page title icon Neal Topf

108: Neal Topf: For 365 days I was miserable and I left

Neal Topf Show Notes

Neal Topf got his first job in New York City at the age of twenty-five in a large direct marketing agency. The boss that had hired him was wonderful during his interview, so Neal was excited to get going. But this same boss turned into Neal’s nightmare. She made his life so miserable that if he met her today he would hug her and thank her. Listen and learn why Neal is so grateful.

Neal is a proud native Washingtonian (Washington DC), having grown up in one of the most diverse and exciting cities where a kid can grow up.

Neal graduated from the prestigious Sidwell Friends School where he underachieved and failed math, among some of the brightest and most capable students in Washington DC. The lesson of underachieving at a young age among young overachievers has always motivated Neal to excel, give maximum effort, and strive for the highest quality possible in everything he does. As a practitioner and colleague. In his work life. And as a parent and friend in his personal life.

Neal has combined unique skills and interests in Spanish language, Latin America, technology, telecommunications, direct marketing, and more recently, customer care in his role as Co-Founder and CEO of Callzilla.

The outsourced contact center provides customer-experience focused solutions to companies throughout the US. Neal is proud that Callzilla has earned a reputation for high quality and for its execution. Like a well-oiled machine or a football team offense that executes a play to perfection, Neal’s greatest achievement is running a business that competes hard, grows, and evolves in one of the most competitive industries on the planet.

Neal currently resides in Weston, Florida, one of the greatest small cities in the US. His true passions are his family – his beautiful wife Marcela, a therapist, and their young son Jacob and the Washington Redskins football team.

One day, Neal hopes to be a full time writer, journalist, world-traveler, foodie, and cheerleader for the underdogs of the world.

Tweetable Quotes and Mentions

Listen to @NealTopf to get over the hump on the @FastLeaderShow Click to Tweet

“Our business is to serve customers and that is not an inexpensive business.” -Neal Topf Click to Tweet

“If we perform and exceed expectations, we add value.” -Neal Topf Click to Tweet 

“We have greater technology and insights and yet satisfaction levels continue to plummet.” -Neal Topf Click to Tweet 

“Try to understand human behavior and what makes people satisfied.” -Neal Topf Click to Tweet 

“If we have the ability to provide wow moments, let’s do that.” -Neal Topf Click to Tweet 

“Wow moments translate into incredible things dollars and cents wise.” -Neal Topf Click to Tweet 

“We have the ability to leave our thumbprints on people’s lives.” -Neal Topf Click to Tweet 

“It comes down to simple blocking and tackling to provide customer satisfaction.” -Neal Topf Click to Tweet 

“It’s not about what I know, it’s about what my team members know.” -Neal Topf Click to Tweet 

“Today kids do not compete locally, they compete with kids globally.” -Neal Topf Click to Tweet 

Hump to Get Over

Neal Topf got his first job in New York City at the age of twenty-five in a large direct marketing agency. The boss that had hired him was wonderful during his interview, so Neal was excited to get going. But this same boss turned into Neal’s nightmare. She made his life so miserable that if he met her today he would hug her and thank her. Listen and learn why Neal is so grateful.

Advice for others

Reduce the complexity of serving customer to the basics of blocking and tackling.

Holding him back from being an even better leader

Patience. I wish I was more patient.

Best Leadership Advice Received

Lead like you would like to be treated.

Secret to Success

The size of the fight in the dog.

Best tools that helps in Business or Life

Feistiness. You’ve got to fight for what you are given.

Recommended Reading

Outliers: The Story of Success

Contacting Neal

Email: ntopf [at]





Resources and Show Mentions

54 Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Competencies List: Emotional Intelligence has proven to be the right kind of intelligence to have if you want to move onward and upward faster. Get your free list today.


Show Transcript: 

[expand title=”Click to access edited transcript”]

108: Neal Topf: For 365 days I was miserable and I left


Intro Welcome to the Fast Leader Podcast, where we explore convenient yet effective shortcuts that will help you get ahead and move forward faster by becoming a better leader. And now here’s your host, customer and employee engagement expert and certified emotional intelligence practitioner, Jim Rembach.


