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Fire the Robots

by Rich Gallagher, Point of Contact Group

Here's a great story of script adherence for you. I've been a customer of – let's call them MegaBank – for over 15 years. I have a lifelong near-perfect credit rating. And for the past three years, I have been charging my graduate school tuition on their card. So one day last winter, they rewarded me for all this loyalty by jacking my interest rate to 29.99 percent.

So I called their call center to ask why. Was it because of a late payment? "No, Mr. Gallagher, you have no delinquencies whatsoever." A change in my credit? "No, sir, nothing has changed in your personal credit history." So, um, why the big rate hike? The response was some scripted corporate twaddle about responding to changes in the financial markets, which I will translate into English for you: we increased your rate because we felt like it.

Of course, I reacted to the rate hike by moving my balance elsewhere posthaste. But here is what should be more important to you: how I reacted to the script. It made them sounded like the most arrogant, entitled, greedy corporation on the face of the earth – and so I took to Facebook, my blog, and Twitter, venting my spleen and naming names. And from the sounds of the comments I got back, I touched a nerve with a lot of people.

Once in a while, I have the ability to read minds, and I am reading your mind right now. You are thinking that I really reacted to the situation, not the script. So now let's fast forward to another conversation with MegaBank, just this past week. I called back late one night to see if there was any hope of getting my interest rate rolled back to a reasonable level again. The answer was "no, not yet," but I got a very different response from this particular agent. Here is what she said:

"First, I want you to understand that this was nothing personal about you. We frankly raised a lot of people's interest rates so that we could remain in business during a tough time. Even our own employee interest rates went up quite a bit. I am still hoping we can keep you as a customer, so let me tell you about some things we can do for you. For example, I can offer you a zero-percent balance transfer that is good through next year ..."

Ironically, this agent would probably get dinged for script adherence. And technically this company is still fired, no matter how many balance transfer offers they dangle in front of me. But by talking to me like a fellow human being over a beer, and using language that speaks to my interests, I am no longer wanting to cut up my cards or take to the blogosphere.

We now live in a socially connected world, and your brand lives or dies on the basis of conversations – ones that you have with your customers, and ones they have about you. Your scripts need to reflect this brave new world of conversation. And while you are at it, your metrics also need to treat your agents like they have half a brain – particularly when it makes sense to vary from the script. Fire the robots who write your current scripts, and watch your service quality soar in both good times and bad.

About the Author
Rich Gallagher is a communications skills expert and former customer support executive who heads the Point of Contact Group, a training and development firm based in Ithaca, NY. His book What to Say to a Porcupine: 20 Humorous Tales that Get to the Heart of Excellent Customer Service (AMACOM, 2008) was a national #1 customer service bestseller and finalist for the 800-CEO-READ's 2008 Business Book of the Year, and his latest book How to Tell Anyone Anything (AMACOM, 2009) explores the mechanics of difficult workplace conversations. Visit Rich online at