August 2015
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Joseph's Blog

How great are you?

Ernie Andrus made his coast-to-coast run across the United States when he was only 90 and he is well on his way to doing it again at age 92!

In 2013 Ernie, a World War II Navy veteran, set out to break a record for the oldest man to run across America.   The prior record holder was a youthful 73 and Ernie, some 17 years older, shattered the record easily.

Now at 92, Ernie is out to get his own record.  With more than 1,500 miles behind him and averaging 6.4 mile a day for the three days a week he runs, Ernie often hears the chant “U.S.A. U.S.A” from children at schools along his route.

Ok, so what does any of this have to do with you or me?  And how does it fit in to a leadership/customer experience blog?  In short, Ernie has vision, passion, and unrelenting hunger for mastery.  He has what many business leaders lack!

I have often said that the biggest risk to success is not competition but complacency.  The fire, the hunger, the need to break one’s own record, fades for many leaders.  As their entrepreneurial spirit dampens and they fear losing what they have created many business owners practice defensive leadership.

So in the spirit of setting what Jim Collins would call a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal)…What is your “run across America?”

I started this blog by asking “how are you great?”  Let me finish by asking how will you be even  “greater” tomorrow?

“It’s not what you know but…”

According to the old adage that sentence stem ends with “who you know.”

On stage and in writing lately I have concluded that the old adage doesn’t tell the whole story.  As such I have modified it to say:

“It’s not what you know OR who you know.  It’s what you know ABOUT who you know.”

In essence, I am saying you can have a lot of acquaintances but if you don’t truly get to know people you can’t serve them.

One person I know well, Howard Partridge the CEO of Phenomenal Products, weighed in on my modified phrase and supercharged it.  Howard shares his take:

“It’s not what you know OR who you know. It’s what you know ABOUT who you know, and what they know about you (positioning).”

We could even add Jim Cathcart’s insight to our phrase.

Jim says “it’s who’s glad they know you”.

If that isn’t enough to think about, an internet marketer highlights the importance of perception with this tidbit:

it’s who THINKS they know you”.

Howard and I agree, if you take this one step further in the age of commoditized products and service…

“it’s not not only who knows you, but who LOVES you!”

Put all together, try this on for size:

It’s not what you know or who you know.

It is:

What you know about who you know.

What they know about you.

Who thinks they know you.

Most importantly it is who loves you.

Do I dare ask if you want to make any additions or modifications?

Seeing through the Eyes of Your Customer

Having just finished my new book about Mercedes-Benz and given that I recently spent time with Mercedes-Benz dealers at their annual conference in Las Vegas, I took the liberty of modifying a popular children’s logic puzzle by inserting a Mercedes-Benz E class.  Can you solve this puzzle in 20 seconds?  What parking lot number is under the Mercedes-Benz?

Of course the answer is: ________________

If for some reason that answer isn’t obvious, you must not have turned the puzzle upside down.  Had you done that, the correct answer becomes abundantly clear.

The puzzle, like so many of its kind, requires a simple shift of perspective.  The same type of flip that makes the number 87 pop is esential to achieve sustained success in today’s customer-driven world.  Too often we look at our businesses from our side of the counter and not through the eyes of our customer.  It is through strategies like the “Customer Walk” at Starbucks (baristas take turns during each shift to walk from the parking lot looking at the experience from the customer’s vantage point) that businesses help their people develop a core competency around seeing customer pain points and creating solutions to produce customer delight.  What are you doing to flip perspective and see your business from your customer’s point of view?

Leader of your own Career {Guest Post by Amy Klimek}

The average person will spend over 99,000 hours at work in the course of their lifetime. Knowing that a sizeable portion of your waking life will be spent on the job, it’s important to find something that you enjoy. It’s time to take control of your job and get the results that you want to lead a happy and productive life.

Take stock of your past

They say you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. Take some time to reflect on your career up until now, and evaluate your successes and your failures. Think about when you were happiest and most productive in your career, and when you felt uninspired and bored. If you can remember the circumstances around your career journey’s ups and downs, you can use that knowledge to guide your decisions about your future.