Need a powerful and entertaining way to ignite your next conference, retreat or team-building session? My keynote don’t include magic but they do have the power to help your attendees take a leap forward by putting emotional intelligence into their employee engagement, customer engagement and customer centric leadership practices. So bring the infotainment creativity the Fast Leader show to your next event and I’ll help your attendees get over the hump now. Go to to learn more.


Jim Rembach:    Okay, Fast Leader Legion, today I’m excited because I have somebody on the show who I think has a great perspective on some of the things that we can do in the contact center industry to create better customer experiences. Neil Topf is a proud native Washingtonian having grown up in one of the most diverse exciting cities where a kid can grow up. Neil graduated from this prestigious Sidwell Friends School where he underachieved and failed math among some of the brightest and most capable students in Washington D.C. The lesson of underachieving at a young age among a young overachievers has always motivated Neil to excel, give maximum effort and strive for the highest quality possible in everything he does. As a practitioner and colleague in his work life as a parent and a friend in his personal life.


Neil has combined unique skills and interests in Spanish language, Latin America, technology, telecommunications, direct marketing and more recently customer care in his role as the co-founder and CEO of Callzilla, the outsourced contact center provides customer experience focus solutions to companies throughout the U.S. Neil is proud that Callzilla has earned a reputation for high quality for its execution like a well-oiled machine or a football team often that executes a play to perfection Niels greatest achievement is running a business that competes hard, grows, and evolves in one of the most competitive industries on the planet. 


Neil currently resides in Weston, Florida one of the greatest small cities in the US. His true passions are his family his, beautiful wife Marcela and their young son Jacob and the Washington Redskins football team, I won’t hold that against him. One day Neil hopes to be a full-time writer, journalist, world traveler, foodie and cheerleader for the underdogs of the world. Neal Topf, are you ready to help us get over the hump?


Neal Topf:    I’m ready we’re saving customers, one, were seeing customers throughout the world, one customer interaction at a time. Thank you, Jim for having me I’m really excited to be here.


Jim Rembach:    I’m glad you’re here too. Now I’ve give our listeners a little bit about you but can you tell us what your current passion is so that we can get to know you even better?


Neal Topf:    So, as indicated in the stuff you just read, my true passion where I really live, eat, breathe, and sleep all day long my hobbies are my family. My four-year-old son Jacob my beautiful wife—everything I do is for them, try to provide for them, provide a comfortable environment, work hard eventually so I can play hard and spend time with them at home. On the work front, what I do is offer contact center solutions to US companies that has become my passion. Most people get into our space never think that, oh well I want to grow up and be a contact center leader. I certainly never thought that when I got into this space I ask myself all the time, why the heck did I get into this? But ultimately at the end of the day I am thrilled that I do this. I have passion for it. I love helping customers and I love helping brands help their customers. 


Jim Rembach:    Thanks for sharing that. There are several things when you were explaining your passion your reasoning,   for me I guess reclaimed in my personal life as well as my professional life and that is that piece around caring and trying to help people. And when I think about this particular industry that were in whether it’s customer care, customer experience, and even leadership and so when you think about the Fast Leader Show, I kind of pull those three things together and focus on customer centric leadership is that—what better place that we can be in and the one that is really trying to help humanity? I mean it’s just amazing to me how we get to share that common bond with so many people throughout the entire world. And I think you’re one of those people who helps to share that in a lot of different ways. So, if you were to say the competitive aspects of outsourcing, you had mentioned that, as well as I know margins they’re so tough because people are often getting beat up for the pennies. How do you combat not getting or accepting or going after a particular client that’s only going to beat you up for a penny? 


Neal Topf:    It’s a great question and it’s something we try to not only preach but actually practice in our day-to-day activities. Are world is super competitive, there’s contact centers all over, there’s a global business, technology is becoming more and more accessible barriers to entry the technology basically dropped and in some cases eliminated. Anyone can open up a call center whether it’s in Karachi, Pakistan, somewhere in Africa and Egypt and the Middle East anywhere and you are on shore in the US or another part of the world nearshore in Latin America. What makes the difference and gives us the ability to continue to survive and exist and actually thrive, two things: one is, if this is very much a relationship business it’s how you as a company serve your clients, how you prove to them time after time that you’re there through thick and thin, good, bad, the ugly, triumphs, defeats, we look at this as not a sprint it’s a marathon but throughout America and if you prove to your clients that you’re there that you’re there and you support them,  you have ideas, you provide feedback to them ultimately that provides more credibility and switching costs to move away from a company like ours become greater and greater to point that it becomes unattractive to switch. 


