Scripts aren’t just for the movies

Scripts aren't just for the movies POST

Yesterday, I called to make an appointment with a dentist. I was expecting a perky greeting like: “Good morning. You’ve called ABC Dentistry. Can I help you?” Instead, the receptionist answered the phone, sounding like she had just had some dental work herself – she seemed incoherent – and said: “Ah hulloh? Dentist here.”

I was taken aback. Maybe I was hallucinating. Then I heard it again. The second time, she sounded more like she was drunk. “Oh hulloh? Dentist here.” I hesitated to speak. But clearly she thought I was wasting her time because on her third attempt the receptionist screeched down the phone: “Hulloh? HULLOH? This is the DENTIST. WHO IS ON THE PHONE? Do you want to make an appointment or not? Hulloh?”

I hung up because it sounded like she was about to reach down the phone line and yank my head off. Needless to say, I didn’t make my appointment. And now, I’m looking for another dentist.

Whether rightly or wrongly, I made a judgment call about the dentist based on the impression I got from the receptionist. That impression was that the woman was either drunk, stupid, or completely inarticulate. And I figured that if the dentist thought it was ok to hire someone with any of those characteristics, this was possibly not a good sign. If they thought it was ok for this person to greet their patients in this way, they must have had fairly low standards. And those standards may have carried over to their drilling, capping, cleaning, and filling.

The reality is that this receptionist may have never been trained in the art of answering the phone, which is a frontline customer service role. Unless they have been trained, some people have a knack for it, some don’t. Often this instinct for good customer service is gained from their understanding of basic polite behaviour. In turn, this is a function of how they have been brought up.

However, if someone is terrible at customer-facing interactions, you can’t very well turn to them and say: “Hey, your parents sucked at teaching you manners”. So what can you do?

This is where scripts are invaluable.

That’s right: scripts. I’m not talking about the TV or movie variety, but simply scripts that your team can use when faced with different situations. This could include:

(a) how to answer the phone
(b) answers to frequently asked questions
(c) examples of how to “close a sale”
(d) responses to certain actions, like if a customer purchases a particular product.

Your team members may be so capable that they don’t need a script. If so, that’s great. But if you have new staff, or ones that don’t have a natural rapport with customers on the phone, a script can streamline processes, minimise errors and potentially even convert customers.

You can’t expect all team members to respond to customers in the way you would, unless you provide them with training, or at least a script to work from. So how should you create these scripts?

Simply write Q and As for your team. Don’t just tell your staff verbally what you’d like them to say. When you write it down, it becomes part of your system. There is no chance of misinterpretation; if anyone forgets, they can refer to the script, and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time a new person joins the team.

What scripts would be useful in your business today?

This article first appeared on

About Valerie Khoo

Valerie Khoo is founder and national director of the Australian Writers' Centre, the country's leading centre for writing courses. She is a journalist, blogger and author. Her latest book is "Power Stories: The 8 stories you MUST tell to build an epic business" (Wiley). Valerie is a keynote speaker, small business commentator, and investor and mentor to startups and businesses in Australia.
  • Robin Henry

    It is hard to get good staff. Scripts and standard operating procedures certainly help. I remember reading about Bob Ansett and Avis Rent-a-Car; Bob was the CEO and every so often would randomly call one of his offices to find out how the phone was answered. Quality control from the top. If you run a chain of motels, try booking into one of the standard rooms and see how things work out; do the fittings and fixtures work, is the bed okay, is the airconditioning okay? Alternatively, take up a mystery shopper approach and pay someone else to observe, record and report.

    • valeriekhoo

      Good points Robin. You know, I would love to be a mystery shopper. Or, better still, one of those people who get paid to be incognito guests in luxury hotels …

  • Steve Willats

    This is a symptom of businesses that think just providing a product or service is good business. What’s really sad is that they will probably never know what the problem is.

    Spending money on marketing only to ruin it with a terrible customer experience is just plain crazy, but very common. I have a name for this that I like to use: anti-marketing. You do marking to bring in new clients and then do anti-marketing to send them away. It’s a very expensive exercise.