National Lampoon’s Customer Service Vacation

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This post was originally published on the FCR blog on December 24, 2015. Though Christmas has passed, it’s still a fun post. Click here to read the original.

There’s one movie that’s been a staple in my house every Christmas since it came out on VHS. That movie is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. What better thing to do during the holidays than to get a group of my favorite customer service friends together  and talk about a movie.

I’ve invited my friends Al Hopper, Jenny Dempsey, and Nate Brown to talk about how the movie relates to customer service. Nevermind the fact that Jenny and Nate had never seen the movie.  (Surprisingly, it wasn’t available on either Netflix or Amazon Prime, I’m not sure Jenny will ever know the joy… – Al)

Icebreaker: What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

Jeremy:  I really love sipping an eggnog latte and watching any and all of the cheesy, made for TV Christmas movies I can find on Netflix.

Al: I’ve taken to watching Polar Express as often as I can. Other than that? Wrapping presents with my wife on Christmas Eve after we put the Princesses to bed.

Jenny:  I’m not a fan of the holidays so my favorite tradition is doing everything I can to avoid them!

Nate: I’m a man who really appreciates tacky Christmas clothing.  This is my chance to break out all of my ugly sweaters as well as my favorite reindeer-print suit.


Clark: Russ, we checked every bulb, didn’t we?rusty

Rusty Griswold: Sure, Dad.

Clark: Hmm… Maybe we ought to just go up there and check…

Rusty Griswold: Oh, woo. Look at the time. I gotta get to bed. I still gotta brush my teeth, feed the hog, still got some homework to do, still got those bills to pay, wash the car…

Jeremy: This makes me think of those long calls that I would receive at the very end of the day that would make me late getting home. So many times I fought it and it just made the call longer. When I actually just knuckled down and worked through all the possibilities, I resolved the issue and we were all happier. Customer always appreciate it when we take the time necessary to get it right the first time.

Al: This actually reminded me of a conversation I had with my Dad once. I was trying to explain something about a customer service metric I was going to be training others on. I got tied up in the excitement of my planned presentation that I forgot he wasn’t in the industry. I remembered his frustration with me and how I didn’t take the time to start at the very beginning. Had Clark remembered to start at the beginning, even before the first strand of lights were hung, he and Rusty would have been really ready for the grand reveal.

Jenny: Yup, reminds me of those long calls too, Jeremy! It also makes me think of writing proactive customer support emails and the extra time it takes to ensure that you have given all of the information necessary for them to complete their task. Sometimes, you may be overwhelmed with work and not want to spend more minutes researching for them, so you send a message that’s lacking. That turns into you spending more time in the long run when they reply with follow up questions.

Nate: First, let me update Jeremy’s statement above and report that I was able to rent Christmas Vacation.  I’m a better person for having watched it.
This makes me think of an employee’s reaction to crappy process laid out by management.  There are few things as frustrating as having to do something simple over and over again, especially when it could be automated or actually fixed.  Don’t settle for the plugs inside of plugs inside of plugs like in the Griswold’s basement.  Resolve those work arounds in favor of real solutions that will better the employee experience.


Rustclark-treey Griswold: Dad, this tree won’t fit in our back yard.

Clark: It’s not going in the yard, Russ. It’s going in the living room.

Jeremy: This makes me think about customers who call with big, big plans and it’s really hard to envision that they could actually accomplish that.  When you’re tempted to say “no” because it seems inconceivable, get a second opinion. I’ve always found that a customer with a larger-than-life vision isn’t always a bad thing and it’s worth doing everything you can to find a solution for them.

Al: So many of us try to set reasonable limits when working for our Customers, but we sincerely want to blow away their expectations by delivering a ‘wow’ moment. We get that big idea and think, “this is going to be more than they asked for”. We set ourselves up for disappointment when the ‘wow’ doesn’t happen the way we envisioned. As leaders we need to listen closer to the unstated need and just fill that instead of going for the biggest tree ever.

Jenny: This quote definitely encourages you to think outside the box with your customers. What can they dream and what can you help them accomplish with your service? Don’t doubt what you’re capable of because it could totally happen. I totally want a tree in my living room!

Nate: The Griswold Tree is like so many change initiatives we put forth in the service center.  How often do we have a perfect image in our mind of how the finished product is going to look, but we skip the practical steps to actually get there?  When we try to rush a change or skip the required steps, it all goes up in smoke.  Which of course is exactly what happened to the Griswold Tree when it met Uncle Lewis LOL.


fcr-national-lampoonsEllen: I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.

Jeremy: So many customer service people work during the holidays and it can be such a demanding time of year. For those of you who call customer service this time of year, remember to be extra grateful and full of holiday cheer! Let’s work through the challenges and stay positive.

Al: I’ve worked more than a few Christmases over the years, whether it was in the contact center or the military. Some years were easier than others. Like Nate, I’m a little torn on the real value of creating the chaos of Black Friday for retailers. There’s really nothing useful gained from near-rioting mobs with employees trying to duck and cover for their lives. BUT, like Jenny, some folks don’t care for the holidays. Servant leaders should look for the opportunity to give their employees the option of working or not so the misery isn’t spread around unnecessarily.

Jenny: Since I’m not a fan of the holidays, I totally connect with this quote. But, what I do know is that other people love the holidays. Sometimes, I get really excited about them because others are. I feed off of their energy. If someone is miserable, the energy is shared, like a nasty cold. It’s not always easy to keep a positive attitude, but just remember, the choice belongs to you.

Nate: Man!  Jeremy you picked a heavy one… This makes me think about something my wife said in the car over Thanksgiving.  I was complaining about how retail business still support the concept of “Black Friday” and take employees away from their families.  My wife reminded me that not everyone has a happy Griswold home to enjoy during the Holidays.  For many folks being at work and earning an extra buck is far better than any family related alternative.  I’m still torn on “Black Friday,” but what I do know is that we are all fighting our own personal battle and kindness is essential.


frank-shirleyMr. Frank Shirley: [picks up the phone receiver] Get me somebody. Anybody. And get me somebody while I’m waiting.

Jeremy: Frank Shirley is pretending to be busy here but in reality, our customers are busy.  All the more reason to remember that their time is valuable.

Al: This happened to me while shopping recently. I walked into a retailer looking to spend some good money, but apparently I had the plague. Even the employees that didn’t have anyone to talk to in front of them apparently had someone on the phone…

Jenny: Time is valuable and some issues are so time sensitive! There is such power in being prepared to handle customer situations in a timely manner. It makes you look so incredible in their eyes. I hear this all the time from visitors who try to reach out to their state DMV and wait in line for hours. When they contact us and we help get them prepared for their visit or even answer their questions quickly and efficiently, they are floored and are super happy!

Nate: In some ways I believe Frank is prophesying “The Age of the Customer” we now live in.  I’m a far more entitled customer then I was even two or three years ago.  Have you ever been stuck on hold for a few minutes on the phone and found yourself engaging over another more immediate channel while you wait?  Yep, me too.  One of Jeremy’s recent posts was a good reminder that while I should have high expectations for brands, I also need to ground them in reality.


todd-margoMargo: You just march over there and slug that creep in the face.

Todd: I can’t just attack someone.

Margo: All right then, if you’re not man enough to put an end to this [bleep], then I am.

Jeremy: Most customers can be helped but some are definitely trolls, especially when it comes to social media. Don’t stoop to that level. It’s not worth it. I have a feeling Al has encountered a few trolls in his time doing social media customer service.

Al: Ha! Jeremy. I love social media Trolls. They give me the opportunity to get creative in dealing with them and winning them over. This scene totally reminded me of the group of kids in school that had a bunch of instigators and a patsy. I think this is more of a problem with offline retailers where it gets more personal than online. Online, everyone can be “man enough”.

Jenny: It’s definitely NOT worth it to stoop to that level. While there are some very rude customers out there that do not take anyone else’s feelings into consideration, we must remember to be the bigger person and act professionally. I’ve had customers say some mean things to me in my career–but I know they were not directly AT me but rather at the frustration of the situation overall. I believe this is something you learn over time but building a thick skin to allow these sort of comments to not sink in and ruin your day is necessary in customer service.

Nate: I have nothing clever to say about this at all.  This is the last quote?  Wow my ending is almost as bad as Steve Harvey’s performance in the Miss Universe pageant I was just watching.  Oh well!  Merry Christmas!

Wait! It’s over? I just started polishing my disk sled… Merry Christmas, y’all! – Al

Al Hopper is the Director of Operations at SocialPath Solutions, Jenny Dempsey is the Visitor Support Manager at DMV.ORG and Nate Brown is Training Team Manager at UL Workplace Health & Safety. Click on their names to follow them on Twitter and be subsequently overwhelmed with customer service awesomeness.

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