You’re absolutely right it’s a game of low margins there’s always going to be other competitor that undercuts us, that finds out one way or another our pricing or find a different way to compete price-wise my preference even though we compete in a very cost attractive marketplace in Latin America we never tried to compete on price. I get that question, you’re operation is based in Colombia does it cost pennies on the dollar, and my response is no. Our business is to serve customers that is an inexpensive business and we look at this pennies on the dollar. You will not treat your customers and those relationships and the customers like on value as just pennies on the dollar and that’s wrong, that’s the wrong way to look at this. So, what we always know is that if we perform, if we fulfill and hopefully exceed the expectations as far as metrics C SAT scores, QA scores, we’re continuously active in our training approach, we’re providing quality to feedback for our clients, we create stickiness and really actually add value rather than just being a dollars in sense game. 


Jim Rembach:    I know that when you start thinking about the entire gambit of this particular industry and you mentioned really that with all these cloud-based systems now that basically I could set up my own call center in less than five minutes and start going ahead and taking calls for customers, it’s just amazing how things have evolved. For me when I had the big rock well switch that took up several hundred square feet in a particular room and needed all these kind of fans and coolers we have battery backups and this green bar paper that would print out about ten inches deep, for our ACD reports, it’s just amazing how it’s evolved. But you and I were chatting about something that—sometimes it’s almost embarrassing where a particular report came out that said like we have the lowest satisfaction scores in contact centers in the past nine years, in a recent report that just came out, and it’s embarrassing. And you had mentioned something to me that was quite profound, I wonder if you could share that with our listeners. 


Neal Topf:    Sure. A lot of people come in as we have greater technology. Technology has become less and less expensive it’s more accessible, we have more communication channels and we know what to do with, there are more contact centers and we know what to do with it throughout the world, they are cheaper and cheaper to operate as you just alluded and yet—and by the way we have more and more data and access to data so we have the ability to know and understand and actually predict what our customers want, say, believe, feel, desire, etc. and yet were doing them a total disservice and the satisfaction levels and resolution have just plummeted and they continue to plummet, it’s an embarrassment. You’re right and I think as you said in our pre-session chat is, if you can do something through this podcast, and what you’re doing here is incredible, if you can do something to help alleviate that and contribute to stem the tide and reverse things that philosophy that’s the way we look at this as well. I was telling my team we’re not saving lives here, we’re not creating the cure to cancer, what we’re doing is we’re helping customers and if we reduce that into its essence and try to understand human behavior, try to understand what makes people tick, what makes them happy, what makes them satisfied, if we have the ability on a one-off basis to provide well moments, let’s do that. Because it’s well moments translate into incredible things dollars-and-cents wise in lifetime values and just overall emotions and customer satisfaction. We have the ability to do that, we have the ability to leave our thumb prints or fingerprints on people’s lives and their purchase patterns and their behaviors, why not take advantage of that? But you’re right and as an industry we’re doing a total disservice to ourselves and the industry and of course to customers and the brands. 


Jim Rembach:    Well and I think we probably have hit on a lot of some of those reasons just through our dialogue here in just a few minutes. But it’s not about technology yet we often hear that, oh well it’s because you don’t have multi-channel. You’re not OmniChannel focused or you’re not workforce optimization, all these things get thrown at and you think that all I need to do is just do a plug-and-play thing. But that is an it, so for you, and you talked about many of those things right here, if you’re to boil it down what are the one or two things that you say,  really this is going to turn the tide. 


