Using scripts for live chat customer service

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to provide feedback on an article that detailed a number of customer service scenarios and suggested scripts being used by live chat contact center representatives.

PART ONE: There were several examples that I liked:

Scenario 1) What to do when a customer reaches you in error (mistook your company for, say, an art gallery):

Suggested script: “Sorry, [their name], it sounds like you may have reached us in error. We’re a live chat software provider, although you may be better off visiting We can’t help you find art, but we may be able to help you artfully deliver great customer service!”

My take: The situational use of levity and emoticons in the scripts, to me, made the communications friendly and disarming. This approach will work in many (but not all) chat support environments. I have a different expectation when interacting with a rep at Zappos than I have of an employee at, say, Fidelity Investments.

Scenario 2) How to tell customers you need some time to resolve their issue:

Suggested script: “I apologize, but I need a few moments to solve this issue. Do you mind holding for two minutes while I research the solution or would it be more convenient for me to call or email you back with an answer instead?”

My take: The aspect of this response that resonated with me was the option to call or email the customer back rather than forcing them to wait. Anything that reduces customer wait times or effort, I’m generally in favor of.

Scenario 3) What to say to a customer asking to cancel their subscription:

Suggested script: “I’m sorry to hear that you want to cancel your subscription, [their name]. I can certainly do that for you. Would you mind telling me why you’re canceling? If it has to do with product or service quality, we’d like to know because we’re always striving to improve.”

My take: I like that, rather than essentially saying, “Done. Sorry it didn’t work out”, the chat rep demonstrated concern for the product and service quality experienced by subscribers by soliciting feedback.

Scenario 4) How to respond to a service interruption question:

Suggested script: “Hello, [their name]. We’re currently having a server issue which has knocked out our service for the time being. We’re aware of the problem and are working hard to solve it. We’ll be posting status updates every [number] minutes on this page: [link]. You can also follow us on Twitter at [link] for real-time updates. Thank you for your patience as we work through this issue!”

My take: I like the proactive nature and transparency of this response. Yes, it would be better if the server was operational but, in the absence of that, customers want information about when the problem will be resolved. In the absence of proactively communicating accurate information, customers will compensate by filling in the gaps themselves – usually with inaccurate information based on assumptions.

PART TWO: And there were several areas of the article that I thought could be improved:

For instance, during the introduction to the article, the author wrote “…and we’ve dealt with difficult customers and fun customers alike.”

Too often customers who are not “fun” are described as “difficult”. That’s like saying that someone who is not extraverted is antisocial. That’s just not true. Whenever you describe a customer as “difficult”, you’re suggesting that he is hard to please or satisfy. In my experience, a more accurate description of this type of customer is “discerning” – meaning that he notes differences or distinctions between what he expected and what he received. A discerning customer exhibits keen insight and good judgment. He is perceptive, not hard to please.

There was also a reference to using “live chat canned response examples.”

I worry whenever I see the word “canned” in an article offering customer service advice. To me, referring to customer responses as “canned” has the same effect as when professional speakers refer to their events as “gigs”. Calling them gigs, in my opinion, cheapens the job. I prefer “event” or “engagement”. In the same way, a “canned” response doesn’t sound as thoughtful as saying, for instance, a “saved” or “prepared” response.

Scenario 5) How to transfer a customer to a different chat or phone representative:

Suggested script: “[Their name], I’m going to transfer you to the [related department]. [Employee name] can help you with this, they’re awesome! I’ve also gone ahead and briefed them about your situation, so you won’t have to re-explain anything. Have a great day!”

My take: I prefer the words “connect” or “refer” to “transfer” (in the context of transferring a customer to a different department representative). Most customers hate the word “transfer”. I do appreciate the reference to reducing customer effort by assuring the customer that they will not have to repeat themselves once their call is handed off.

Scenario 6) How to admit fault and what to do about it:

Suggested script: “I’m really sorry, [their name]. We made a mistake by [explain your mistake]. We will fix it immediately, but it may take up to [number] hours/days to fully resolve. We’ll keep you posted with regular updates, and will [explain preventative steps] to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

My take: Eliminate the conjunction “but” from your customer communications. As soon as customers hear or read that, they begin to brace themselves for bad news… Replace “but” with “and” whenever feasible or simply start a new sentence (e.g., “We will fix it immediately, and it may take up to five business days to fully resolve” or “We will fix it immediately. It may take up to five business days to fully resolve.”)

Scenario 7) Responses for dealing with angry customers:

The author writes, “Be empathic, apologize, show urgency, and use this canned response:

Suggested script: “I’m really sorry you’re experiencing this problem. I understand how frustrating it must be. I’ll work on finding a solution right away!”