Envision your future

Figure out what you want your future to look like. Do you want to dedicate yourself to one organization and steadily rise up the corporate ladder? Are you interested in seeking out new opportunities in a different field? Do you want to earn enough money to enable you to retire early and travel the world? Or do you want to raise a family and have time to spend with them, watching them grow? By understanding how you want your future to shape up, you can make smarter decisions about what type of job will set you up for success.

Avoid negative self-talk

Sometimes, you are your own worst enemy. Negative self-talk can keep you from engaging in exciting opportunities and new chances to grow. We all fall victim to self-doubt from time to time, and it can be hard to silence our inner critic. Don’t limit your list of potential new jobs because you are nervous that you can’t hack it. Instead, remind yourself of your skills and talents. Think back to another time when you successfully completed a project that made you a nervous wreck in the beginning. Also, don’t get discouraged if your job search starts off slow. It can be easy to begin doubting your skills when the frustration of your job search sets in. Call up a supportive friend or former colleague who can adjust your attitude by reminding and reassuring you of your talent. Exude confidence by acknowledging your skills and abilities, and employers will recognize them as well.

Work your contacts

In today’s career market, it’s often more about who you know than what you know. Be sure that the key component of your job search is connecting with your network of friends and former colleagues. They are often the best resources to learn about new jobs and openings that fit your skill set. Don’t be afraid to let your friends know that you are looking for a job; you’d be surprised how helpful they can be in offering solid leads. You can also utilize social media wisely to expand your network through sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Be open to new ideas

Don’t pigeonhole your job search into limited areas or interests. Be open to ideas that you hadn’t thought of before. The unknown doesn’t have to be scary; more often it’s exciting and inspiring. Just because your career has followed a certain path in the past, that doesn’t mean you can’t shake things up for your future. Similarly, just because you’ve always lived in a certain part of the country, that doesn’t mean you have to stay there forever. Think about whether you’d be willing to relocate for the right job. If you are open to a change of scenery, you open yourself up to a much wider job market than you ever expected.

Follow these tips for taking control of your job, and you can end up in a position where you truly thrive. Because if you’re going to spend 99,000 hours at work, you might as well enjoy them.


Amy Klimek is an experienced HR recruiter and VP of Human Resources for ZipRecruiter, a company that simplifies the hiring process for small to medium size businesses. Prior to that Amy has held similar roles at, eBay and US Interactive.

For Amy, corporate culture isn’t about dogs and free lunches, it’s about empowering employees and creating an enriching environment for people to excel.

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Coffee – Sue!

Nothing is stranger than the truth!  In case you missed it, a police officer in North Carolina is suing Starbucks for a spilled cup of FREE coffee.

Let me not make light of the fact that the officer purportedly burned himself when the lid popped off his free cup of Starbucks.  The officer claims that the coffee spill was so stressful that he had a flare-up of Crohn’s disease that ultimately contributed to surgical removal of a portion of his intestine.  His wife is also suing for the loss of intimacy with her husband.

My comments are not about the merits of the case but address why businesses do anything nice for customers when those actions can result in cases like the Starbucks spill.

For me the reason is simple!  Most customers appreciate kindnesses.  Yes, a customer could sue a hotel because the customer choked on the chocolate placed on their pillow but I say,  “give them the chocolate.”

If we treat every customer like they are out to cheat or harm us, we reduce our capacity to have maximum positive impact on the throngs of customers who would welcome the respect and kindness we extend.

Whether you are a business owner who treats employees like incipient thieves or a leader who encourages your people to assume the worst in customers,  I suspect you will attract the outcomes you predict.

I have found it both more gratifying and more productive to assume the best in people and manage those rare exceptions where people let me down than to assume the worst.

For now, I am headed to Starbucks to buy a cup of coffee in support of the way the company has delighted me through the years…

BE PERFECT or BE EXCELLENT: The Art of Getting Real

Sometimes we teach because we have something to share and other times we teach because we have something to learn.  This is one of those cases where I am exploring an issue for myself as much as I am addressing it for you.

