3 Lessons Columbo Can Teach about Customer Service

May I ask you a personal question?

By Raquel Guarino

For many business owners, it can be overwhelming figuring out the right way to handle customers and their needs. As situations complicate over time, stories can get muddied and details begin to fog up. Whatever the circumstances, it’s imperative for business leaders and teams to know how to handle people of all kinds.

Enter Columbo. For those unfamiliar, Columbo was a popular television show that centered around detective Lieutenant Columbo’s police investigations. While the audience always knew the criminal’s identity, it was Columbo’s job to learn about each person and uncover facts in a way that was personable and gentle. His conversational style was sometimes a bit clumsy, but nevertheless he always found a resolution. Here are a few things Columbo can teach businesses about customer service.

Keep It Simple

Columbo was a master in simplicity. With just a few resources, he was able to untangle mysteries with care and ease. How did he do it? Organization was key. Columbo’s trusty notepad and pen never left his side. While writing down notes physically doesn’t generally scale well for business, Help.com’s simple customer system gives employees a centralized  space to write down all the relevant information about customers and specific interactions or cases. Having a centralized place where multiple people can view the same notes about a situation makes it easy to keep track of updates, customer preferences, and past communications.

“May I ask you a personal question?”

This question was one of Columbo’s most famous catchphrases. Columbo was known for his ability to truly get to know people. The more questions he asked, the more he was able to see things as they were. Rather than examining evidence, talking to fellow officers, or trying to find the latest gadget to help with an issue, Columbo spends the majority of the episodes just hanging out with people and asking them about themselves. Getting to know people on a deeper level was the way he was able to get both suspects and witnesses to open up and be vulnerable. That’s why Help.com’s customer service system places such a high emphasis on conversations. We understand that every message you deliver or receive is a piece of the relationship-building puzzle. The more your team is able to connect with customers on a deeper level, the better they’ll be able to understand and make people happy. 


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“Just one more thing…”

This might have been Columbo’s most prolific catchphrase, which the lieutenant usually asked as he began to exit a conversation with a suspect. When he implemented the phrase, it meant he was right on the tail of closing the investigation. Of course, because you’re not a television detective, we’re not assuming any of your customers are guilty. However, it’s a helpful phrase to add as a conversation  appears to be wrapping up. 

  • Upsell: “Just one more thing… Have you tried our new product?”
  • Research: “Just one more thing… How did you find out about us?”
  • Assist: “Just one more thing… Do you have any more questions?”

Adding one last closing question before you end a conversation could lead to another sale or deepen a customer's trust in your services.

What other business lessons can you take away from Columbo’s investigative technique? Let us know in the comments.