Incredible Lessons About Customer Service from Movie Clips

Call Center | 6 minute read

You may think that watching movies and television shows is something you do for sheer amusement –  providing little educational value. Well, think again! I know I recently spoke about the importance of reading vs. watching television in my latest blog on the top customer experience books, but let’s not completely underestimate the power of the tube.

You’ve likely learned some real-life lessons, long after the popcorn and peanut M&M’s had been devoured. So to the customer service folks who are ready to take more away from TV and movies than simply an entertainment fix – this one is for you.

Below I’ve illustrated seven lessons about customer service we can all learn from TV shows, movies, and even cartoons!

1. Failing to Be Empathetic

In this Seinfeld scene, Jerry is picking up the mid-size rental car that he had previously reserved. The agent has confirmed that no car is available, even though she acknowledges that the reservation was successfully processed. She provides very little empathy to a seemingly reasonable request. The lesson here is simple – put yourself in the customer’s shoes. How would you feel if you took the time to make a reservation for, say, dinner, and upon arriving there were no available tables? Surely, that’s no way to conduct business.

Watch the clip:

2. The Wrong Customer Service Response

I’m not being biased to car rental scenes – this is purely a coincidence.

If you thought Steve Martin had all of his moments of insane anger in Father of the Bride, you were wrong. In this clip from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, he is downright angry, but rightly so. Unfortunately, he is cursing quite a bit, so to keep things professional we listed the censored version. The customer service lesson here is quite obvious at the beginning.

The agent is clearly more concerned about her personal life, than with handling a disgruntled customer. She is oblivious to the overextending line-up of patrons as she continues to ramble on the phone about thanksgiving dinner. When Steve Martin finally approaches the desk he explains why he is so angry, and her response was clearly not in the training books.

Here’s the clip:

3. Isn’t the Customer Always Right?

Michael Douglas is itching for a “ham and cheese wamlet” in this scene from Falling Down. The customer service rep explains that breakfast is no longer being served, and he can only order lunch. He asks for a manager who says, “We stopped serving breakfast at 11:30 AM”. The customer looks at his watch and it’s only a few minutes past. In fact, he likely placed the order in time, but wasted time arguing, and by the time he asked for the manager he was too late.

In any event, he explains to management that the “customer is always right”, and the manager responds by saying, “that’s not our policy”. Clearly this isn’t the right way to handle this situation. The lesson to be shared here is to set the expectation. List the times when breakfast is closed, and if you plan to close at 11:30 perhaps allow a 10-minute grace period for anyone who might slide in just past the window.

Watch the clip:

4. No Interest in Compromise

This is a scene from Meet the Parents, a rom-com starring Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro. Groom-to-be Greg Focker (Stiller) has experienced nothing but bad luck with airlines. First, they lose his bag (which held a 2-carat engagement ring) and after heading back to the airport because of a fallout with his girlfriend’s family, his luck continued. In this clip, he is waiting to board the plane, but the flight attendant refuses to allow him to proceed as his row had not been called. She does this even though no one else is in the terminal!

The customer service lesson here is that it’s ok to bend the rules a bit, especially in this type of scenario.

Here’s the clip:

5. This Counter is Closed

Anyone who has ever stepped foot in a DMV knows how annoying the process can be. In this clip from Family Guy, the customer has filled out the wrong form. He’s told to go back in line (yet, again) and complete the right form. He explains to the rep that he’s already waited in those lines. The rep gets so frustrated that he closes his desk down.

Clearly shutting down shop isn’t an option. You have a customer, and that customer must be attended to. If the customer is upset, do what you can to hurry the process up. You can hand him the right form, and allow him to skip the line.

Watch the clip:

6. Slow as a Sloth

This is a clip for the animated movie, Zootopia. The agent is INCREDIBLY SLOW, it’s hilarious to watch, but clearly painful for the customer. It’s not expected for agents to be quick like the energizer bunny, but practicing a reasonable amount of speed is completely understandable (especially when the customer says they’re in a hurry). For customers, it can be incredibly painful and infuriating when agents move too slowly.

Perhaps the lesson is to spend more time understanding the ins-and-outs of the customer service operation so you can assist clients in a timely manner. (And, never to pick the line where you’ll be served by a sloth.)

Here’s the clip:

7. What if the Computer Says No?

In this clip from Little Britain, the hospital receptionist, Carol is not only unhelpful, she’s completely insane. A little girl comes in to get her tonsils removed, but the hospital has her scheduled for a double-hip replacement. The receptionist refuses to investigate the error. She simply says, “Computer says no!”

Carol even has the audacity to ask the patient to fill out a customer service questionnaire after doing absolutely nothing to help her. All three options in the survey would basically rate Carol’s service as “exceptional”. Brace yourselves, she does swear at the end – I couldn’t locate a censored version for this one.

Watch the clip:

8. Upsell, Upsell, Upsell!

It’s not a movie clip, but it is from TV. This SNL sketch takes a laugh at how companies (in this case a hotel) turn the opportunity for a gentle upsell opportunity into a frustrating experience for an otherwise happy customer.

Of course, this sketch has been made deliberately cheesy and silly for a live TV audience, but it still gets the point across. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to upsell customers if you give them a great customer experience. And a great customer experience doesn’t involve pestering customers to try out your latest product.

9.Going Off-Script

Working in a call center isn’t easy, even if you have a great script and tech support behind you. In this scene from the TV show ‘Friends’, Phoebe makes a cold-sales call to a rather distressed customer.

When his objection to her pitch doesn’t appear in her script, Phoebe takes her usual eccentric approach to resolving the issue. We can’t always take quite such a personalized approach to customer support, but it pays to remember there’s a real person on the other end of the line.

10. Creating Customer Connections

Possibly one of the most famous movie scenes about a call center doesn’t even take place in a call center. In this scene from the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Dame Judi Dench gives her colleagues a lesson in why truly connecting with the customer is more important than whatever your metrics might say.

In this scene, the manager tells DJD’s character that they noticed the longer the customers spend on the phone, the more likely they are to listen to the pitch. But DJD demonstrates with her usual class that it’s actually the connection with the customer that keeps them listening – and then shows them how to do it in half the time.


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