New Research Shows Consumers Are Savvy to Scripted Service Encounters


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“You Want Fries With That?”
New Research Shows Consumers Are Savvy to Scripted Service Encounters

(SALT LAKE CITY, June 28, 2012) – Consumers find themselves involved with
scripted customer-service encounters every day as businesses strive to
provide consistent levels of quality service and customer satisfaction,
whether it is the check-in process at a high-priced hotel or being asked “Do
you want fries with that?” with each visit to a fast-food drive-thru.

While such scripted encounters have been studied from the
businesses’ perspectives to make the interactions more efficient and the
businesses more profitable, rarely have they been explored from the
perspective of the customers, until now.

Two new studies from the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of
Business indicate that customers are extremely savvy in recognizing when
they are being delivered a script in a service encounter, and that they
don’t mind as long as the encounter involves a relatively standardized
interaction, like checking into a hotel. But the studies, led by a team of
current and former professors and students at the David Eccles School of
Business, also show that if businesses heavily script an encounter in which
the customer is looking for specific, customized information-say, a
restaurant recommendation from a hotel concierge-they risk making customers
feel like they’re getting diminished service quality.

A team including Don Wardell, a professor and chair of the David
Eccles School of Business’ Department of Operations and Information Systems,
DESB management professor Bryan Bonner, former University of Utah professor
Rohit Verma (currently of Cornell University) and former Utah Ph.D. student
Liana Victorino (currently at the University of Victoria) have had both
studies accepted for publication: “Can Customers Detect Script Usage in the
Service Encounter?” will appear in the Journal of Service Research. And
“Scripting the Service Encounter: A Customer’s Perspective of Quality,” a
study done by Wardell, Verma and Victorino, will appear in the journal
Production and Operations Management. The studies were conducted by having
people watch a realistic customer encounter on video shot in a real hotel,
adding an authenticity to the experiment and giving respondents more to
react to than a simple written case study.

While the researchers assumed most customers can recognize when they
are in a highly scripted situation, Wardell said, they found that even when
customers are given three varying levels of scripting intensity-ranging from
highly scripted to one that was highly improvised-they could recognize the
scripting in all three circumstances. “Even if the differences are subtle,
they could spot the differences,” Wardell said.

Having established that customers can recognize all levels of
scripted experiences, the researchers then studied whether or not that
knowledge made a difference in the customer experience. Somewhat
surprisingly, Wardell said, “people don’t care so much in certain kinds of

In a hotel, for example, some processes are heavily standardized,
and customers expect those experiences-such as checking in and getting a
room key–to be heavily scripted. Their customer satisfaction wasn’t
adversely affected by knowing they were having a scripted encounter with the
front desk employee. On the other hand, Wardell said, if the customer is
approaching a concierge and looking for an experience that’s more
personalized and customized, like asking for a restaurant recommendation
nearby, they don’t want to feel like the concierge’s response is scripted at

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

Businesses should note the results of both studies as they determine
how much to script their customer service in the future, and how they train
their employees to interact with customers.

“Companies that are implementing scripts are doing it for
operational reasons,” Wardell said. “They want to control the quality and
the encounter and make sure certain things happen and certain steps are
followed by their employees. But there are wants and desires customers have
for natural language and being treated as an individual. The people
designing the services need to be careful about what kind of scripting
they’re going to use.”

The complete “Can Customers Detect Script Usage in Service
Encounters?” study can be found online at

About the David Eccles School of Business
Founded in 1917 in Salt Lake City, the David Eccles School of Business has
programs in entrepreneurship, technology innovation and venture capital
management. Emphasizing interdisciplinary education and experiential
learning, it launched the country’s largest student-run venture capital fund
with $18.3 million, and is home to the Pierre Lassonde Entrepreneur Center
and the Sorenson Center for Discovery and Innovation. Approximately 3,500
students are enrolled in its undergraduate, graduate and executive degree
programs as well as joint MBA programs in architecture, law and health
administration. For more information, visit

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