Neal Topf:    I love this question. When I’ve been asked to speak or my presentations or write articles to post in our industry I always come back to this phrase, there is no call center or contact center easy button. Easy button doesn’t exist, we all wish there was one or multiple version, it doesn’t exist. It all comes down to come down to a nice sorry and use a football analogy, it comes down to a simple blocking and tackling. If you know how to block and tackle you, if you know how to do the essential basic most fundamental tasks of listening, interacting with customers,  speaking with him, knowing when to not talk and listen. If you let it boil down to that and use the tools at your disposal, hopefully the agents, frontline employees are empowered, if you can do that the experiences that we are able to provide are and can be optimal , we can provide satisfaction, we can provide resolution, but it goes down to simple blocking and tackling. If our reps and frontline employees are not trained correctly, if they don’t understand the goals, didn’t understand objectives, if they’re not trained and taught how to achieve certain functions and objectives, forget about it. The blocking and tackling is never going to happen how we are we going to get into complex interactions if we can’t handle the most basic which is hopefully provide this optimal and satisfactory experience, and it boil down to that. The old KISS—Keep it simple, silly or stupid—some people say I like to look it like that, keep it simple. There is no easy button but rely on the basic tools at our disposal to do our jobs. 


Jim Rembach:    I love the way that you share that. For me, when I started thinking about you taking it down to those really human fundamentals is that we often don’t focus on those things in the contact center because we whip by the KPI, Hey RASA—hey, your call length, hey your total average handle time,  hey—none of those things are associated with me listening better, me saying things that are going to connect at a deeper level that are going to get to resolution really faster and uncover the important insights that we have we need to do more of that blocking and tackling, I totally agree. So, hopefully we need to teach American football throughout the entire world. 


Neal Topf:    Amen. 


Jim Rembach:    What we’re talking about here and I think hopefully people are actually kind of hearing this, you and I are both very passionate about this. And in the show we talked about quotes because they give us passion. Is there a quote or two that you can share that does that for you?

Neal Topf:    Sure there’s two of them and they always—so I’m going to come back to football again. In fifth and sixth grade I played football, we had a very tough kind of hard minded coach, he instilled that fear, it was a type of leadership that wasn’t necessarily the best but for me it works and it resonated as a fifth grader and still resonates today and that Coach, Coach Eddie told us it’s not the size of the dog in the fight it’s the size of the fight in the dog. And you know as a fifth and sixth grade you’re not really sure what the heck that means but it stuck with me. And a company like ours which is privately held it’s an independent company, we’re not part of a massive global conglomerate that has a footprint in every major countries throughout the world, it’s hard for a company like ours to compete, but how do we compete? We compete through our spirits, through our hunger, through our desire to achieve objectives and provide all the types of service that we just talked about. But the underlying thing and what I look for my team members is that passion that hunger, that fight in the dog, that’s going to allow us to compete. 


What I think I’ve been able to do successfully over the years is be able to identify in my team members and the leaders of my team people that also have that fight or have the ability to cultivate that fight and I will go to battle and go on the football field and do blocking and tackling with my team members any day of the week because those are team members that have that fight. The other I heard today on local sports radio a football coach at high school level is something like as meet the coach it’s not about what I know it’s about what my players know. I like that it resonated with me because one thing what I do here in the quorum court CEO suite but really who cares that’s not what’s going to make us be able to operate and execute its what the team members know and understand and how they operate on behalf of our clients and solve our  customers problems. Again football quotes, I like them, football is a great metaphor for life. If they don’t like football sports, sorry, but for me do they work and they’re a great value for me. 


Jim Rembach:    And so when you think about the passion, being in this tough industry, how you even got to this point there’s a lot of humps that we have to get over and they really do a lot for us in making us wiser. Can you share a time or a story that you had to get over the hump and it made a difference for you?


Neal Topf:    So, I remember one time my first job in New York City. I was 25 years old and I had just come from a wonderful experience living abroad, I had made money, I felt I was successful as a successful you could be at 25. I got to this great job as in a big direct marketing agency in New York City, all excited to have my tie on my suit. And I get in there, nobody’s wearing a tie, nobody’s wearing a suit, it’s casual and the boss that had hired who was so wonderful to me during the interview that I was excited to work with, she became a nightmare, a nightmare. And you know what? I pointed a finger at her, I thought it was her she was making my life miserable she didn’t understand me, she didn’t know me, she didn’t know what I was capable and I was always good at doing this. For 365 days I was miserable and I left,  I finally have the context now to know and understand the lesson that she taught me of preparation, diligence, sometimes it’s important to have humility and even a little of being humiliated sometimes it’s important at a young age to feel that and gain perspective and honesty and sincerity and that preparation and organization on what you do. If it weren’t for that person who was just an awful boss I wouldn’t be here today. I don’t know where she is now, I try to find her on LinkedIn. I can’t find her. If I knew where she was I would thank, our group in ** and gave her a thank you note because she was wonderful. I had suffered but here I am. 


