What Are the Next 10 Words? A #CustServ Lesson from The West Wing

On Monday, we posted What President Clinton Can Teach Us About Customer Service and now we’re writing about The West Wing. So, I guess it’s politics week here at CTS, and I have to say, it was totally unplanned.

Thank heavens for Sean McGinnis’ excellent customer service story yesterday; at least someone’s keeping the wheels on the wagon.

Now, onto our story…

The West Wing was always a favorite television show of mine, and one of my favorite clips is this scene where President Bartlett (Martin Sheen) takes on Governor Robert Ritchie (James Brolin) in a presidential debate. Prior to the debate, the show had spent a lot of time building up the idea of the President needing a 10 word answer — i.e. a pithy sound byte that summed up the topic.

Here is President Bartlett’s response, and buried in it, a lesson for receiving not only customer service advice but all manner of counsel in the digital age. (FYI. Everything after 1:15 in clip is extra. I could not find just the part I wanted.)



Regardless of the political issue being discussed in the clip, the point about ten word answers is dead on.

We live in a sound byte, sloganized, tweetchat driven world. 10 words… 140 characters… we promulgate and consume sound byte wisdom all day long.

And that’s great. I’m a fan of the quick slogan, the pithy saying, even the ever-ubiquitous quote card. Hey, we even wrote about our own term, Hero-ClassTM Customer Service, a few weeks ago.

The first 10 words can help motivate you, can help refocus your thinking, but they cannot help you accomplish anything.

  • Take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers.
  • Touch a customer’s heart and you touch their wallet.
  • A great customer experience is the best form of marketing.

Sounds good to me. But now what?

What are the next ten words? Then the next 10?

And more importantly, do the people you are listening to online know the answer?

It is easier to sound wise than to be wise, and it is easier to advise in poetry than to execute in prose.

Let the first ten words inspire you, but real growth, real change, comes from the words that follow.


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

    Find more about me on:
  • googleplus
  • facebook
  • linkedin
  • twitter
  • youtube
4 replies
  1. Davina K. Brewer
    Davina K. Brewer says:

    OMG how did I miss this?! It’s what I get for working and living and not having time to read blogs all day. First, loved the West Wing (the early seasons esp.). And second, WORD!!!!! It’s this – what comes next? ‘And, AND?’ is my favorite question sometimes.

    At least a few times a week some pundit will drop some deep sounding pith and I’m all, WTH does that even mean? But alas it’s RTd out the wahzoo. Wanna say the other day, a presentation made the rounds that was nothing but all these clever bon mots and I thought.. meat must be in the live audio b/c damn, nothing to see there. Sigh. FWIW.

    • Adam Toporek
      Adam Toporek says:

      I know the feeling Davina. Speaking of which… be by soon. 🙂

      Glad to meet another West Wing fan! What did you think of the final season with Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits? I actually thought they did a great job wrapping everything up, but I seem to be in the minority on that one.

      It’s tough, because the nature of the mediums we use now are so geared towards sound-byte driven material that the medium is shaping the message. As you point out though, sometimes it’s all you get and you have to wonder if there is anything else.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *