November 2017
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Joseph's Blog

Want a Free Franchise? A Hypothetical with Real-World Implications

Let’s pretend I gave you a company. Awful nice of me right? Well, maybe not! The company is a chain of video stores. Remember those? If you are old enough to recall the video rental phenomena, the landscape for that industry was dominated by Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, but there were a panoply of local video providers as well – one in virtually every strip mall.

The VHS tape days rich with labels telling us to “be kind and rewind” gave way to the DVD movie distribution platform but the industry chugged along making “bad profit” plucking from the wallets of those of us who struggled to get our movies back in time – thus, incurring oppressive late fees.

So, thanks to my twisted sense of generosity, you have (for the sake of this blog) been gifted a chain of video stores (chock full of DVD movies). Your mission is to survive and thrive in the world of on-demand streaming video subscription-based options like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video. Impossible, right?

It is happening right before our eyes, and the secrets to this improbable tale of sustainability (in what many might call an antiquated product/delivery model) are:

  • Visionary financial stewardship
  • Extraordinary employee and customer care
  • An emotionally engaging in-store experience

The brand to which I am referring is Family Video Movie Club, a 775 store chain with locations across the US and Canada. Founded in Glenview, Illinois, Family Video stores are largely concentrated in the midwest. Since its inception in 1978, Family Video has consistently focused on its mission:

To be our customers first entertainment choice. We do this by providing a unique mix of great customer service and low prices. Customer service is our top priority.

Much has changed since 1978, so let’s look at the choices leaders at Family Video have made which have maintained the brand’s relevance and value despite technology shifts in movie consumption.

Visionary Financial Stewardship

One of the many competencies required of leadership is knowing where to invest a company’s finite resources. While some brands in the video rental world looked to lease more and more property to rapidly position themselves as THE national brand, leadership at Family Video grew more slowly and purchased the strip malls where it opened stores. Reinvesting profits in commercial development allowed Family Video to avert rising lease costs encountered by other video stores but it also created a revenue stream from other tenants such as Starbucks, Walgreens, and Subway.

While leaders at Family Video were investing in real estate, they were also investing in leadership development incentives. In fact, Family Video (whose umbrella company is named Highland Ventures, Ltd) provides payment for tuition and books to an accredited undergraduate four-year university/college for qualified children of eligible employees. That eligibility extends to leaders who have been with the company for five years in a position of District Manager or higher.

Extraordinary Employee and Customer Care

From the perspective of frontline talent development and customer service prioritization, Family Video emphasizes that they:

..hire friendly, intelligent, positive people, and then give them the ability to think and solve problems. World-class customer service isn’t the exception, it’s the expectation. Working in our stores isn’t a typical retail job. We don’t wear name tags and we don’t wear uniforms. We never ask a manager for permission to solve a customer problem. We solve it. We “wow” them. We run our stores fun and friendly and we always have.

An Emotionally Engaging In-store Experience

In addition to prioritizing employee empowerment and instant problem resolution, leaders at Family Video view the in-store shopping experience as an important “family outing.” Speaking on NBC’s Sunday Spotlight, Family Video’s president Keith Hoogland notes:

People forget the great days when you used to come with your kids, shop, and have an experience….I think that what is happening in the world is that all these electronics are separating you from society and I think that the pendulum is going to swing back to where people are looking to go the coffee shop, they are looking for their local grocery and they are looking for the local video business.

Beyond the opportunity to shop through the racks of video offerings, Family Video is serving up a local and relevant experience that celebrates children and academic performance through a program titled .

Family Video enables students from kindergarten through college to receive a free movie or game rental at Family Video for each final “A” grade or (equivalent mark) they achieve in a core subject on their year-end report card.

Bummer a Hypothetical?

So, I’m betting you are wishing that my hypothetical gift of a video chain was not hypothetical and that my offer was for Family Video. The good news is that each of us can learn from the wisdom of Family Video without having to survive a cataclysmic industry revolution.

What lessons will you take from leadership at Family Video?



Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli



{Infographic} What’s Your Signature? The Importance of Defining Brand Moments


Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

What’s Your Signature? The Importance of Defining Brand Moments

When I was asked to do a TEDx talk about a year ago, I keyed in on the message that your brand (be that your individual brand or your corporate brand) is little more than “what people say about you when you are not around.”

