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Breaking Bad Customer Service Habits Can businesses learn from the fictional Albuquerque meth makers?


’m a decade behind the curve, but when I signed up for Netflix in January, I finally started watching “Breaking Bad.” The groundbreaking AMC series was filmed in New Mexico from 2008-13 and arguably the progenitor of binge-watching TV. Now I know what all the fuss was about. The show is incredibly well done. Well-acted, well cast, amazingly well written, interesting, innovative, unpredictable. At times hilarious and at times deeply moving and thought provoking. For those of us who live in New Mexico, where everyone goes to Albuquerque two or three times a year whether we need to or not, it’s fun to see the familiar sights and scenes. For those unfamiliar, here’s the gist: Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher, contracts cancer. In order to pay for his medical bills, he “breaks bad,” using his science skills to cook super-high-quality methamphetamine. This immerses him into the dark world of crime, drug lords, big dollars and shady lawyers. At the same time, he interjects his own background into this environment, transforming some aspects of it. By now, we’re all familiar with Spaceport America, and Virgin Galactic’s plan to send citizen astronauts to the edge of space. Virgin head Richard Branson has said this is the year that will happen. In anticipation of the uber-rich coming to Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces in the days before and after their flights, the communities have had customer service seminars and classes for businesses and servers who will interact with the high-level tourists. When I first heard of this, I thought it is easier to see Madonna in space than to imagine out-of-this-world customer service from folks in southern New Mexico. That’s not to slight our people; southern New Mexicans are the most genuine and friendly people I’ve ever encountered. And I grew up in hyper-friendly Oklahoma. The thing is, we’re not often exposed to the amazing benefits and value of over-the-top cus-

tomer service. If you’ve spent any time in Santa Fe, which for generations has attracted millionaire and billionaire tourists from all over the world, you’ve recognized the difference between customer service there versus here. Our customer service is not necessarily bad, just underdeveloped. I started watching “Breaking Bad” at the start of this year’s New Mexico Legislative Session. I’ve been to Santa Fe three times during the session, and there has been a lot of talk and optimism about Spaceport America, both in and out of the Roundhouse. That talk, combined with receiving great customer service in Santa Fe, and watching “Breaking Bad,” led me to an unexpected conclusion. There are some solid business and customer service lessons to be had from watching “Breaking Bad.” I’m crazy, you say? Attempting to find valid tips from criminals? Well, here’s what passes for customer service in 2019. You walk into the restaurant. It’s windy and there are loud trucks and cars near the door when you open it. As you walk in, you vaguely hear some yelling, but can’t make it out. Then, as you go through the food line, and the server is about to ask you if you want something else, she yells right in your face, “Welcome to Panda Express!” Then she goes right back to ringing up your order. Other stores do this obviously corporate-mandated routine that serves only to confuse and annoy. So next time someone yells “Welcome to Walgreens!” it might be fun to yell back, “Oh dang! I thought I was at CVS!” and walk out. There is plenty of yelling in “Breaking Bad” too but see what you think of these lessons. Lesson one: Focus on the quality of your product or service. White brought learned insight to the chemistry of methamphetamine, and insisted on using good ingredients and equipment. Turns out doing things the right way creates a quality product customers love. Lesson two: Attention to detail. There’s one entire episode of White and his partner trying to catch a fly in the lab,

By the Book “Breaking Bad: The Official Book” — the ultimate official guide to the show — covers the evolution of “Breaking Bad” from the pilot to the final episode and beyond. The book is filled with insider secrets about the making of the show and the meanings behind its iconography, as well a complete Breaking Bad timeline; indepth looks at the series’ groundbreaking cinematography, music and special effects; exclusive interviews with creator Vince Gilligan; and new text from editor David Thomson.

to prevent contamination. The fly would not have made a difference, especially to the end users of the product. Still, the attitude of getting things right is an important habit for serving customers and taking care of people. Lesson three: Work together toward the same goal. During the series, every time business partners and/or family members tried to go out on their own, bad things happened. In the world of customer service, the bad things don’t likely include violent death, but they could include the loss of critical business. Lesson four: Rely on experts. Whether it was drug distribution, drug making, money laundering or “fixing” problems, things went better when the characters used experts to take care of situations. When an amateur tried to solve an unfamiliar issue, it usually went badly. Lesson five: Know your competition. Understanding what the other guy is doing can help you do your business better and, in “Breaking Bad,” it could keep you alive. Lesson six: Express love in your work. Constantly during the show, business partners and family members would clash and argue. Inevitably, though, they would come back together and accomplish things as one.

Whenever a character was not completely straightforward or honest, that behavior eventually created additional, often dangerous, problems. Most important, when characters offered encouragement, and reminded the other of their unique skills, things got better. Now, mind you, I’m only partway through Season Four. The wheels might fall off in the next two seasons and render moot everything I’ve just written. Please, don’t give me any spoilers.

Richard Coltharp, publisher of the Las Cruces Bulletin, is by no means encouraging anyone to make, sell or use methamphetamine. But he is a big fan of the 1970s rock group Badfinger, whose song “Baby Blue” was the closing song on the final episode of “Breaking Bad.” He can be reached at



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