actually save money when you hire the right people, pay them better, and unleash them to help your customers.

Unfortunately, too many companies are in a ten-year-old mindset. Back then, service began and ended with your reps. Customers called for both basic needs and advanced troubleshooting, and calls needed to be triaged. Your first line followed scripts to ensure the basics were handled. Only after the basics were covered did you escalate to another person with the authority to do open-ended troubleshooting.

Once upon a time this was your only option. Today, those basic needs are being met through self-service tools. So why are we still using a ten-year-old process to handle today’s problems? As reported in The Effortless Experience, 58% of your callers try using your website first. And when you make them go through basic steps, you annoy 59% of those customers. They don’t want scripts. They’ve invested enough time – now they want a solution.

I recently worked through a computer issue with a manufacturer who clearly hadn’t gotten the word that things are different now. I went through their self-service features, then called. The tech then spent 45 minutes walking me through required steps. When I asked him how on earth this could possibly solve my problem, he didn’t know. His only answer was, “I’m sorry, but I have to go through all of this before I can pass you on to another tech.” This was not only a terrible waste of my time, but also his.

Other companies have gotten the message that they need to think differently, but went to the opposite extreme, hiring reps with empathy to show they really understand the customer’s need. Listen to the customer, and give them options. Show that they’re in control.

These companies don’t follow our mantra: Thinking is bad. Your customers don’t want to think about your products, they don’t want options, and they don’t want empathy. They want results.

CEB found the same thing. They looked across industries to find the most effective agents. They identified seven different types, ranked by effectiveness. The Empathizer was squarely in the middle.

The best customer service doesn’t follow scripts, use prepared check lists, or give customer options. The best service reps customize the interaction to the individual customer, identify what’s been done before, and use this to determine the best option – and lead the customer quickly through that option.

The best kind of agent is The Controller – named as such because they want to drive the conversation to a successful conclusion. They thrive on solving difficult problems. Unfortunately, they’re also the type of employee you’re unlikely to find by hiring experienced customer service reps. Because traditional call centers with their scripts and check lists drive them crazy.

But they’re worth finding.

Because your customers are starved for time, and they don’t want to spend that precious time thinking about you, your check lists, or your options. In the past, empathizing was a good thing. Customers wanted to know you cared. But that’s no longer true.

Today, customers just want to know how to solve their problems, and how to do it quickly. So, take a lesson from the best customer experiences. Go out and find Controllers – those who delight in solving problems. Then remove your scripts and check lists, and let them loose. Both your customers and your employees will thank you.

About the author


John is a copywriter at Intradiem. He has a background in print and broadcast journalism and digital marketing with emphasis on technology.

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