In keeping with that message, I am excited to be blogging about one of my favorite leadership brands – Ed Mady and to use Ed as an example of the importance of creating signature moments that frame those “out of earshot” conversations.

I am delighted to have known Ed for years and am honored (beyond words) that he listed me as a member of his trusted personal board of directors in a recent article for Hotels Magazine.

This week Ed Mady is being recognized as Hotelier of the World by Hotels Magazine at an awards ceremony at The Lotte New York Palace. Ed’s leadership for an extended run at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco and more recently at the Beverly Hills Hotel (a legendary property in the Dorchester Collection) has positioned him for this well-deserved honor. While I can go on and on about Ed’s visionary leadership, ability to inspire teams to greatness, top-drawer guest experience delivery and his ability to manage in a crisis, I want to talk about Ed Mady’s signed baseballs.

Ok, where is this going? I start by talking about your brand being what people say about you when we are not around; I mention a leader recognized as Hotelier of the World and pivot to signed baseballs.  Of all things for which Ed is known, “signature baseballs” is a substantial element of his brand.

As one might expect, Ed has hosted many A-list celebrities and legendary athletes over his storied career across America’s finest hotels. As a matter of course, Ed asks many of the people he encounters to sign a baseball for him. He always has an ample supply of baseballs on hand to seize opportunities for those signings. Here are just a few examples of Ed’s recent tweets.

Signatures on baseballs are a signature of Ed’s leadership and personal brand – do you have anything similar?

Branded Customer Experience

To bring this around to a discussion of branded customer experiences, I’ve been fortunate to work with many senior leaders at large companies like International Dairy Queen and smaller brands like Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh – as they’ve looked for ways to capture “signature moments” during the customer journey. At Dairy Queen, for example, one such moment was the handoff of a hugely popular product that has been around since 1985 – the Blizzard®.

With the movement of the wrist, a server at Dairy Queen can create a theatrical, and memorable moment that reinforces the richly, thick quality of a blizzard by simply flipping it upside down and back right side up. That gesture became a signature moment for blizzard delivery, and in 2016 it evolved into an “Upside Down or Free” campaign whereby you would receive your next blizzard for free – if your server failed to flip it at the handoff. That’s the power of customer experience design resulting in a “signature moment” that enhanced the Dairy Queen Fan Experience.

As I worked with Garbanzo’s first CEO Alon Mor and his team in the early days of their brand development, the focus was not on the product handoff but the arrival experience. Normally customers expect to step in line at a quick service restaurant (QSR) like Garbanzo and begin looking up at the menu board.

The first human interaction at a restaurant like Garbanzo normally involves ordering and a question like, “What can I get you today?” But immediately upon entering Garbanzo, the customer experience was designed to be disruptive with the unexpected question, “Would you like a falafel?” The typical customer responses to that question ranged from “What’s a falafel?”, “Is it free?”, or “Sure.” In any case, the arrival experience was memorable and a signature for the brand. One that supported brand attributes and contributed to Garbanzo’s store growth and regional expansion.

It’s All about the Moments

In their recent book The Power of Moments Chip and Dan Heath note:

What’s indisputable is that when we assess our experiences, we don’t average our minute-by-minute sensations. Rather, we tend to remember flagship moments: the peaks, the pits, and the transitions.

This is a critical lesson for anyone in service businesses from restaurants to medical clinics to call centers to spas – where success hinges on the customer experience.

Fortunately, Chip and Dan anchor their conclusions to sound memory research that resonates with the experiences I have had working with brands who have been able to differentiate at key experience moments with customers.

Back at You

So what are your “branded signature moments?” What memories do you give your customers to tweet about? or “How do you stand out from other service providers or leaders?”

Make it memorable, positively disrupt or do the unexpected – craft your signature!



Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli




{Infographic} Gratitude is a Customer Experience Differentiator


Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

Gratitude is a Customer Experience Differentiator

If you are a parent of young children, you probably reminded them of the importance of saying this on Halloween as they went off trick-or-treating. I also suspect your parents taught you that these are two of the three magic words. Yes, I am talking about saying, “Thank you.”

