CX5 Talks - An Interview with Leslie O'Flahavan

I sat down with the best known writer in the CX world, Leslie O'Flahavan to discuss the intersection of technology and communication in customer service including topics like desktop tools, chatbots and the can of worms that is call scripting.

Question 1

Jarrod: Thanks for taking the time to talk today with us today Leslie! Your focus is on the writing and communication part of CX. Can you give us a quick idea why that's so important and often overlooked?

Leslie: Clear writing is at the core of most of the experiences a customer has with a company. We show a customer who we are by using our brand voice (in writing), we  market our products to our customers (in writing), we offer guidance on how to use our products (in writing), and we solve their problems (in writing). 

So why is clear, on-brand writing an often-overlooked part of #CX? There are a couple of reasons. First, clear writing across the customer experience requires collaboration between all the internal teams that create the experience: Marketing, Public Relations, Sales, and Support. Second, many leaders assume that their team members can write clearly, use the company’s brand voice, and keep the customer’s needs in mind. That’s a risky assumption. 

Question 2

Jarrod: Where do you see technology improving CX today and importantly, where do you see it actually hurting? Is it different on the agent or customer side?

Leslie: Technology can do so much to help companies create a great customer experience, but half-used, poorly configured, or only-partially-helpful technology just makes things worse! For example, live chat is a great technology that enables a company to participate in a conversation with a customer and create a record (transcript) of the conversation. That’s great, especially when providing technical support. But too many companies fail to configure the chat software fully or staff the channel properly. An agent who’s handling too many consecutive chats cannot provide a good customer experience. Live chat technology is quite good, but when companies use cheesy hold scripts, make customers wait a long time for an agent, or withhold the transcript, the technology can actually hurt customer experience. 

It’s not the technology itself that matters. How you use the technology matters most. Of course, this applies to agent-side technologies, too. For example, we have lots of great agent-facing knowledge base software. This software comes with lots of fancy features. But if we don’t also have clean, steady knowledge management practices in place, the technology can only do so much to improve the agent experience or the customer experience. Your company could have the most expensive, feature-rich, custom-built knowledge base, but if you’re storing outdated, difficult-to-read articles, the customer experience--and the agent experience--will suffer.

Question 3

Jarrod: How important are desktop tools and software for agents? With all the spelling and grammar check tools, templates and so forth, are writing skills any better?

Leslie: User-friendly desktop tools and software make a huge difference in the quality of writing agents can produce day-in, day-out. But not all spelling and grammar checkers are created equal. Some are really lousy. For example, if your spellchecker doesn’t allow you to add words or otherwise customize the dictionary, you should really upgrade!

As for whether these tools and templates improve agents’ writing skills, that depends. Using a spellchecker doesn’t make an agent a better speller, but it can help an agent be a better proofreader. Using an email template doesn’t make an agent a better email writer per se, but freetexting within an email template does require--and help build--competent writing skills. 

Question 4

Jarrod: You help write and train other people, but let's take chatbots. What's your advice for a company planning to deploy them? What would be best practices from a communication point of view for using them?

Leslie: Here are three best practices if you’re planning to deploy a bot. First, make sure your template library (or knowledge base) is current. Chatbots reuse stored information. If your bot is going to rely on your KB, but that info collection is way out of date, there’s a garbage-in, garbage-out reality you’ll have to face. 

Second, configure the bot’s opening conversation properly. Don’t accept the third-party plug-in’s preset wording, especially if it makes no sense for your chat interactions. For example, one chatbot I’ve worked with is pre-set to use these words to initiate conversation: “How may I help you to…” This is disastrous wording. Customers may not know what to write to complete the bot’s sentence. I wouldn’t!

Third, make the handoff between the bot and a live person easy, smooth, and always available. We must never trap a customer in a chatbot conversation. We shouldn’t withhold access to a live person until the chatbot has frustrated the customer, either. Present the chatbot as an option; enable customers to reach a human, at will.

Question 5

Jarrod: Last question and I hope I’m not opening up a can of worms here. Scripting is a pretty emotional topic for all of us both as customers who despise it, agents who may have mixed feelings and managers who tend to prefer it. How do you balance good CX with call, chat and email scripting? 

Leslie: Go ahead and open that can of worms! Yes, scripting can be an emotional topic, but I think it’s probably best if we calm down a bit about scripts. For some topics, and in some situations, customer service agents should rely on prewritten content (scripts, templates, macros, etc.) just like a person hosting a dinner party may sometimes rely on a cake purchased at the bakery instead of making one from scratch.

It’s not the scripts that are the problem, it’s how they are used. Take an email template, for example. Customer service agents can incorporate an email template into a great response to a customer if (a) they have on-brand well-written templates to use, and (b) they are trained to and expected to freetext within the template every time they use it. 

Companies can create a great customer experience even when their customer service agents rely on templates, but only if they pair high quality templates stored in a well-maintained knowledge base with trust in their frontline customer service agents. 

 E-WRITE’s Leslie O’Flahavan helps people write well to customers. She delivers customized training for frontline agents, social media managers, and contact center leaders. She is a problem-solver for all written channels: email, chat, text and social. Leslie is a LinkedIn Learning author of five customer service writing courses. Connect with Leslie on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.

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