How do we balance all the demands necessary to serve the needs of our customers?

For me, this challenge manifests in finding the time to keep a regular dialogue going through blogs.  You, the reader of this blog, represent a part of my service audience, as do my consulting clients, my speaking event customers, my team members, my book readers, and my publisher.  As I have been locked down on deadline writing my upcoming book about the amazing customer experience transformation taking place at Mercedes-Benz USA, I have had little bandwidth to regularly deliver blogs. I have considered having someone else write blogs for me but that always seems like a less than authentic solution.  Of course, the absence of blogs isn’t necessarily a viable alternative.

I imagine you have similar challenges.  How do you triage which customers get which services, given that there are always limits to the viable resources you can bring to your experience delivery?  Is it better to compromise product quality or authenticity in order to bring some product to market or do you step back from product presentation if it isn’t fully resonant with your brand?

If there is a lesson to learn and teach in this writing, it has to be the massive pressure we all face to execute flawlessly in an omni-channel world.  We often get pulled into the belief that we HAVE TO BE on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, have live chat, deliver engaging telephone support, master face-to-face service excellence, be thin, read the classics, know what’s trending…. You get the point…

In my case, I have opted to write blogs when I can (recently, about once a month) until my new book deadline passes in May.  I also will wait on reading the classics and will give myself a break on knowing what’s trending.  I once co-authored an article titled “The Risk of Excellence” in which my colleagues and I offered a core theme which suggested  that in order to be excellent you have to say no to things that will make you mediocre.

Saying NO to things that will make you mediocre — hmm, that’s a lesson I may not be qualified to teach but it is one I know is worthy of learning.  What are your thoughts?

Are your property values up? Thank Starbucks

What does brand equity get you?  Among other things – happy neighbors!  According to recent reports, when a Starbucks opens nearby your property values rise – alot.  Before you think this phenomena occurs anytime a multi-national company opens its doors in your vicinity, the research also shows that its better to have Starbucks than Dunkin Donuts.

So first to the details and then to the relevance for all of us who own or strive to improve the businesses with which we work.  In their new book Zillow Talk, the chief economist Stan Humphries and CEO Spencer Rascoff at Zillow report that if you live within a quarter-mile of Starbucks your property value could nearly double.

Here are the numbers, according to the Zillow data from the last 17 years, homes near a Starbucks increased in value by 96% those farther than a quarter mile from a Starbucks increased 65%. Rascoff and Humpries further note, “these properties appreciate at a faster rate than US housing on the whole. Interestingly, they’re also recovering much more quickly from the housing bust.”

All is not lost if you live near a Dunkin Donuts location, it’s just that homes near Starbucks appreciated 16% more.  While real estate analysts can talk about the impact of Starbucks on gentrification or that Starbucks has more west coast locations than Dunkin Donuts, those debates are beyond my scope.

My message is that great businesses lift up entire communities.

Rather than selling the notion that profit is the “be all end all of business,” we should be reminded that we have an opportunity to drive the enterprise value of our companies.  That value goes beyond the profit and loss statement.  It is reflected in the way in which we affect the lives of all we serve.

If we drive great value, that value will be extended richly into our surrounding community.  What will you do to drive enterprise and community value today?  Let’s think purpose not profits…profits emerge from purposeful activity!

Would you have your wedding at Starbucks? Becoming a Beloved Brand

So would you?  Would you have your wedding at Starbucks?  How about your reception? Lets switch venues, how about at Taco Bell or Subway?

While I have never heard of a Taco Bell reception, I have been tracking the phenomena of Starbucks weddings and receptions since I worked on my first book about the company back in 2006. For example, an article on pictorially recounts 13 recent Starbucks wedding receptions.   The phenomena of engagements, marriages and receptions at brands like Starbucks or another company about which I have written, Zappos, demonstrates what it means to become a beloved brand  That is not to say that marital unions have to be taking place in your business to prove your belovedness to customers but such actions show how closely a brand connects with the values and identity perceptions of its customers.