Jim Rembach:    Of course you raise the curiosity dial on this one. So, what happened? In your mind, how did she change? What were the things that she did that you’re like, wait a minute this isn’t the same person.


Neal Topf:    So, the great thing about her is once I started the job she didn’t change, she never revert back to that wonderful, nice, sweet, caring, engaging person that that I thought in my mind that she was. She continued to be strict. She was diligent. She reviewed my work. She checked my writing. She checked my task list, she made me accountable and I wasn’t used to that I wasn’t used to being accountable to someone called a boss or supervisor at that type of level and diligence and level of detail she made me accountable, men, I was miserable, I wasn’t prepared for it. I thought in my own mind with my own arrogance, I don’t need this I’m fine my written communication is great I went to college I studied political science I wrote papers for four years I know how to do all this stuff perfectly I don’t need tips and suggestions. As I say, you know, I needed it and it was a very hard lesson and dose of humility that I had to swallow during that one year period and fortunately for her she didn’t change I had to be the one that change and realize the lessons later on. 


Jim Rembach:    Thanks for sharing that. And I think you bring up a really interesting point that what we’re going to find is going to be repeated even more as we continue to go through this younger generation moving into the workforce. Everybody talks about—we get the participation trophies all we have to do is just show up and giving people feedback regardless of the tact or the method. But the fact of giving feedback at all some people just can’t handle it even if you’re doing it in the most genteel way that you possibly can. And so I think you and that lesson that you went through is—I’m trying to prepare my kids not to have that. So we took all those participation trophies and we stuck them in a box and put them in the attic. I don’t throw them away but I’m like, look, you just you just played, you guys didn’t do anything this doesn’t have as much meaning but now this one where you actually had this occur that has a little bit more meaning, doesn’t it? And I try to get them to say, well, yeah because I’m not building another shelf for participation trophies, you can forget that. 


Neal Topf:    You made me just think that while I was going through my story and listening to you, at that time I was about 25, I was I guess at that age what a millennial is today, interesting, this was just 20 years ago I had the same attitude then as a 25 year old as to probably what 25 year olds and around that age group have today, a sense of entitlement a sense of—yeah, you’re the ** back, you’re the participation trophy, I have the right to wear the tie and be respected—look my tie is really nice and my jackets great and my shoes are shiny, that doesn’t mean anything, that’s crap. Especially in a place like New York where one person is brighter and more capable and has accomplished more than the next person. And that humility, that humility was great I like what you’re saying and I agree with it. My four-year-old is about to start to understand from me and from my wife, hopefully from a parenting level those lessons—and yeah, he’s not going to get participation trophies I’m going to give him back I don’t want them. Can you participate? Absolutely. I want to participate and he’s going to fail along the way and you know, that’s okay. I want him to understand it’s okay to cry, we got to toughen up. There’s other kids in the room that are not crying and that are just as smart if not smarter and they’re going to put in harder work than you are and they’re going to outperform you and you’ve got to learn to compete, sink or swim. And by the way, like when you and I grew up the world wasn’t as global as it is today. We were competing with kids in our neighborhood in our city. Today kids are competing not only with the kids in the neighborhood in the city they’re competing with kids in other countries, in India, in China, in the Middle East, in Europe all across Europe, Africa, etc. that are just as bright if not brighter than us and they’re getting higher scores in their SAT’s and their G Math’s and all the same scores that we take as part of our standard process, we have to compete. 


Jim Rembach:    Yeah, and I think it goes back to what your quote was, it’s time to background full circle. The fight and that smaller dog, you want to say that smaller country or whatever, is much bigger and we have to really look at that and say, am I going to allow myself to get chewed up? And really it all starts with us. I know you got a lot of things going on. We talked about kind of our common goal and mission to turn this tide and provide better customer satisfaction as an industry and we’re trying to do that in our own little world. You talked about your young son Jacob and your wife and all of that, you got a lot of things going on. So, when you think about a goal, one of your goals, what would it be?


