Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience

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Dr. Relly Nadler: This week we are going to be talking with Dr. Joseph Michelli who is an award-winning author, consultant and service guru. We will hear a lot about different organizations and companies and how they become great at service.

Dr. Michelli is an internationally sought-after speaker, organizational psychologist, and a business consultant who has been described as catching what is right in the world and playfully sparking people and businesses to grow towards the extraordinary.

In addition, Dr. Michelli writes best-selling books about enduring business principles which he will speak to us about today.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: We are really excited today to be talking with Dr. Michelli about a lot of customer service oriented management and leadership practices. Welcome Joseph.

Dr. Joseph Michelli: Hello Dr. Greenberg and Dr. Nadler.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Joseph we are going to zero in on some of these questions we have for you.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Dr. Michelli’s most recent book is about the leadership and service excellence of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, and it’s titled The New Gold Standard: Five Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience. I have the book right here in my hand and it’s a beautiful book. Dr. Michelli’s other recent books include The Starbuck’s Experience: Five Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary, which is also published by McGraw Hill and has consistently achieved best-seller status on the Wall Street Journal, Business Week Magazine, and USA Today Best Book List.

He’s been featured on television programs such as the Glen Beck Show and CNBC’s On the Money, and has conducted 100’s of radio and print interviews such as he is doing for us.

Dr. Michelli’s other books include When Fish Fly: Lessons For Creating a Vital and Energized Workplace which was coauthored with the owner of the world famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I know that the Fish Market in Seattle is supposed to be world famous and I’m actually going to a wedding this September so I hope you give me all the news that is fit to print so that when I go there I’ll know what I’m looking for.

Dr. Joseph Michelli: You know they took a very dead product; it really goes to show you that you can take the least exciting—a fish morgue if you will—and they have superimposed on it just a lively service culture and it’s very vital and dynamic and now it’s a destination business. People literally come see it as opposed to just being yet another fish market among all of those in the neighborhood.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I’ve seen the video for Fish, and I forget the co-author, but the author of that came and presented it and it was pretty fascinating especially taking a dead product like you are talking about, that’s great.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I love the way they throw it at each other and pass it around.

Dr. Joseph Michelli: That comes from being really customer centric and changing the leadership folks. Just in a very brief nutshell, that particular leader was very autocratic, very controlling. Johnny would tell you that he ran his business with an iron fist and was proud of it, and he has made some transformation. He went from certainly being in that 89% manager and is an exceptional visionary leader today.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Tell us a little bit about yourself and especially how you came to work in the field of customer service.

Dr. Joseph Michelli: You know I’ve kinda come through the ranks of being an organizational consultant and a PhD from the University of Southern California and I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know that I ever planned on doing this for a living but I have seen so much bad service in my lifetime and I’ve seen some remarkable leadership inspire their businesses to serve either in the B2B space or the business to customer space in such an amazing way that I really kind of gravitated toward the area of customer experience and development.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You know, I wanted to ask you, it seems when I’ve read a little bit of the book that I have that this whole new gold standard is knowing about basically, terrific track records in the service industry. Can you tell us a little bit more about who influenced you as a leader and got you interested in looking at these kinds of track records and service in the service industry?

Dr. Joseph Michelli: There are so many. Certainly, as it relates to this book, I’m coached right now by Horst Schulze, one of the founders of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company. He’s probably one of the great visionaries for its success. I get regular coaching from him out of Atlanta.

There are many people that I gravitate to over the course of my development and I just seek out coaching from them. I can’t tell you how valuable I think that is for people to get out of just knowing their own vapor trail of the plains right in front of them and really try to find people, not only in their industry, but experts in service or leadership to follow.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Well you know, to that point, I wanted to mention that Horst has sat on the design boards for Cancer Treatment Centers of America to help them create a Ritz Carlton standard for their treatment centers. That’s to the point that you just made, that sometimes you find the best thinking in an industry not your own.

Dr. Joseph Michelli: Yah, my wife has breast cancer and Horst the other day just called me and personally made the connection for me with his organization I know for which he is on the board.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Yah, I’m on the board there too, it’s a wonderful company.

Dr. Joseph Michelli: Prior to that, John Bradshaw, obviously inspired me. I’ve got to tell you the great moment in my life is recently when John Bradshaw wrote a very wonderful review of The New Gold Standard.

The irony of the world is that I spent my life reading John Bradshaw and then there is this moment in your life where John Bradshaw reads you and it’s unbelievable, actually.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I’m interested in just who you were saying. I know about John Bradshaw’s work in the past. How did you make the switch from kind of clinical work into organizational and then pinpointing on service?

Dr. Joseph Michelli: Well, it’s interesting because I studied systems theory in my background in clinical work, so I worked on marriage and family, and systems, not just individual psychology. So I started working in a hospital system, working in cancer care as a matter of fact, and then there was an organizational development position that came open and I’d been consulting with the CEO and his development so I got into the organizational side of hospitals. Before you knew it the Catholic hospital was merging with the 7th Day Adventist hospital and I had the first opportunity to help leaders work together on a shared vision when they were coming from very different philosophical backgrounds. That really launched me into working in radio and working on the business radio network for a number of years in doing that kind of thing. Before you knew it I was speaking and consulting.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Amazing. It’s funny how we take a journey and sometimes we wind up in a place we didn’t expect.

Dr. Joseph Michelli: I think that is part of leadership; it’s part of being adaptive in redeveloping yourself and refining yourself on a constant basis based on what the market is pulling you to and what your talents are and figuring out.

For me it took a long time to find out anything, but when I did, I certainly gravitated towards the ones that were given to me.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: It’s very timely and fascinating for me working in the customer care industry, because I have been for this year and will be for the next year. I was just at a program where they talked about FIGS Principles for Customer Service; that was Faith, Integrity, Growth and Service. Now you have this wonderful book that has in it, five principles that you describe to be the Ritz Carlton’s keys to success. Can you tell us a little bit about the book and the five principles? I have them here, but I’d like you to talk about them if we have time.

Dr. Joseph Michelli: I think I alluded to redefining yourself on a regular basis which really ties in to what the Ritz Carlton’s had to do to maintain its service excellence over a century.

  1. Define and refine is what I call the first principle.
  2. Empowering through trust which is really about giving over power. Managers tend to not to that very well. They often micro-manage the details and they don’t empower people by trusting them, selecting well, and then training and trusting. So that is clearly a part of it.
  3. It’s not about you, it’s really about leadership management that I think that people should practice which is as much as we lead and we can get a lot of the acknowledgement and gratification from that, really the success of any leadership program is the ability to focus on the needs of all of the other stakeholders and not yourself. In the process, everything works out for you.
  4. Deliver WOW. Tom Peters has talked about it a long time and certainly at the Ritz Carlton they have installed a WOW type program and serving people and fulfilling their needs is not enough.
  5. And then finally, just making sure that you don’t limit yourself to leading in just the walls of your business, but leaving a footprint to see what your leadership legacy is and plan to create a leadership legacy. I call that “leave a lasting footprint.”

You can listen to the entire interview above.


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