SALT LAKE CITY--()--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.
“Even if the differences are subtle, they could spot the differences”
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 circumstances.”
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 all.
“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 http://jsr.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/05/23/1094670512446062.full.pdf+html.
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 www.business.utah.edu.