You Can’t Script Great Service

Learn how U.S. retailer Macy's is working to become less "outstanding."

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!