Customer Service Scripts Don't Fool Consumers Credit: Dreamstime.com

When it comes to scripted customer service, new research shows consumers are only willing to take so much.

Two University of Utah studies indicate that customers are extremely savvy in recognizing when they are being delivered a script in a service encounter – and they don’t mind, as long as it involves a relatively standardized interaction, like checking into a hotel.

"People don’t care so much in certain kinds of circumstances," said Don Wardell, one of the study's researchers and chair of the David Eccles School of Business' Department of Operations and Information Systems.

However, the research also shows that if businesses heavily script an encounter in which the customer is looking for specific or customized information, such as a restaurant recommendation from a hotel concierge, they risk making consumers feel like they’re getting diminished service quality.

"They want the interaction to feel sincere and natural, and not feel robotic," Wardell said. "They want to feel like the person cares about their request and that they’re being treated as individuals, not some mass-produced commodity."

The studies revealed consumers have no trouble deciphering when they are in a highly scripted encounter.  The researchers found that even when customers were given three interactions with varying levels of scripting intensity, ranging from highly scripted to highly improvised, they could recognize the scripting in all three circumstances.

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"Even if the differences are subtle, they could spot the differences," Wardell said.

Wardell said businesses should note the results of the studies as they determine how much to script their future customer service and how to train employees to interact with customers.

Most times, companies are implementing scripts as a way to control the quality and the encounter and make sure employees follow certain steps.

"But there are wants and desires customers have for natural language and being treated as an individual," Wardell said. "The people designing the services need to be careful about what kind of scripting they’re going to use."

Both studies will appear in upcoming journal publications. "Can Customers Detect Script Usage in the Service Encounter?" will run in the Journal of Service Research, and "Scripting the Service Encounter: A Customer’s Perspective of Quality" is scheduled to run in the journal Production and Operations Management.

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