Neal Topf:    Concerning work, it’s to continue to grow our company. We have achieved a certain level of growth but we have so much more room to continue to expand, grow, execute. Hopefully, this year bring on a second site with greater number of workstations. We’ve just hired an EVP of sales, Ryan Romero, who I’m super excited about to get him integrated in our team. We’ve hired a new director of Human Resources, we get her integrated this first quarter. There’s more events to go to, more people to meet, more networking, more content to write and to share and people in networking to do. And so at work level, the world is our oyster. One thing I’m most specifically proud of is last year we achieve ISO 9001 quality certification. Every year we have to redo that certification, there a lot of work and prep going in behind the scenes to have that renewed by the end of first quarter this year and then achieve a second version of the 9001 certification. And then we’re working and preparing a year out for the 2700 version which really Brown IT and network security. They’re the things I’m super proud about at a work level. At home level, continue to grow my family some kind of emotional maturity, we’re raising our four-year-old and that’s an incredible journey and just have a lot of fun with that. And on more personal, I got to see my Washington Redskins get to the playoffs.


Jim Rembach:    Okay, we’ll be cutting that out, no just kidding. And the Fast Leader Legion wishes you the very best. Now before we move on let’s get a quick word from our sponsor. 


To be customer-centric in your contact center you need more than feedback you need performance management and trusted agent scorecards which is exactly what you’ll get with the award-winning External Quality Monitoring program from Customer Relationship Metrics. Get over the hums now by going to and getting a $7,500 rapid results package for free. 


Alright, here we go Fast Leader listeners it’s time for the Hump Day Hoedown. Okay, Neil, the Hump Day Hoedown is a part of our show where you give us good insights fast. So, I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us robust yet rapid responses that are going to help us move onward and upward faster, Neal Tofp, are you ready to hoedown? 


Neal Topf:    Let’s hoedown. 


Jim Rembach:    Alright. What do you think is holding you back from being an even better leader today?


Neal Topf:    I hate to repeat it, patience. I wish I was more patience. I’m not patience. 


Jim Rembach:    What do you think is the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?


Neal Topf:    Lead like you would like to be treated. 


Jim Rembach:    What is one of your secrets that you believe contributes to your success?


Neal Topf:    The size of the fight in the dog.


Jim Rembach:    What do you feel is one of your best tools that helps you lead in business or life?


Neal Topf:    Feistiness. I learned at an early you’ve got to be feisty. No one’s ever given you anything, you’ve got to fight for what you—what you are given you’ve got to earn it but you’ve got to fight and you have that interior fight. 


Jim Rembach:    What would be one book that you’d recommend to our listeners, it could be from any genre? 


Neal Topf:    Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. 


Jim Rembach:    Okay, Fast Leader listeners, you can find links to that and other bonus information from today’s show by going too Neal Topf. Okay Neal, this is my last hump day hoedown question: Imagine you were given the opportunity to go back to the age of 25 and you have been given the opportunity to take the knowledge and skills that you have now back with you but you can’t take everything you can only choose one, what skill or piece of knowledge would you take back with you and why?


Neal Topf:    It’s such a hard question. I would have focused more—remember we talked about that I failed Math, I was never a math student I was scared of math. You know what, I can be just as good at math as anybody else or the average person I would spend more time becoming more proficient and understanding math. It has been a limitation during certain parts of my career, give me more math. 


Jim Rembach:    Neal, it’s an honor to spend time with you today, can you please share the Fast Leader Legion how they can connect with you? 


Neal Topf:    On Twitter, it’s a great way I love Twitter @NealTopf, Facebook, of course LinkedIn, 


Jim Rembach:    Neal Topf, thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom the Fast Leader Legion honors you and thanks you for helping us get over the hump. Woot! Woot!


Thank you for joining me on the Fast Leader show today. For recaps, links from every show, special offers and access to download and subscribe, if you haven’t already, head on over the so we can help you move onward and upward faster.