Consumer IQ

5 Insider Secrets For Escaping From Call Center Script Hell

photo: sun dazed

If you’ve ever been trapped in Script Hell, you probably have the scars to prove it.

A representative on the other end of the line isn’t answering your questions – he’s literally reading them. If you ask a question to which the employee doesn’t have an answer, he’ll just repeat the question. Or ignore it.

It’s like talking with someone who speaks English but doesn’t understand it.

“A poor experience by a customer with those on a company’s frontlines can be damaging to both brand loyalty and the bottom line,” says Matthew Hawk, founder of Retention Specialists, a business that offers call center services.

Last week, I told you how to spot a call center script. Today I’ll tell you how to get a representative to go off-script and give you the customer service you deserve.

1. Make ’em laugh

Perhaps the best way to make them forget their lines is to crack a joke. “Use humor to disarm the agent, while being as polite as possible,” advises Greg Hluska who oversees customer support and service tasks for an Internet security start-up company. “Back in the day, I worked in some call centers and found the jobs to be tremendously difficult. In my experience, if you show agents that you have a sense of humor and that you want to work with them, they will ditch the script and go out of their way to work with you. Good old social reciprocity.”

2. Butter them up

You know the saying, “Flattery will get you everywhere”? Well, that’s true when you’re trying to get a representative to abandon a script. “Sympathize with the customer service rep,” says business consultant Barry Maher. Customers who come through a long phone tree are usually frustrated. But if you start your call by saying, “You must be swamped. I don’t envy you,” you’ll throw the employee for a loop, he says. “Then, if you can find any excuse at all to praise them and build them up — ‘You’re very good at what you do. I really appreciate the extra effort’ — they will almost always bend over backwards to maintain that good opinion and to show you just how good they really are,” he adds.

3. Move on up

If the employee won’t go off-script, maybe a supervisor or manager will, says Scott Hardy, a former call center manager. “Keep asking for their manager,” he says. “Remember, most call center representatives have very little authority. The supervisors have a little more. The managers have a lot more. They can make you happy.” Continue escalating your call politely until you stop hearing the scripts – and start getting the attention you need.

4. Ask if you can record the call

One shortcut to a supervisor is to ask a question at the beginning of the call, says C. Scyphers, a former customer service representative who currently works for Daemon Consulting: “Ask if you’re allowed to record the call.” You don’t necessarily need permission to tape, since some states require only one side to consent to record. “Most first-tier support person are going to hear that question, quickly decide the caller is going to be too much hassle and then transfer to a more senior person just to get them out of their hair.”

5. Get pushy

That bit of unconventional advice comes by way of Ellen Porter, who is also a former call center worker. It is probably a last resort, although she says it’s highly effective at some call centers. “If you really want something and they’re not giving it to you, be rude,” she advises. The reason? At her call center, pushy customers were likelier to have rules bent, or broken. “And reps need to have a satisfied customer and move onto the next person in line,” she says.

Getting an employee to turn away from a script isn’t impossible. But if you can’t, try escalating your call to a manager, and, failing that, try sending an email.

Written complaints get scripted responses too, but there’s a way out of Form Letter Hell. That’s a subject we’ll discuss another time.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.