In my latest book, Leading the Starbucks Way, I explore a model of brand love created by Graham Robertson (president of the brand strategy firm aptly named Beloved Brands).  Graham’s model defines brands along a continuum of customer emotional connection that goes from indifference, like it, love it, and ultimately to beloved brand for life.  The key to the last category is that customers view the brand as a form of “self-expression” where they are outspoken fans who will not switch loyalties because they have formed lifelong memories connected to the brand.

Brand love has power in the market place.  Beloved brands get more positive media attention, they have increased social media following and viral marketing campaigns and as we are all coming to learn more weddings and significant life events either in their buildings or with their products and services prominently displayed (e.g. think of Star Wars theme weddings as an example).

Your goal may not be to have customer say “I do” at your dry-cleaning business or your sushi restaurant but it is to have them say “they do”.  They do allow me to express myself.  They do serve as an extension of my identity.  They do hold a special emotional place for me through the memorable experiences they produce.

Human and Automated: Customer Experience Management at Its Best

According to customer support technology reviews firm Software Advice and research they conducted, manually trying to manage customer relationships and consumer complaints through email and spreadsheets is going the route of rotary-dial phones! What was once an expectation in large business is becoming stand fare for small business owners as well. Integrated software solutions are becoming essential for customer relationship management from mom and pops to global enterprises and the best of breed not only integrate customer record keeping but nimbly respond to customer needs in a seamless and authentic manner.

Each year, Software Advice interacts with thousands of professionals looking for the right customer service solution for small businesses.  There recent findings are based on 385 randomly selected discussions with buyers from small businesses (which they categorize as companies earning less than $100 million in annual revenue).  The findings from those conversations are as follows:

“Most potential buyers were using manual methods such as email to manage customer support, with only 14 percent using dedicated CSS (customer service and support) software.

Small businesses buying CSS software for the first time were significantly more likely to say they struggled with managing customer complaints.

The vast majority of buyers (90 percent) requested basic trouble ticket management, with an additional 36 percent looking for reporting features.”

Graphically the reasons for wanting an integrated solution are provided below:

While your response to customer needs should be uniquely human the tracking and integration of responses to those needs should be automated.  Greatness in customer experience leadership is automating aspects that can and should be automated and leveraging that technology to make the personal and human connection with those you serve!

Holiday Relationships – Focusing on More than the Sale

We are in the throes of the frenzied shopping season, so it seems timely that we remind ourselves of several truths about why we should focus more on customer relationships and less on sales:

  1. People want to be viewed as important and unique. (Jumping into a sales process without taking the time to understand the person, and the wants and needs of the person they are shopping for, is a recipe for a lackluster sale and a commoditized shopping journey).
  2. As chaos ensues in stores, little acts of kindness matter more. (When we are being jostled about in crowded retail environments, the smile and authentic expression of gratitude by another human being – store manager/sales person – are welcomed reminders of the better part of humanity.
  3. People may justify purchases on the basis of benefits and attributes of products but in truth they make purchases through a blend of thoughts and emotions. (Great sales people help customers find the value, delight, and joy derived from their purchases!)
  4. With so much shopping occurring online these days, people need a reason other than “bargains” to come into your business. (Maximize sensory elements – music, seasonal scents, festive lighting and maybe some apple cider – to create an inviting and engaging environment.
  5. Give extra love to your people when it is the busiest!  (I am assuming you treat your people extremely well all year round, given that the experience of people inside a business predicts the experience of customers, but extra TLC of team members is essential fuel to help your staff meet the challenges of serving throngs of customers over and over again through the holiday crunch
  6. Nurture yourself this holiday season. ( I once wrote that it is “not the destination but the journey.” As I age, it seems I am gaining more clarity on the importance of finding happiness on the detours.  In the midst of the craziness, it might me worthwhile to pause in gratitude for having the problems that come with a profitable season.)

Here’s to experiences beyond sales…oops I just spilled my eggnog…