By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
As a magazine publisher and editor, I receive frequent pitches from publicists wanting me to read (and hopefully review) their client’s book. Of course, they are all too happy to mail me a free copy – and sometimes the books just show up unannounced. Since I like to read, their offer is an enticing one, if it were not for the sizable stack of books already patiently awaiting my attention. As such, I sagely, albeit sadly, decline their generous offer to add to my library.
I don’t recall the details surrounding the arrival of Barbara Burke’s book, The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey, but arrive it did. However, in the midst of too much to do, it was unceremoniously relegated to my pile of “books to read” with full knowledge that it may never receive more than a cursory glance. Soon it was buried by other books that I deemed more worthy of my attention. Before long, it was forgotten.
But then one Saturday, I found myself parked in front of my computer monitor. My presence was required as tech support worked remotely to resolve a vexing computer issue. I needed to keep an eye on the monitor in case they texted me a question or asked me to reboot. Wanting to make the most of my time, I sought a short book with easy-to-read chapters with which to aptly occupy myself between occasional glances at the computer screen. A couple of hours later, my computer issue was still not finished, but the book was.
Promoted as “a customer service fable,” The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey is ambitiously subtitled: How to Be Happy and Successful at Work and in Life by Simply Changing Your Mind. Let me confirm that I believe it lives up to its grandiose intention.
The inside back cover notes that author “Barbara Burke is an internationally known consultant, speaker, and author who specializes in the ‘people side’ of customer service management.” Now, books about customer service tend to be generic in nature and must be tweaked to fit call center realties. However, The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey is all about call center life and, as such, it resonated with me greatly. Additionally, its lessons can also be readily applied to all customer service situations, as well as to life in general.
Reminiscent of the classic The One Minute Manager, this fable follows the vocational pursuits of Olivia, a harried customer service representative – that is, a call center agent – working for the local utility. Starting her position with much excitement and expectation, it isn’t long before the crush of complaint calls and barbs from angry customers brings her to her breaking point.
It is then when wise Isabel, an insightful veteran of the team, comes to Olivia’s rescue. With one simple piece of advice, Isabel changes Olivia’s job outlook and career trajectory. This, however, is not the only interaction between mentor and mentee, but the first of many such exchanges. Along the way, Olivia records twenty-two “aha!” moments, which have broad applications for call center work, customer service efforts, and life itself.
In case you’re wondering how a napkin, a melon, and a monkey fit into this, let me assure you that they do, serving as apt metaphors for three key points and reoccurring themes in the book. But don’t take my word for it – read The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey yourself… and then share it with your call center. It just might make all the difference.
[From Connection Magazine – March 2011]
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.