How to Create the Best Customer Experience with Dr. Joseph Michelli

Exclusive Interview with: Joseph Michelli

Psychologist and customer experience expert, Dr. Joseph Michelli helps companies and organizations define their legacy. Michelli works with leaders and frontline employees alike to find joy in every aspect of their daily lives while consistently delivering an uncommon experience that strengthens customer loyalty and drives up profits. He is the Wall Street Journal and New York Times number one bestselling author of seven books, including Leading the Starbucks Way, The Zappos Experience, and his most recent work, Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way.

A brand’s personality must emerge in the perception of customers when they are surveyed or spontaneously share their perceptions/reviews socially.

SPEAKING.COM: How can companies find a balance between being unique and fitting in?

MICHELLI: I describe this as the inward/outward journey. To be a company that is unique enough to stand out from competitors yet still conform enough to be viewed as a credible supplier of products or service, business owners and leaders must do authentic introspection and diligent outward market assessments.

Much of this work is done to define brand characteristics and involves questions like what unique history, qualifications, and qualities can you lay claim to in the marketplace? What are the “must haves” in your industry that represents needed “sameness?” While this process is essential at start-up, it needs to be reviewed frequently in accord with a changing business landscape, shifting customer wants/needs/desires, and evolving business strengths.

Furthermore, that defined brand personality must shine through, not only in marketing and advertising but also in the operational execution of branded customer experience. To put a final point on it, a brand’s personality must emerge in the perception of customers when they are surveyed or spontaneously share their perceptions/reviews socially.

SPEAKING.COM: What drives customer loyalty today?

MICHELLI: There are three key elements to customer loyalty. The ability to meet customers’ stated needs, the ability to reduce customer effort, and the ability to make the customer’s journey pleasurable at high-value interactions. That pleasurable component comes in many forms such as anticipating unstated needs, demonstrating deep care and concern, or even expressing authentic gratitude for their patronage.

SPEAKING.COM: What are the leadership behaviors needed to inspire customer and employee loyalty?

MICHELLI: Leaders who create world-class human experience businesses (companies where both employees and customers are highly emotionally engaged and loyal) demonstrate a number of competencies. For example, they clearly and passionately articulate a vision for human experience excellence. They actively listen to assure their people and their customers are understood. They express empathy – connecting with the emotional experiences of those they serve and lead. They coach for operational excellence and team member growth. They monitor human performance to assure consistent delivery of customer value at every interaction every time. They encourage “design thinking” to guide improvements nimbly and iteratively. They also model care, compassion, accountability, and service behaviors at every turn!

SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the biggest errors businesses make when it comes to the customer experience?

MICHELLI: There are a lot of them. Everything from thinking customer experience is an “initiative,” not a strategy, all the way to attempting to overreach when it comes to enterprise-wide change efforts.

I consult with both large and small organizations. Normally the biggest underlying problems are a failure to make a compelling case for change, failure to define what customer success will look like, not knowing how or when to seek customer feedback, inability to act on customer feedback, and holding a death grip on legacy processes and technologies that ease business operations but produce nightmares for customers. Fortunately, every one of these errors is fixable with guidance and a long-term commitment to success.

Making profits in ways that don’t profit the customer is a sure way to “make a customer go away!”

SPEAKING.COM: What is “bad profit?”

MICHELLI: It is profit made without producing commensurate customer value. The “late return fees” charged by the former video rental giant Blockbuster is a good example of bad profit. Blockbuster itself is an example of where “bad profit” will take you over the long haul.

Other examples of bad profit include hidden fees, money made from underutilization by a customer (i.e., a customer pays for a certain volume of cellular minutes but consistently doesn’t use them, and the company sits back and reaps that revenue as opposed to right-sizing the customer’s plan). I am paraphrasing the great leadership consultant Peter Drucker who essentially said we aren’t in business to make a profit; we are in business to “make a customer.” Making profits in ways that don’t profit the customer is a sure way to “make a customer go away!”

SPEAKING.COM: What are some factors that companies need to consider when incorporating technology into the customer experience?

MICHELLI: Technology should serve your customer experience strategy and not be a strategy unto itself. I have worked with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and have written about them in my book The New Gold Standard. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company’s customer experience strategy is based on delivering high-touch, sensory-elevating, human-powered and refined hospitality. The role of technology for Ritz-Carlton is largely in the infrastructure that enables staff to readily know the preferences of the customers (i.e., Ritz-Carlton has a sophisticated customer experience management system which they refer to as Mystique). Much of their technology is hidden from direct customer contact.

Conversely, a brand like Starbucks (a company I’ve worked with and written two books about, The Starbucks Experience and Leading the Starbucks Way) blends technology with human customer interactions. The human interactions function to build human connections between store partners and customers while the technology seeks to mobilize that connection, expedite ordering/payment/pick-up and facilitate social/mobile dialogue.

Undoubtedly well-placed technologies enhance customer experience (particularly by making it easier and faster for customers to get their needs met) but technology is not a panacea for customer experience greatness. It is a set of tools and, as such, the right technology tool must be applied in the right circumstance aligned to the goals of the project – which in business terms means the overarching customer experience objectives.

Paint a picture of what greatness could look like. Use “what if we could…” type statements to draw people into your vision for the future.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some actions leaders can take to make employees feel that they are part of something great?

MICHELLI: Include them in the creation of that “great” thing.

Paint a picture of what greatness could look like. Use “what if we could…” type statements to draw people into your vision for the future. Ask people to think about the impact of achieving that “great” future state – specifically the impact on the people they serve, the impact on themselves, and the impact on the longevity and success of the business. Give them opportunities to share insights on how collectively you might make that future state a reality. Carefully and respectfully listen to that feedback and support rapid prototyping of ideas that will likely move the organization in the direction of that shared vision.

Finally, celebrate the victories and gracefully learn from the shortcomings. I’ve seen these approaches succeed time and time again!

SPEAKING.COM: What can companies who are trying to stage a turnaround do to erase negative customer perceptions of their brand?

MICHELLI: Listen to the perceptions, fix the root cause problems, and come back to the consumer admitting the problem – asking for the chance to win back their business.

Domino’s Pizza has done a fabulous job with this. They knew from their consumer research that they had problems with the taste profile of their core product. They took that customer feedback, activated their culinary team, tested the improvements in focus groups, came back to consumers telling the honest story of their journey, and asked for the chance to re-engage those lost customers. That approach was a crown jewel in the brand’s successful turnaround strategy.

SPEAKING.COM: Most of your business books focus on practices at specific companies. How do you choose the organizations you profile?

MICHELLI: I am a lead business author for McGraw-Hill and my editor, and I have deployed three filters when vetting new book projects: 1) Global Footprint, 2) Commitment to Employee Care, and 3) Dedication to Customer Experience Excellence. Since McGraw-Hill publishes internationally and my books get picked-up in many languages, so the global impact of a brand is important to us.

The second and third filters are “musts”. I wouldn’t write about a brand that is obsessed with customers at the expense of employee care. Frankly, I wouldn’t view that type of brand as sustainable. Conversely, I think there is more to business than simply making the lives of employees great. We should treat employees well AND empower/encourage them to do the same for customers who entrust a company to serve them.

SPEAKING.COM: Aside from the organizations you’ve already written about what companies stand out in your mind when it comes to delivering customer excellence?

MICHELLI: There are many like Amazon, USAA, Apple, Publix, Wegmans, Nordstrom, Virgin, and Disney. Did I mention the team at and my team at The Michelli Experience?

To bring customer service speaker Dr. Joseph Michelli to your organization, please contact Michael Frick at:

©, published on June 17, 2018

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