In the past, creating better customer service often involved rewriting scripts. In 2016, there’s a growing recognition that scripts are simply not responsive enough to meet customer demands. In fact, stilted scripts are now viewed with suspicion by many customers. After all, we live in a Web 2.0 world where seemingly everything else is customized to respond to our specific needs and interests. If web browsers can generate geared-to-searcher advertisements, why can’t a human customer service representative acknowledge our individuality too? That’s right, in a Web 2.0 world, it is simply absurd to continue training customer service representatives to spit out canned responses to customers’ questions and complaints. In 2016, customer service needs to be more individualized, more responsive and more compassionate than ever before. In short, customer service representatives need to meet customers on their own terms.

The problem is that training people to respond in a genuinely caring and customer-specific manner to complaints while remaining in compliance is a huge challenge. It requires recruiting highly intelligent and articulate workers—people with the ability to connect and respond to a wide range of clients and to do so under a wide range of conditions. It also means creating guidelines without leaning heavily on scripts. The good news is that there are at least a few guidelines and tools that can help organizations take on this new challenge.

Toss Out the Scripts: Customer Service Training

Rethinking Customer Service

Step 1: Focus Training on Service Excellence rather than Scripts or Specific Skills

As business analysts Jochen Wirtz and Ron Kaufman suggest, scripts and specific skills only go so far. Indeed, their research paper, “Engineering a Service Revolution,” suggest that “A better approach is to persuade employees to commit to a holistic definition of service: creating value for others, outside and within the organization. Teach them to first appreciate customers’ concerns and only then to take action. They should continually ask themselves, Who am I going to serve, and what do they need and value most?” As long as they are in compliance, how they achieve these goals can take many forms.

Step 2: Scale Up New Customer Service Programs Quickly

Although conventional wisdom often suggests that one should roll out new programs over time, there’s growing evidence that quickly scaling up a new approach to customer service yields better results. This is especially true if your organization is already facing a customer service crisis.

Step 3: Track the Metrics that Really Matter

Customer service has long been driven by metrics and typically these metrics have been designed to measure value-driven items (e.g., sales). As Wirtz and Kaufman suggest, asking too many customer service questions and asking the wrong the types of questions are both ill advised. To illustrate, they offer the following example from Nokia Siemens customer service division:

For many years Nokia Siemens Networks measured customer satisfaction with a survey—one that eventually ballooned to more than 150 questions and produced far more data than the firm could understand or use. “So we started over,” says Jeffrey Becksted, the former global head of service excellence. In 2010 the company ditched the quantitative approach and asked clients for open-ended evaluations of the most recent service month and desired service actions for the month ahead. The shift changed employees’ focus: Instead of trying to hit a specific satisfaction score, they brainstormed ways to make customers happier.

Recruitment and Training

Recruitment and Training

The question remains: How do you roll out a new customer service program—one that is truly responsive to customer needs?

First, recruitment needs to screen for different types of candidates than it has in the past. The candidates need to not only be able to memorize facts and work with your CRM but also be able to think on their feet. In short, it is now critical to screen for customer service representatives with high-level skills. This, of course, may also mean rethinking the pay scale of customer service representatives and even their location in your organization.

In terms of training, as suggested above, it is advisable to scale up quickly. The most effective way to scale up quickly is to adopt a learning management system (LMS). With an LMS, you can train a large number of workers quickly and effectively. Better yet, the training can take place outside regularly scheduled shifts, since workers can access learning modules on their own time via their own mobile devices. Finally, with an LMS, you have the option of rolling out continuous training to ensure that your employees remain effective, productive and fully engaged.

Still worried about tossing away your existing customer service scripts? Don’t be! With smart recruitment and ongoing training, stilted scripts no longer need to be at the center of your organization’s approach to customer service.

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