Beyond Social Skills – Words Matter

The practice of using words to acknowledge gratitude is clearly part of developing social courtesy but beyond the action of saying thank you, many leaders and service providers sadly have not mastered an attitude of gratitude.

In business (and more broadly in all aspects of life) the words THANK YOU are only as meaningful as the sincerity with which they are said. In fact, I work with consulting clients to look at the authenticity and impact of word choices across all aspects of their sales or service delivery. Often we strive to remove words which are simply filler or are said in a perfunctory manner.

For example, when a customer enters a retail store and a clerk asks, “How are you today?” What happens? Most customers know the question is little more than a universal greeting. Most clerks don’t really want a customer to honestly answer the question. Imagine a customer saying, “I’m not doing well because I just took my dog to the veterinarian and my sister was just diagnosed with lupus.”

Fortunately, most customers will deflect with a response of, “I’m fine.” In essence, the salesperson has started the customer relationship by asking a question where the customer knows to withhold the truth. How sad. The job of a retail team should be to welcome guests into a business, help customers navigate the store, enhance a customer’s shopping experience, assess their need, and yes demonstrate authentic gratitude for the customer spending time with and/or buying from them.

Gratitude at the Core

Lest I get further carried away with superfluous and vacuous greetings, let me get back to my core message about gratitude. It is easy to lose a sense of deep appreciation for the blessings we have in our lives. Difficult customers, the ease by which customers can access us through technology, and ever-increasing service demands can render anyone a bit frayed and negative at times.

My experience, however, is that leaders set the tone for an appreciative workplace. If you authentically appreciate your people (recognizing them for meaningful contributions) and value customers (thanking them for doing business with you), your people will often also understand the importance of gratitude in business.

Gratitude and Business

In her article titled How Gratitude Advances Marketing and Business, Cheryl Conner notes that business leaders should:

Go for gratitude first, and loyalty will follow. The emotional response that is most likely to drive loyal behavior, according to <strategy advisor Mark> Boncheck, is gratitude. By its definition, gratitude is a feeling of appreciation and an expression of that feeling through an overt and appropriate act. It is a reciprocal act by its very nature that can serve as the basis of a relationship beyond the transactional sale.

Cheryl also cites research on how customers want loyalty programs to reflect a brand’s gratitude:

A study by Kitewheel shows three-quarters of consumers believe loyalty programs are ways for brands to show their loyalty to consumers. But two-thirds of marketers view loyalty programs as a way for consumers to demonstrate their loyalty to brands.

Personal Benefits

Authentic gratitude also has great benefits for the people who work for us. Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, cites many studies on the benefits of gratitude on physical health and well-being:

In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).

Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.  The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions.  Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.

I have promoted the importance of joy journals since a book I wrote in 1998 titled Humor, Play, and Laughter. Similarly, I have encouraged gratefulness tools to steward a culture of gratitude.


Quite frankly it is easy for me to be grateful for my team and my clients and often I am overwhelmed by the opportunities I am afforded. For example, I write this from a true paradise on earth – The Jumby Bay Island Resort. I have been entrusted for years to work with leaders at this special place that delivers an elevated hospitality experience which consistently wins Conde Nast Readers’ Choice Award, TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award, and so many other travel honors.

I realize that not everyone is as fortunate but then again gratitude is a lot about looking for the joy, the blessings, the good news when many others might see bad.

What’s your good news? For what are you grateful? Your customers, your team, the opportunity to make a difference? Gratitude is reciprocal, and it is contagious. Spread it for your well-being and for the good of the people you are fortunate enough to be entrusted to serve.


Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

{Infographic} Small is the new Big: Customer Experience Excellence One Opportunity at a Time


Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

Small is the New Big: Customer Experience Excellence One Opportunity at a Time

His name is Adolpho Kamisky and though he is not someone I’d heard about in history classes, he truly is a larger than life hero of World War II. From my vantage point, Adolpho has a lot to teach us about the impact we can have on our team members and customers.

Beyond the Stereotype

When I typically think of a War II hero, I think of Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated combat soldiers from that conflict. On a more personal level, I can look on my bookshelf and see three purple hearts earned by my father, Joe Michelli, and reflect on the shrapnel my father carried perilously close to his spine ever since the Battle of Anzio.

