ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Contact Center Sprinkles

My granddaughters enjoy making cupcakes from scratch. Flour, baking powder, eggs vanilla extract, butter, sugar, and milk are mixed in a bowl with precision.  No one deviates from the recipe until the very end, their favorite part.  They toss sprinkles on top of the cupcakes with whimsical abandon.  Customers enjoy service crafted with the exactness of a well-mixed cupcake.  But, they remember the final touch if it is as authentic and undisciplined as sprinkles tossed (not placed) on top of a cupcake.

The original K-Mart—the company before their 2002 bankruptcy and Sears purchase—required check out clerks to always say, “Thank you for shopping at K-Mart” as customers were exiting the check-out line.  The company even put an acronym—TYSAK—on the cash register as a reminder. The story goes that one clerk got so tired of mindlessly repeating the farewell line, with great frustration she just blurted out the acronym—Tysak—as a single word! 

Scripting is a lot like a cupcake recipe.  It is not just about lines, much like a thespian might utter from the stage or screen but about a highly controlled pattern aimed at strictness and correctness.  We hear it in “Grande latte for John” announcements and in “Have a nice day” partings.  We read in “Walk on the left; stand on the right” instructions and “In case of fire, do not use elevator” warnings.  It ensures consistency and promotes standardization. 

But, it can be a bane to innovative service if used inappropriately or excessively.  Case in point.  One of the most famous customer service exemplars is the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.  Eager to be “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” the company instituted appropriate language that fit the refined elegance of the hotel and desired ambiance of the experience.  “My pleasure” and “certainly” were preferred over “you bet” or “okey dokey!”  But, when guests too often complained of being constantly barraged with “my pleasure, my pleasure,” the company wisely instructed associates in the desired goal and style, leaving the choice of words to the frontline person.

Innovative service is about creating a customer experience that is delightfully unexpected.   I recently interacted with a contact center.  As if it were a part of her script, she answered the phone, “Acme Enterprises, thanks for the call, how ‘bout those Cowboys?” followed by a slight giggle.  She obviously spotted my 214 area code and took a chance I would likely be a Dallas Cowboys fan.  It did not matter if I was or not, it was the thought that mattered.  My phone contact came with sprinkles.

As customers, we enjoy consistency and the sense of confidence that comes with a disciplined operation.  However, too much, “Have a blessed day,” can make customers long for a robot that they know has no heart instead of a frontline person who has one but is not allowed to (or chooses not to) use it.   Authentic trumps mechanical.  A problem solving, take-charge frontline is valued over an order taking, just-doing-my-job human droid.  Before you laud the efficiency and “like a well-oiled machine” features of your contact center, take stock of what your customer prefers. 

We live in an era where customers value effortless service that is free of glitches, hassles, and delay. It ensures customer satisfaction.  But, if your goal is customer advocacy, ask yourself if precision—start to finish--is enough for an emotional connection that your customers comment on. Efficiency might bring customers in, but it is the “how ‘bout those Cowboys” sprinkles that brings them back!