“That’s not in my script so I can’t help you.”

dreamstime_xl_19551322When people talk about scripts I often worry about the experience not only for the service user or customer but also for the staff member. For me scripts are for actors, so unless you want your staff to act rather than genuinely care maybe scripts are a bad idea.

“But…”, I hear you say, “…scripts are used by sales people and second rate companies.” Nope, that’s not true. This week alone (and it’s only Wednesday) I’ve spoken about scripts with two organisations: a charity and a local authority. “What! Why are they using scripts?” I hear you shout!

Charities need to gain support from others

The charity had developed a script for their staff to use when contacting stakeholders. The idea was that they would contact them to make appointments for advisors to go in and discuss their services. This wasn’t about selling anything but just asking for an appointment. I understand why they went down this route. They need to give the staff a way of covering all of the key points, fine, but then maybe they just need a check list.

Secondly the members of staff weren’t used to doing this type of thing. They had immediately likened it to cold calling. Their mindset had then become, ‘people won’t like it, they won’t want to speak to us.’ So the mangers thought to help them they would give them a script. Yep, I can see why that might be of some help. But the thing is it stops the staff being natural and adapting to the feedback. Plus it makes the staff feel more anxious because now it seems like they don’t know what they’re doing, so they end up needing the script.

Instead I would suggest the staff need to think about the whole thing in a different way. By shifting it from being a cold calling project where they have to get people to listen and agree to a meeting, they could consider that they are offering people information which will help them. Advisors going to see them at a time which is acceptable for them is the best way to help them. Having a discussion, giving them some examples and generally helping them to see why they need it will make them feel better about the call and the receiver of the call feels it’s more personal to them.

Are local authority members of staff there to help us or not?

My second experience of a script was a local authority. An older family member is trying to move house and they had some items that needed to go to the recycling plant. Because some of them are bulky a van was hired specifically for the task. Before hiring the van my family member checked with the local authority whether there were restrictions about taking vans to the recycling plant. They were given the exact dimensions of the largest sized van you can take to the tip without it being called a commercial vehicle. This meant they hired the right sized van. However when they got the tip the van was refused entry because staff there said the van was four inches too big.

Now that four inches meant the waste couldn’t be unloaded. No amount of discussion was going to change the staff at the recycling plant: it was a no for the van coming in. So the waste was taken back to the house. Calling the local authority again the member of staff on the other end of the line said, “Well if it’s the wrong size it’s the wrong size.” Pleading that the size given on the previous call was different she said, “No that’s not possible, we all speak off scripts here and we said the correct size. You got it wrong.” But no, we didn’t. Why would we have hired a van the wrong size after going to the trouble of calling to get the size first?

But the conversation went round and round. Every time it was suggested that the council staff got it wrong the lady on the phone said, “No it’s not possible as we all speak off scripts” and she repeated the size yet again. Yikes, what a frustrating call. Unwilling to offer any help the call was ended, but we still have the issue of the waste, plus an upset family member and a feeling of frustration that the authority don’t seem to want to help.

Trusting your staff to know the right thing to do should be key

In this case maybe all that’s needed is to trust the staff. Do they really need scripts or just key points to cover in their notes? This would allow the staff member to be flexible and offer something more than a “It’s your fault” response. Surely the conversation could have been improved by flexibility. In addition, if staff are trusted to use some discretion and initiative then maybe the call would have sounded more like this:

“Oh no how frustrating for you. Yes the staff at the recycling centre are right, your van is too big. Unfortunately you have the measurements wrong. The problem is we will never know why you have the wrong measurements, because you could have written them down wrong or heard them wrong or I guess it’s possible someone here said them wrong, which is odd as those are the sizes we have always had. Now let’s think what can be done. Is there much in the van? Could you put most of it in a car maybe? If not and there are only a few items we could arrange a bulky waste collection for you, it’s usually only for three items but we could use a bit of discretion on this occasion.”  How much better is that?

So are your staff working off scripts? How frustrating is that not only to the person receiving the information but also to the staff. Don’t staff want to help your customers and service users? If they do, then allow them flexibility and trust them to do the job they are paid for. This may mean sometimes they do things which are not perfect but that’s when you learn from mistakes and aim to avoid them in the future. Support your staff so that they can support your clients.

What could be achieved if staff felt trusted and supported in their work?

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