Balancing Act: Macros

The dreaded ‘canned’ response…

You have been on the receiving end of a macro, and if you don’t think you’ve experienced it, kudos to whichever company crafted their email language well enough to deceive you.

A macro is a prewritten response used by a customer support agent to answer a frequent question with consistent language that has been approved by someone at the company; this could be a support manager, copywriter, comms, or even legal and PR. Macros have the benefit of optimizing the agent workflow by performing preprogrammed actions to reduce the number of steps involved to resolve an issue(such as auto-assigning to a certain group or agent, applying tags, and setting case status). But typically the biggest use of macros is to simply paste in a pre-written response. As you can imagine, there are issues with this; many, many issues, which I’ll cover in a moment. But why should you consider using macros? And why might you want to proceed with caution? I’m glad you asked.

Macros save time and effort. Agents can handle a far greater number of cases when they don’t need to handwrite the same responses every single time. It also can perform those back-end tasks automatically (depending on your CRM) and save even more time.

Macros mean consistency. Your PR and legal teams may want you to handle certain situations in a certain way. Macros ensure the approved response is the only thing being sent out in response to questions on these topics. Additionally, in other situations, it can provide agents with a set of guidelines on policy and procedure.

But macros also have their downsides, typically resulting from agent inexperience.

Agents often misuse macros, or don’t tailor the language most appropriate for the situation. This problem can quickly escalate with outsourced teams who have contractual obligations to meet metrics and are often just trying to meet quotas. They simply work to find the macro that *mostly* fits, without concerning themselves if it fully addresses the issue, or even matches the right tone. How often have you received a response to your upset email where the agent was *too* chipper and excited to help you? Yeah, it was a macro and the agent was looking for word-clues instead of reading for comprehension.

Managing macros becomes a full-time job. Guess what, as a knowledge base manager, a large part of what I did involved maintaining and creating macros. At a certain point it became too much and I had a second associate spend most of their time auditing, updating, editing, deleting, creating, and managing macro permissions. It was difficult, and if a lone macro wasn’t updated with some bit of crucial information there was a real impact. All of a sudden agents are sending out blatantly incorrect responses.

What is a support manager to do?

Well, that’s up to you. I found the best balance is to create a system of “modular” macros. Modular macros have the chunks of salient information pre-written, but agents are instructed to freehand their own intros and outros based on their tone and personality. After all, the facts are going to be out of their control, so why remove the agents one place to shine by controlling everything? This turns your support agents into button-pushers instead of challenging them to read and understand tone, emotion, and the core issue of the emails.

Understand managing macros is an ongoing process that requires attention and resources to maintain, either by centrally controlling the content, or allowing your agents to effectively manage it themselves by handwriting their responses or using tools like TextExpander to send frequent answers. There are drawbacks to both free-hand responses and macros, so it depends on your team structure and approach to determine the best option suited to your team.

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