Call center agents often sound robotic — and that may well be by design. Having agents follow a script helps keep service times predictable, supports delivering consistent service, and possibly reduces training costs. The same logic holds for other forms of electronic customer service interactions — be they chat sessions, emails, or Facebook posts.
But not every firm follows this model, relying instead on unscripted interactions to build relationships with customers. Among these is Dollar Shave Club, a subscription razor service with 2.2 million members (Why Dollar Shave Club invests in unscripted customer service, Los Angeles Times, Sep 26).
The company employs about three dozen member service agents who answer phones and emails, conduct online chats and reply to queries on social media — all while channeling the brand’s distinctly playful and irreverent tone.
The strategy isn’t easy. Training takes weeks. Finding the right personalities is challenging. It would be cheaper and less hassle to contract with a third-party customer service firm, which Dollar Shave Club does to complement its in-house team.
But online retailers, including pioneers Zappos and Bonobos, have found the investment in unscripted customer service worthwhile. The interactions, they say, feel more authentic and help humanize e-commerce brands that are, by their very nature, faceless.
So when does a scriptless approach pay off?
That’s an interesting question because it poses some real operational challenges. As I noted above, abandoning a script is going to drive up variability. That makes hitting service levels hard. It also means that the process will be hard to scale; more customers will require more agents and the lack of standardization will be amplified. Throw in that adequately training agents to perform well in an unstructured environment is more costly and time-consuming, and scaling things just get worse.
There is also the question of how you use the outside customer service support. Having some sort of overflow arrangement with a third-party service provider is not that unusual. Accessing extra hands to absorb surges in demand is often more cost-effective way than always carrying the required resource in-house. But when do you send calls or chat sessions over? If everyone — both internal and external — is following the same script, one can plan on rolling over calls when customers start to back up on hold. But for Dollar Shave Club, it’s not so clean. Customers who get served by an outside agent potentially have a different experience since Dollar Shave Club is likely not holding the outside agents to the same standards as their own employees.
I say “potentially” because there is a very real question of whether the customer will notice. If a customer is engaging in a chat for basic product information or to tweak their subscription, they may draw even an internal agent into a pretty routine transaction. That is, even though agents are allowed to be spontaneous with customers, it is not at all clear that this comes through in every customer encounter. Two internal agents may each have their own approach to executing a particular kind of customer interaction but it wouldn’t be surprising if each stuck to their own script in doing frequently occurring transactions. That suggest Dollar Shave Club is sticking with a scriptless approach because it leads to “wow” experiences for a small number of customers.
And that may be worth it since, as the article notes, these calls and chats are the only direct interaction the firm has with its customers. People sign up on-line, and then razors just show up. With over two million members but only 36 people on the customer service team, you have to think that most customers contact the firm infrequently or not all. Having the possibility of a memorable encounter (more accurately, positive memorable encounter) makes the extra expense worthwhile.