Take for example customer conversations. So much work goes into cramming all sorts of meaning into scripts, that at the time of delivery they sounds hollow and insincere, if not a little robotic. In fact, if you watched Bicentennial Man, you may be inclined to believe that robots want to have more heart.
You pick up the phone to call a company's customer service line, already regretting having done so and steeling yourself for the obligatory phone system purgatory. Then you get to a live person and fast forward through the litany of salutes. It is not the customer rep's fault, really. And it's not the script's fault, either. It was an attempt at presenting a uniform brand experience.
After being subjected to this treatment indiscriminately from many companies that implement "best practices" or work hard at benchmarking their services, we literally cannot hear the words anymore. Thus we cannot distinguish one company from the other.
There is a problem with this kind of script:
- it's not infused with the specific company's personality. Many newer companies get that - remember those error message on Technorati? At least they were entertaining. How about the "ooops" visual on Twitter? Chirping.
- there is no subtext. No room behind the actual words for the "actor", the person using it, to interpret the script. How you say "we're sorry about that", or "let me pull up your record", even how you ask for someone's zip code, could be personalized. It's about timing and how you say something.
- it's been watered down in an effort to make sure that three separate departments, and legal, are all satisfied with the exact words. No punch line anymore.
Am I saying you should improvise? Well, let's see what that means. Be voracious about what your company stands for. Learn all you can about its history, culture, practices, go-to-market strategies. Most importantly, learn about what happy customers like, learn about complaints and issues, too. Then forget it all to be in the flow with your customer.
The kind of pre-packaged marketing you are tempted to do:
- leaves no room for the customer. It's all been arranged in the script.
- leaves no room for you, either, as a representative of the company.
Authenticity starts with clarity about who you are, what you stand for, and how you are different. Know thyself [image courtesy of Immanuel Giel: Greek γνῶθι σεαυτόν or gnothi seauton] as the inscription on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi said. In fact, become so intimately familiar with who you are, what you are about, that you do not need a script anymore.
The extra layer on that: how you choose to be in relation to others, the action verb we rarely talk in the context of communication is listening. You cannot fake listening - you either do, or you don't. Listening goes to the heart of realness, and it's very much part of the conversation. The part that moves individuals towards connection.