Customer service is all about humanity. Face-to-face, voice-to-voice, text-to-text – the best customer service agents listen to their customers’ concerns, take them to heart and try and solve their problems. The industry is, fundamentally, rooted in compassion, personality and communication.

So it’s only logical that your customer service team should study their craft by watching TED Talks – lectures that don’t feel like lectures, delivered by amiable professionals with illustrative PowerPoints.

1. Steven van Belleghem: “What if customers become friends?”

This one’s a no-brainer. Emphasizing customer loyalty and industry data, speaker Steven van Belleghem scrutinizes the dropping levels of customer loyalty and investigates the reasons they have for growing brand-agnostic.  

The problem with conventional loyalty programs, he argues, is that they aren’t really about loyalty. “This is a discount card,” he says, waving around a typical buy-10-get-one-free card. “I use it, not because I’m loyal to this company, but because it gives me a discount.”

He believes that customers can genuinely befriend companies. “What if your best friend becomes your client?” he posits. “I think the answer is very simple: we would try harder.” It would put our reputations at stake personally, because we’d think of customer service as more than just a job – we’d think of it as a personal commitment, something we enjoy and value.  

This mentality improves customer relations, obviously. And in doing so, it also keeps customers truly loyal.

2. David Bequette: “The Customer Revolution in Customer Service”

In this TEDx Yerevan talk, David Bequette discusses the problems of customer service in the developing world. It’s a fascinating look at the history of 20th-century customer service. He provides a quick overview of the rise of the service industry through Fordism in the United States, which placed value on products and, by extension, the agents who helped customers understand them.

By contrast, in a country like Armenia, a history of racial segregation and discriminatory taxation caused minorities to flock toward industries based more on education and less on material goods, such as doctors and lawyers, away from the service industry.

“Basically, what we have now is the same mentality,” he argues. “The mentality that the service industry is below us. That it’s better to get an education.”  

That mentality, however, doesn’t correlate with a better financial future, let alone an equal society. And it especially doesn’t make for a pleasant customer experience. Bequette’s TED Talk is insightful and surprising, while remaining positive and open toward change in the future.

3. Tom Costello: “Creating Guest ‘Evangelists’ through Customer Service

This one feels more like an old-school corporate pep talk (including a cryptically vague pyramid of “integrity” packed with corporate buzzwords), but the lecture is nonetheless one of the most popular customer service talks on TED and for good reason. It contains valuable, age-old insight into how, crucially, a corporation of any size can insert its values into customer service. Subsequently, that drives customers to become evangelists for your brand. (It’s reminiscent of our long-held stance that marketing and customer service teams should be aligned, as one group feeds into the other.)

Costello is an undeniably energized (and energizing) speaker, right down to his grand Seussian finale. It’s impossible to watch his gleeful optimism and not smile.

“Just think about coming up to Mendocino,” he breathlessly yells to a roaring audience. “You’re driving up that 128, and you’re going in this windy road, you got a couple of kids, maybe you have to stop off at the side of the road ‘cause they’re throwing up and everything else, and so you come up, and you’re bedraggled, and you’re frustrated – but then you see this wonderful smile. And maybe a warm fire, a beautiful fire, and a freshly prepared plate of food. Well, that frown turns into a smile. Now that’s service.”

4. Celeste Headlee: “10 Ways To Have A Better Conversation”

Not literally about customer service, Celeste Headlee’s topical sociological lecture deals with the myriad problems of modern verbal communication. She opens on the historically unprecedented polarization of the Americans landscape, and how personalized technology has fuelled that division.

She argues that we are slipping by ignoring interpersonal, face-to-face communication, especially with younger generations. She glosses through the typical tips (eye contact, repetition of their problems) before launching into her real tips as a professional radio interviewer.

She lays out 10 rules for a modern world: don’t multitask, don’t pontificate, ask open-ended questions and so on. These may sound like rules for journalistic interviewing (and they are), but a good customer service agent must also be a good listener. And much of interviewing is simply listening – just like in customer service.  

5. Vineet Nayer: “Employees First, Customers Second”

Vineet Nayer, author and CEO of a tech company, has a gripping, slow-burn lecture style that draws listeners in. His argument is simple: happier employees will create happier customers. If your employees actually enjoy going to work, you can build an office culture that cultivates pride, loyalty and camaraderie that will grow outward.

“Why does an employee on a Sunday spend his money, time, energy, drive to a mosque, a mandir and a church, and feel good about it? And why does the same employee get paid to come to our organizations on Monday, and feel bad about it?,” he asks. “Because organizations have a vision and a purpose for themselves, they don’t have a vision and purpose for that employee.”

Using his own company as a case study, he lays out the ways in which emphasizing employee happiness helped transform the work culture and grow the company to the point of its vast success today.   

Employee training can be difficult – you have to instill an ethos into someone without coming off like a brainwasher. But your customer service team members have to believe in your brand, and they have to understand the reasoning behind compassionate interactions.

And if they won’t take your word for it, TED Talks are a terrific tool to do just that.