My take: To my earlier point, this was painful to read: “Be empathic, apologize, show urgency, and use this canned response.” The words “empathic” and “canned” do not belong in the same sentence. Have you ever tried to be empathetic with a loved one on an important issue by using a canned response? How did it go?

Also, the suggested response “I understand how frustrating it must be” should be avoided. Try it out with an angry customer and tell me how it goes. Most upset customers will retort, “No, you don’t understand!” How could you? Everyone’s unique situation is singular to him or her. The best you can realistically do is imagine how frustrating it must be.

Scenario 8) How to (tactfully) let a customer know it’s their mistake:

Suggested script: “Dear [their name], We really appreciate your business and we’re sorry this happened to you. While we can help you with [problem x], we can’t help you with [problem y] due to our [policy]. If you’d like help with [problem x] or if there’s anything else we can do for you, please let us know! We’re here to help.”

My take: I dislike the reference to “policy”. Like “transfer”, most customers don’t like to hear the word “policy”. Instead of saying “due to our policy”, tell the customer exactly why you can’t do it. In other words, what is the rationale for the decision? Why does the policy exist (e.g., safety, legal, ethical, financial, etc.)?

Scenario 9) How to respond to a customer who forgot their password:

Suggested script: “Sorry to hear that you forgot your password, [their name]. You can easily reset it by going to [reset password link]. If you have any trouble, let me know and I can manually reset it for you!”

My take: Telling a customer that she “forgot” something is unnecessarily inflammatory. In place of “forgot”, I’d suggest substituting “can’t locate” so that it reads: “Sorry to hear that you can’t locate your password…”

Scenario 10) How to request a review of your product or service at the right time:

Suggested script: “[Their name], we’re really glad we were able to solve this problem for you. If you feel we were helpful, would you mind leaving [your product/service] a 5-star review? You can leave a review by going to [link to review]. If you don’t feel we deserve a 5-star review, what can we do to better serve you?”

My take: Others (who are better self-promoters than I am) may disagree with me, but I would never ask someone to give me a “5-star review.” I might ask for an honest review, but I would never tell someone what rating to give me. If there are five stars (options) and the reviewer is an adult, then she can choose for herself how many stars I deserve. If you ask for a 5-star review, by definition, you’re tampering with the process and undermining the integrity of the results.

Scenario 11) How to politely tell someone they are in violation of your terms of use or policies:

Suggested script: “Hello, [their name]. I’m reaching out to you because it seems you’ve violated our terms of use. It’s entirely possible it was done by mistake without you even realizing it. According to Section [section number], you [did whatever they did to violate your Terms of Use). As I realize this may have been an accident, I wanted to give you the opportunity to [do something to rectify the situation]. Please comply as soon as possible so there are no interruptions to your service. Thank you for your understanding and prompt reply.”

My take: I dislike the inflammatory language that riddles this response. I would rewrite it, removing the following words: violated, Section (too formal), comply (“Submit to us!”), and prompt (“Hurry it up!”). These words may be necessary if you’re operating a prison, but most work environments warrant softer, less antagonistic words to convey the same message.

Scenario 12) How to tell a customer their account is overdue or expired:

Suggested script: “Hello, [their name], I hope you’re having a good day so far! I’m just writing to let you know that your account has recently become overdue. If you plan to continue your service, please establish a new form of payment by [date], otherwise your account will deactivate soon (assuming that’s true). If you need to choose a new plan or cancel your account, you may do so at any time by visiting your account page at [link]. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you.”

My take: When an account is overdue or expired, why dismiss the customer without (as was emphasized in Scenario 3) taking advantage of the opportunity to obtain feedback from him? Why is the account overdue? Why did it lapse? Perhaps it’s an expired credit card or the customer has misplaced his login credentials? And if he willfully let the account expire, then why did he do so – and is there something that could be done to convince him to reinstate it?

While there is a place for scripts in live chat customer service, tread lightly… Scripts, by definition, are prescriptive. They tend to support “ways of doing” and can easily come across as canned and insincere.

Restaurateur and hospitality linchpin, Danny Meyer, prefers to use “riverbanks” (i.e., guidelines to discern what’s in and out of bounds, affording employees margin to be authentic without sacrificing the integrity of existing standards, policies, and procedures). These guidelines allow employees the discretion to infuse their personality as long as the organization’s high standards are honored. Essentially, Meyer is advocating “ways of being” versus “ways of doing.”

How can your organization leverage the efficiency and consistency of scripts in customer service without marginalizing employees’ independence or alienating customers?

Are you exploring chat options for your own business? Here is a fantastic article from MobileMonkey that details options and choices for adding live chat tools to your website.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

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