Unlike heroes on the battlefield, Adolpho Kamisky never donned a uniform but instead used forgery – yes you read that right, forgery – to save the lives of tens of thousands of Jews living in France. His daughter Sarah Kaminsky richly shares Adolpho’s story in the book titled A Forger’s Life. For an abbreviated video version of Adolpho’s story, you can watch Sarah’s TED talk.

At it’s most concise level the story goes like this, Adolpho joined the French resistance at age 17. He mastered the art of forgery allowing Jewish men, women, and children to secure falsified “papers” (passports and identification cards) that hid their Jewish identity and allowed them safe passage out of France and away from concentration camps.

Adolpho’s Lessons for Employee and Customer Engagement

So as not to postpone the connection between Adolpho Kamisky and the engagement of your team members and customers any further, I was moved by a statement made by Sarah Kamisky concerning the impact of the actions taken by her father and other members of the French resistance. Sarah, during a recent 60 Minutes episode, said:

“What I like in the history is that a few people can make a difference in front of big armies.”

Similarly, a few people can make a great difference when it comes to helping a workplace or customer experience become more engaging. Moreover, a single person like Adolpho saved tens of thousands of lives through his actions and a single service professional can elevate the lives of tens of thousands of people across a career – one person at a time.

An Example of Lasting Impact from The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company

Since I’ve written a book about The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, The New Gold Standard, I am often introduced at keynotes by someone who shares a story about service excellence at a Ritz-Carlton property. Twice recently, I was introduced in the context of Joshie the giraffe. If you don’t know about the adventures of Joshie (a lost stuffed animal that was returned to the child who owned him, complete with pictures of Joshie’s escapades at the hotel when he was separated from his owner), you can check out an archived blog of mine titled Giraffes are ESSENTIAL to your customer experience!

To make my point, you must understand that the individuals who introduced me for these 2017 keynotes came from two very different industries and neither of them told me in advance that they were mentioning Joshie. These introductions occurred over 5 years from when I first wrote my blog about the stuffed giraffe, as I learned about Joshie from a tweet written by the father of Joshie’s owner – Chris Hurn.

A simple set of actions by a group of service professionals at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida continues to be shared with many audiences five years later. This example alone should be an inspiration to take small and collective actions to produce BIG results one customer or employee at a time. A person might never know how many people they’ve inspired or how far an inspirational story travels.

Great Experiences Don’t Need to Be Costly or Productivity Limiting

Not only do great results often come from small gestures, but customer experience excellence can be achieved without large expenditures or adverse impact on productivity. A recent article in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science written by a colleague of mine in Singapore – Professor Jochen Wirtz and his research partner Valarie Zethaml notes:

“While the general belief is that a tradeoff exists and that service excellence and cost effectiveness are in conflict, examples can be proffered where organizations achieve both and manage to align high productivity and customer satisfaction.”

So the moral of the story, thanks to Joshie and Adolpho, is inspire and drive the power of individual and small group acts for the betterment of humankind and customer experience excellence. Don’t confuse costly with successful when it comes to customer service delivery and appreciate that you can have engaged employees and customers while maintaining workplace productivity.

Based on my experience I’ve come to learn that in some situations all it takes to deliver extraordinary experiences is a willingness to listen to a customer, an authentic effort to make someone smile, a well-timed thank you given to a team member or a simple act of kindness. Each of these behaviors is small and low-cost yet capable of having a BIG and LASTING impact.

I admire Adolpho Kamisky for his courageous acts during World War II.  He is one of those people I wish I could thank and be in the presence of. I doubt I will ever have a sliver of the impact he has had through his selflessness. That said, I am committed to learn from his lessons and to look for the seemingly small actions I can take to make a difference for those I have the opportunity to serve. How about you, your teams, and your business?


Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

{Infographic} Where has all the loyalty gone? – Long time passing

Where Has All The Loyalty Gone?

“Where Has All The Loyalty Gone? – Long Time Passing”

sung to a Peter, Paul and Mary melody

A long, long time ago (20 years) in a galaxy far, far away (actually main street USA) customers were basically loyal to brands. For example, my father was a “Ford man” and ne’er a new model launch occur without us going to the showroom to kick those tires.

