See How Customer Service Visions Evolved Over the Last Decade, in 5 Brilliant Ted Talks


It’s easy, in the midst of huge leaps of progress, to forget where we’ve been. But where we’ve been is an important thing to remember: it tells us how far we’ve come, and it reminds of just how far from right our assumptions about what lies ahead can be.

Here are 5 Ted Talks that are at least a few years old, about topics related to customer care. While few of the speakers fully realize the implications of technological and social change on customer care as we experience it today, their insights are nevertheless fascinating. As they describe a world that is quickly changing, we can identify how those changes have been wrought in our lives and business today.


Tim Leberecht: Lose Control of Your Reputation, 2012

Tim Leberecht, of Frog, discusses ways in which major brands were starting, in 2012 to give up degrees of control over their own corporate narratives to their customers, who were increasingly able to communicate on the same level as the brands could.


Renny Gleeson: Anti-Social Phone Tricks, 2009

In this classic short, Gleeson talks up the problem of social media “availability,” and its effect on telephone behavior. Interestingly, there was little awareness at the time just how important expectations of availability and “always on” social customer care would blossom within the next 5 years. What interests me here is this question: do the stigmas that Gleeson identifies with early smartphone usage still apply, when so much of so many people’s jobs no longer occurs over voice conferencing, as it did in 2009?



Evan Williams: Listening to Twitter Users, 2009

Williams, a Twitter Co-Founder, describes the unnexpected evolution of Twitter behavior on the then still early-days social platform. What’s interesting about Williams’ talk, is just how quickly user behavior and expectations diverged from the founders’ original conceptions of Twitter as a nearly pure broadcast media- a place where people would live blog their lives. At the time, it was remarkable that the Red Cross and local media outlets were using the platform to dispense and gather information- and this was before hashtagging was a feature of the network, meaning that it was quite difficult to search and aggregate this information. 5 years on, as the technology has adapted to these new uses, and more uses, it seems odd that an organization would choose not to use the platform in this way.


Joseph Pine: What Consumers Want,2004

Pine, a well known author and consultant, discusses the shift that technology promised from purely mass consumer experiences to “authentic” experiences, in which our relationships with brands would become a new kind of commodity. He questions the notion that experiences and relationships can be “inauthentic,” years before brands had to grapple with this concept themselves in social media customer care and marketing, and he points to new ideas of authenticity as a basis for brand growth.  Filmed the same month that Facebook initially launched, and long before Twitter existed, Pine’s insights are fascinating in retrospect. The ability of brands to construct their own realities has been seriously diminished by social media, and how brands react today, says a lot about who they are.


Malcom Gladwell: Choice, Happiness, and Spaghetti Sauce, 2004

The problem: Pepsi wins taste tests against Coca-Cola, but Pepsi sales lag behind Coke. What does food science have to do with customer care?

On the face of it, a discussion of the effects of artificial sweeteners on long-term customer behavior seems rather divorced from customer care. But in Gladwell’s signature style, he relates the choices that a company makes about the qualities of its products, its advertising, and its relationship with its customers, to the ways in which people behave over long periods. He points out that what gives us pleasure in the moment, may not inspire us to be loyal, or to be happy in the long term. A sweet soda tastes better than a bitter soda, but that doesn’t mean we will buy it. The experience is more than one thing. In relation to customer care, his point comes home: what drives the needle in the short term, and what drives the needle in the long term, are sometimes mutually exclusive. Pepsi was listening to its customers too much- it was reacting to what they wanted in the short term, but not to what they needed in the long term.


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