Burn Notice offers customer service lessons

Sometimes fiction can offer useful lessons for the real world. For example, one of my favorite TV shows, Burn Notice, seems to operate with some useful principles that transfer nicely to the world of customer service.

1. Help people

Every episode is about the star, Michael Westen, and his pals helping someone who needs help. The “projects” are always dangerous. They’re often frustrating. Rarely are they something Michael wants to do. Yet he always finds a reason to help. This is good because typically his “clients” have nowhere else to go for help.

2. Don’t judge your customers

Michael’s clients are often people you’d rather not spend a lot of time with. Some are criminals. Some just have really bad luck. And most are stuck in a bad situation they got themselves into.

But Michael and his pals rarely judge them. They might get irritated and even angry sometimes. But they always help them. They always do the best they can for their clients.

3. Relationships are most important

By now Michael Westen would be dead a hundred times over if not for his good friends, Sam and Fiona. They have bailed him out many times. So have Michael’s mom and brother. And of course Michael has returned the favor. They all work together and they stick together. They take care of each other. Because relationships are most important.

4. Be intentional

One thing I enjoy about Burn Notice is the ongoing narrative by the main character. He is constantly explaining what he’s doing and why. Almost everything thing he does is well thought out. He has a good reason for everything he does.

5. Sometimes you have to do things you don’t like

It’s a rare show when Michael takes on a job that he really looks forward to. And even if he enjoys what he does, there are many things he does that are unsavory.  In one episode, he had to ask his mom to sacrifice a friend’s job to save the life of a client. Not an easy choice.

6. Don’t kill anyone unless it’s absolutely necessary

For a super-spy, Michael Westen has a big heart. He does not enjoy killing and he avoids it whenever possible. He usually goes to great lengths to make sure innocent people do not get hurt.

The lesson here is stick to your values. Know what your guiding principles are and do not sway from them. Letting your values drive your actions helps you stay consistent. And it leads to better quality work, which usually serves customers better. It’s what keeps people coming back because they learn they can rely on you.


“If I even hear of you back in Miami, I’ll kill you myself! Have a safe flight!”

-Michael Westen, Burn Notice

The article was written by Kevin Stirtz