The idea of canned responses comes from a good place. A place where the customer representative would gain time not having to type long formal information like an address or a phone number.
Actually, here’s a quick introduction on canned responses for those of you who might have gotten scared by the term (I hate technical jargon too so I feel your pain):
However it seems to have somehow turned into a way to just cram as much information as possible into a single answer. Some companies pushed the use of canned answers to a maximum. It’s a real problem in the live chat industry and can be associated to the general scripting issue in the customer service industry. We’ve dedicated a whole chapter to scripted answers in our new eBook “Polite Done Right” to help companies use them wisely. (Just fill in the form bellow to download the ebook)
I’ve even seen articles about people wondering if there was anyone at the other hand of the chat or if they were just interacting with a robot.
Karin wrote a great article on the subject targeting Barnes & Nobles representatives.
She decided to just directly ask the agent for confirmation that he was indeed human by inquiring about the Wizard of Oz.
Even if Aileen doesn’t answer the question I do believe he’s human and he just lost precious time not answering a basic pop culture question. Aileen is probably timed and the shorter the chat, the better his performance.
Wait, what’s the goal of canned answers again? That’s right! To gain time.
OK that was a little far fetched but Karin is not the first one or the last one to ask chat agents if they are human. A question which wouldn’t even have to be asked in the first place if canned responses where not used with such intensity.
Not using canned answers could actually help you gain precious time in many other situations.
Let’s take greetings for example
Almost every company uses a scripted sentence to greet customers. It helps telling the user that he’s been connected with an agent without actually needing the agent to type anything. It’s not the worst idea, still most companies fail because of it.
If the customer asked a question, answer it!
This first example features a chat with Amazon customer service.
This is a really common mistake with live chat. Customers have time (or sometimes are invited to) to ask a question before the agent joins the chat. When the agent finally joins, he sends his canned introduction completely ignoring the question.
I know it’s a good practice to introduce yourself but you need to find a way to do so while showing that you read the question and are going to answer it.
Try something like “Hi Jim, My name is Ravinder, let me just take a look at your question”. You could also directly send out a reply but a little introduction is a good way to set a friendlier tone.
Don’t use standard greetings after a transfer
Look at this example from j2 Global Communication’s chat support:
Surprisingly, Cynthia’s welcome message is rather short and sounds quite human. My focus is on Gary’s message. First of all, the customer was transferred to Gary after explaining his problem once to Cynthia. There is no reason to ask “How may I assist you?”. Gary should be able to see the history of the conversation to keep the customer from repeating himself.
Second mistake: “Hello, Member.” Really?! I would just recommend to avoid automatically including names into scripted answers.
This situation is a waste of time for both the customer and the agent!
Always look at your process from the customer’s point of view, if greetings are unnecessary then don’t include them. It just slows everything down and makes the whole conversation sound unnatural.
Avoid the 3 lines greetings trap
After chatting with few companies I found that lots of them LOVE to send out fancy and way too long introductions. Check out this example of a chat I had with BeachBody:
I am sure the person who wrote this script had good intentions when he or she added the sentence about customer satisfaction. However it is unnecessary here and most customers won’t even take the time to read it. A simple “Thank you for contacting Beachbody, my name is Veda. How may I help you?” would have been more than enough.
If you notice the customer seems unsatisfied at any point of the conversation, you can always ask what you could do better then.
Here’s another example of unnecessary greetings: (this is from a chat I had with Optimum which turned out to be a really good experience).
This is a really strange thing to ask right away. I understand the practical aspect of it but asking someone for their phone number like that will probably not harvest the best results. If you really need someone’s phone number, you can ask about it in the “pre-chat” form. Just make sure you clearly explain why you need a phone number to avoid scaring potential chatters away.
Always ask the customer what you can do for them first. Then you can ask for personal information if you still need them.
I would try to keep the greetings to 1-2 lines maximum. Just say hi, introduce yourself and ask the customer how you can help. This is more than enough to begin with.
Netflix representatives (who rock at greetings) usually ask the customer for their name before asking about the problem. This can help build a stronger connection and allows you to drop the pre-chat form, therefore making it even easier for customers to get connected to you.
There’s a reason people didn’t go to your FAQ, don’t act like one!
Go straight to the point, if customers want to know more they’ll ask you.
I will come back to my conversation with Veda from BeachBody. You can see part of the answer to my first question in the screenshot bellow:
All I asked for were the shipping costs to Poland. To be honest I would have been more than happy with her first message. It clearly says how much shipping will cost and how much would be the total price for the product.
The best is to always give a short and straight to the point answer. I didn’t read everything else Veda sent me, and to be fair, who would? This is just a big waste of time and way too much copy pasting.
If you need to copy-paste more than 3 lines, just send a link.
Here’s another copy-pasting nightmare I went through with a company selling vacuum cleaners.
Larry is answering my question but there is way too much information to read. In that case it can be more productive for you and the customer to just have a link. Just give a partial answer and then refer the customer to a link in case he/she wants to find out all the details.
Customers asking this kind of questions on chat are just looking for you to do the hard work. Let’s be honest, they (myself included) are mostly too lazy to read everything that can be found on your website and are hoping that you will be able to give them a more concise answer. Copy pasting your entire FAQ doesn’t help much.
This kind of copy pasting behavior is slowing you down tremendously as it forces the customer to just go through the information. Plus, it takes away the instant and more casual aspect of chat lowering your customer satisfaction.
Canned responses distract you from reading what the customer is saying
People got used to scan through texts and information rather than read them. When working in customer service you need to somehow learn how to READ again. It’s critical that you carefully read what your customer is asking if you want to avoid wasting time and making the customer angry.
My problem with canned responses is that it can easily distract you from reading your full customer’s question. Most systems are based on a keyword recognition system that will suggest some canned answers depending on the words you or your customers type. This is smart in theory but here’s what it can lead to in practice (yes, BeachBody again):
I have no idea if this mistake is linked to the use of canned responses but it’s honestly the only explanation I have here.
I noticed this happens rather often on chat, either because agents don’t speak much english or because they don’t take the time to read what the customer is saying. In any case there’s nothing more frustrating than struggling to get an answer or feeling like you’re speaking to a robot.
If you are not sure you understand what the customer is asking, the best thing is to ask him/her to clarify their question. The best way to do so is to ask the customer for confirmation, you can say something like “If I understand correctly you are asking if you will get a phone call from our customer service department, is that right?”. The customer will then correct you and try to explain his/her question better, which will eventually save you time and increase the customer’s level of satisfaction.
Be careful with canned responses when you want to apologize or empathize
I stumbled upon this hilarious chat example on Kerry Bodine’s Forrester blog:
You can’t say that Carol isn’t trying. The problem might be that she’s trying a little too hard. Agents usually empathize to create a deeper bound with the customer. Here it sounds like Carol is either having a lot of fun being too polite or like she tried to put every sympathizing methods she’s ever heard of in a single message. Either way you can see the customer isn’t pleased with it.
This is my main pet peeve with canned responses: they take away the human side of customer service. Chat isn’t the fluffiest of channels but people got used to chatting in their personal life. If you want to empathize, you need to be really smart about it.
I love how Zappos approaches the issue. They’re all about building personal connections and they mastered that pretty well. The truth is customers want 2 things: they want you to acknowledge the fact that they have every right to be angry and they want you to solve their issue. For the first part, you might need to apologize and empathize but you need to do it in the most human way possible. Using canned responses to take care of both those things is the biggest mistake your company can make. Each customer is different and each of your customer service agent is unique as well. You can train them, you can help them improve their reactions but you can’t format them.
What seemed like a good idea in the first place can turn out to be completely counter productive.
The best way to avoid canned responses fiascos is to keep them to a strict minimum. It’s ok to use a small scripted text as a conversation starter but you should encourage agents to drop the script afterwards. Focus on building a relationship with the customer, not on including every “good practice” you know of.
To help you get started with canned responses, we put together a list of good examples of canned greetings and more: Live Chat Canned Responses To Save Time
There are no magic words or magic scripts. A sincere “I am sorry” will always sound better than 3 lines of empathizing script. There’s nothing easy about customer service. It takes a lot of training and lifelong learning to become really good at it. You just need to take that into consideration and build a call center environment where agents understand there’s always room for improvement and are eager to learn from their mistakes.
Share your thoughts on canned responses in the comments! Do you use them? How do you avoid the problems we mentioned above?
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