Don’t turn your employees into robots—they’ll drive customers into a valley of despair!

By Beth Caron

Have you ever gotten stuck in the purgatory of a customer service center? You call about a  computer problem and proceed through a prescribed list of potential solutions, even though you already tried rebooting and unplugging the modem. The first person you speak with can’t help and kicks you up a level. The routine starts all over again. You protest that you've already gone through the initial questions, but there is a script to be followed and you are not going to escape the process.

You, my friend, have descended into the valley—the Uncanny Valley—of customer service.

The term refers to the low point in a V-shaped curve that tracks the comfort level of humans when dealing with artificial beings. I learned about it in a Harvard Business Review article, Customer Service Needs to Be Either More or Less Robotic.

Robotics experts use the concept to see how close they can get to creating an artificial being—think Siri—that puts humans at ease. Supposedly, people are most comfortable interacting either with robots that are clearly robots—think C-3PO—or the yet-to-be-achieved ideal that’s indistinguishable from a person. (This one still needs work. Creepy, right?)

So what does this have to do with running a franchise business? I’m glad you asked. I see a lot of companies that are striving so hard to achieve consistency in customer service that they are driving out any possibility of human-to-human connection. An employee who is bound to a script or a process, with no flexibility to make or act on decisions, becomes little more than a robot. There is nothing more irritating than being stuck in a scripted conversation that doesn't vary no matter what you say or what action you have taken. That is not good customer service.

Consistency and policies are important, yes. But so are people-to-people connections. The Gallup Organization makes the same point in an article about how top performing companies engage their customers.

“The moment that an employee connects emotionally with a customer is a source of untapped power that has profound implications on a company's productivity and profitability. … Simply put, consumers will give more money to the businesses they feel emotionally connected to, and they will continue to ignore, or even oppose, those that provide them no value.”

Employees should have the authority to act in the best interest of customers, and be empowered—within limits, of course—to make those personal connections. That is certainly the case at Great Clips salons. Our franchisees help their employees deliver great service by following a series of steps that lead to customer confidence and satisfaction. While they may provide their salon staff with ideas or suggested responses for dealing with particular situations, they also allow them to put the message in their own words.

The goal is to provide a template that can be replicated—not cloned. Delivering personalized service is so critical in an industry like walk-in haircare salons. When you do it right, the customer remembers—and new customers become repeat customers.

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