A Different Era

But today…it’s a very different story! Customer loyalty is at a premium and to the surprise of many that premium is not just for Millennials.

Shelagh Daly Miller, VP, Group Publisher for AARP Media Sales recently wrote a provocatively alarming article for Ad Age titled Is Brand Loyalty Dead? As you probably know AARP originally stood for the American Association of Retired Persons, and it is a membership group focused on issues of people in the US age 50 plus (a cohort usually thought of as loyalists).

According to Shelagh, hundreds of consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands have:

Lost 20% or more of their Boomer business, according to recent data from GfK MRI, and are now waking up to the fact that they need to reconnect with this enormous market segment.

Consumers over 50, control 51% of all consumer spending—and 70% of our country’s wealth. Marketers can make a huge impact on their bottom lines simply by re-engaging just a fraction of this demo.

The Erosion of Loyalty

So, what’s happened to turn a previously “loyal” consumer segment into a roaming hoard? More importantly, what can be done to reconnect with this powerful economic group? Shelagh identifies three factors that have contributed to the loyalty fracture:

  • The disruption of traditional categories. (She gives examples of Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and the proliferation of new products in the food category.)
  • The role of technology in the shopping experience. (Shelagh highlights a brand I’ve written about in my book The Zappos Experience, as well as their parent company Amazon.)
  • The readily available sharing of product opinions online. (This essentially means that Baby Boomers are reading a lot of product reviews – many of which are negative and being written by their children and grandchildren.)


Enough about how we got here, let’s look at Shelagh’s recommended solutions for re-establishing CPG loyalty before I add my thoughts on the opportunities ahead. According to Shelagh, there are three ways to regain the loyalty of Boomers:

  • Market to and sustain your focus on the lifecycle needs of Boomers. In essence, pay attention to the important moments encountered by a generation that often is taking care of the needs of aging parents and adult children.
  • Market across platforms. Boomers may be digital aliens (meaning they were born before the advent of smartphones and digital technology) but they are digitally savvy with smartphone penetration in excess of 73% for the segment.
  • Market with a positive message and build loyalty programs anchored to doing good in the world. Shelagh points out that Allure magazine moved away from the term “anti-aging” because of its negative connotations.

A Consultant’s View

Shelagh’s assessment of the decline of loyalty for the 50 plus segment resonates with my own experience as a consultant to leaders seeking to drive loyalty in their businesses. Her views on how to market to the 50 plus population are also extremely sound, and I’m sure linked to an inordinate amount of AARP membership data. From my vantage point, there are a few additional elements missing from the discussion of Boomer loyalty and customer loyalty more broadly.

  • Consumer packaged goods are uniquely challenging from a loyalty perspective and they are highly dependent on marketing. The data Shelagh cites concerning the loyalty churn of Boomers comes from research on products that typically sit on store shelves and for whom emotional connections are largely formed by marketing impressions and product interactions.
  • Most people want to be loyal. Irrespective of generational differences, people typically are creatures of habit. From an evolutionary standpoint, humans seek familiar, foundational, safe, beneficial, and pleasurable experiences. We may crave some variety, but we connect to those products and experiences that give us security and comfort.
  • Loyalty is typically the joinder of products and experiences. While loyalty with consumer product goods is highly dependent upon the products themselves, most customers churn from businesses not due to product limitations but because of the way they are treated during interactions.

We can forgive a favorite restaurant for an item that is not prepared correctly on a given day, if:

The staff acknowledge the problem,

apologize for the shortcoming,

fix the problem,

make a gesture to address our dissatisfaction, and

thank us for allowing them to make it right.

Never Assume Loyalty

I’ve never felt that any consumer group “will be loyal.” Loyalty is earned. It is the reaction of people who feel a business has authentically sought to personalize service to meet their needs, wants, and desires.

Any business who has taken Boomers for granted should get a wake-up call from Shelagh’s article. The rest of us should never fall asleep in the first place when it comes to giving people reasons to be loyal in this highly competitive, global economy.



Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

{Infographic} Lead People Not Technology



Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli