You Can’t Script Great Service


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Macy’s, that venerable institution of American retailing, is working to become less “outstanding.”

At least, that’s the guidance the company is giving its front-line sales associates, who in the past were provided with very specific, scripted steps for interacting with customers – including a directive to frequently use the word “outstanding” when speaking to people.

According to a Macy’s executive, quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Customers were telling us, ‘Stop saying everything is ‘outstanding.'”

In an effort to deliver a better customer experience, lots of companies turn to scripts as they try to exert greater control over the quality and consistency of live customer interactions.

But, as Macy’s discovered, scripts can easily backfire:

They make your staff appear less genuine. Scripts make your staff sound robotic and impersonal. The resulting dialogue with customers can be so stilted that it starts to sound like a scene from a bad B-movie.

They eradicate all traces of creativity and personality. Scripts send a signal to your staff: Don’t think, don’t improvise, don’t dare get creative when interacting with a customer. Scripts box employees in and leave them feeling disempowered.

They institutionalize a cookie-cutter approach to customer interaction. Every customer is a little different, but scripts fail to reflect that. To deliver a great experience, you’ve got to give staff the latitude to sense and respond to each customer’s individual needs.

For some managers, the thought of having employees operate without a script is like having a high-wire walker perform without a net. But if you’re that afraid of letting your staff exercise some basic judgment when interacting with customers – well, then, you might have a bigger problem on your hands!

There’s nothing wrong with providing operating guidelines to your front-line employees. Such instructions can be very helpful – setting expectations, establishing boundaries, and educating your staff in best practices.

But when these guidelines get too prescriptive, when they cease being a flexible framework and instead turn into a rigid script – that’s where problems arise.

Hire great people. Educate them exceptionally well. And give them reasonable freedom to dynamically shape their interactions with your customers.

The end result will be… outstanding!


  1. Hello Jon

    Great article or put differently, I absolutely agree with you. If there is a central concept to CRM treat different customers differently. And Social and Experience should remind us that we are dealing with human beings and seeking to cultivate a positive emotional experience. Now how does that fit in with scripts?

    Scripts arise from dumb thinking. It is taking manufacturing logic where inanimate matter (which does not feel, does not experience) is being processed and applying that to the human domain. Scripts are great for manufacturing because they drive out variance – to make things conform to the exact steps and standards. Scripts are dumb when you come to dealing with human beings because each of us is different. And even we are different from one day to another.

    If I have just won the lottery and am bouncing along with a great smile then greeting me enthusiastically and being expressive and joyous is great. If on the other hand, the next day, I find my mother has died and I turn up a little bit downcast then a gentler, slower, more tentative approach / interaction is necessary. And that is what human beings who are great with people, are great at doing: matching/mirroring the state of the customer they are dealing with. Scripts, get in the way of that.

    The key to get is that in the human domain you have to respect and cater for variability – not squash it out!



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