August 2016
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Joseph's Blog

Which Should Come First? The Employee or the Customer?

Ok, I admit the issue of employee versus customer primacy falls into the category of   unanswerable debates such as which came first the chicken or the egg. That said, many leaders continue to articulate a mantra that either the customer or the employee “comes first.”

While I personally like to side-step this looping debate by suggesting that “all business is personal,” and that personal connections must be formed with the people we call employees in order for those people to profit and serve other people we call customers or shareholders, I am convinced greater leaders have a penchant for forming meaningful personal connections at all levels of an organization.

The experiences on which I’ve come to concluded the importance of “interpersonal engagement” stems from my work with and the books I have written about companies like the Pike Place Fish Market, Zappos, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Starbucks, and UCLA Health Systems. Here are a few lessons and tools I’ve picked up along the way by watching the consistent care afforded by leaders in these organizations:

1) Employee Engagement Drives Customer Engagement.

While a causal relationship would be difficult to prove, strong correlations exist between employee engagement and customer engagement. As such, leaders in “world class” service organizations measure and actively seek to drive employee and customer connections. Ultimately these leaders seek to have employees who feel their opinions matter, are recognized for work that is well done, are provided opportunities to work and grow and to function in a community environment where employees experience autonomy, mastery, and purposefulness.

2) Customer Engagement Drives Loyalty and Advocacy.

Customer satisfaction does not ensure customer loyalty. In fact, satisfaction alone leaves your customers a coupon away from trying a competitor. As such, great leaders and business owners seek to instill a culture of service excellence through a clear delineation of the optimal customer experience (operationally and emotionally), and by constant discussions of core service values, as well as an emphasis on the overarching purpose of the business. These leaders collect stories of service excellence and link them back to the desired optimal customer experience and to their companies mission, vision, and values

3) Business must be transacted for high efficiency but filtered through the lens of humanity. In my book Leading the Starbucks Way, I share a conversation I had with the company’s CEO Howard Schultz in which he demonstrates this point best, “Take love, humanity, and humility and then place it against a performance driven organization; these are in conflict to the naked eye but …we have become more performance driven than at any other time in our history and the values of the company are at a high level. If we can infuse love, humanity, and humility on a global basis and build it into a performance-driven organization, we are unbeatable.”

So rather than trying to craft a catchy slogan like the customer is king or queen, or the employee is number one, how about redoubling efforts to drive the engagement of both customers and employees while fueling a high-performance organization in which leaders makes decisions through the lens of humanity? That seems like an unbeatable combination to me, how about to you?

Which Should Come First? The Employee or the Customer? {Infographic}


Customers Aren’t Always Right: Courageous Leaders Need to Be

customers-aren-t-always-right crop

I love serving customers and helping businesses create loyalty-building customer experiences.

HOWEVER, service does not mean customers should be given the power to ABUSE those that serve them. It is one thing to be customer-centric (striving to build customer loyalty by helping your people, processes, and technology deliver customer engagement) and quite another thing to let your people become customer doormats.

Recently, I watched a skilled and respectful waiter get repeatedly verbally abused by a customer during dinner without a manager coming to his aid or buffering the barrage.

Having been mentored by the father of the modern-day Ritz-Carlton Hotel company, Horst Schulze, I learned long ago that service professionalism and servitude should not be confused. Customers are not always right and when they wrongly mistreat your staff they should become former customers!

Service professionals certainly need skills to manage angry customers. Here are a few I’ve found most useful when people are upset and agitated:

  • Use a calming voice
  • Attempt to bring their complaint away from a public audience
  • Express an interest in hearing them out
  • Let them vent without interruption
  • Accept responsibility as appropriate (apologize)
  • As they wind down, attempt to focus on solutions asking them what they need to achieve fair resolution

If used effectively those skills will defuse most disgruntled customers. Unfortunately, there are people who will go well beyond anger and treat your team members in hostile, verbally abusive, and physically menacing ways.

Leadership must intervene when customers seek to:

  • Manipulate
  • Demean
  • Intimidate
  • Persistently Swear
  • Personalize comments
  • Threaten
  • Invade Personal Space
  • Make Offensive Gestures
  • And the list goes on….

Leadership requires difficult choices and while it might have seemed to the restaurant manager in the situation that I observed that he was doing the right thing to not confront the customer…he was wrong. That manager likely lost the respect and maybe the service of that employee and he certainly lost my business. Who knows how many other people were affected.

I guess the good news is that the restaurant likely retained the abusive customer to visit them another day. Courage to do what is right is the hallmark of leadership and it must be demonstrated when customers cross the line from anger to abuse.

Customers Aren’t Always Right: Courageous Leaders Need to Be {Infographic}


Beating the Giant: It’s as Simple as Artisanship

I suspect you’ve heard the phrase, “dollars to donuts.” From my research, its earliest reference occurred in 1876 and typically implies a wager where you are so certain of a bet that you are willing to gamble losing dollars (something of higher value) for the prospect of winning donuts (something of lower value). In truth, this blog isn’t about “dollars to donuts” it’s actually more about “dollars AND donuts.”

Ok, in full disclosure it’s really about “dollars AND craftsmanship.”

In the United States the GIANT in the world of DONUTS is…drum roll,please…

You guessed it Dunkin Donuts. However, there is a community of very successful artisan donut shops thriving and skyrocketing in the shadow of the omnipresent Dunkin Donuts brand. Annie Pilon offers a baker’s dozen donut shop examples in an article for Small Business Trends. For the sake of brevity, I will feature just one of those shops: The Salty Donut.

The owners of The Salty Donut, based in Miami, describe their business as

an Artisanal Donut Shop & Coffee Bar focused on chef-made, small-batch craft donuts using nothing but the highest quality ingredients and making EVERYTHING in-house! We also have an incredibly unique coffee program, featuring rotating coffees with interesting flavor profiles, crafted by some of the best baristas around. The Salty came to be because of a void in our beloved South Florida community. The entire country is experiencing a blossoming of craft donut shops and amazing coffee shops that offer unique coffee experiences, and South Florida is EONS behind in both of those categories.”

And what might you experience at The Salty Donut that they likely aren’t serving at Dunkin Donuts? Here are two donut options and their descriptions:


24 hour raised brioche donut with guava & cream cheese filling, cream cheese glaze, topped with Galleta Maria crumble


In collaboration with CrossFit athlete Noah Ohlsen! Baked sweet potato & homemade cookie butter cake donut with sweet potato glaze, coconut milk ganache, topped with a homemade shortbread cookie **VEGAN **UNDER 140 CALORIES

I can’t even imagine how you get all of that for under 140 calories.

Ok, so what’s the lesson for those of us who aren’t getting up at 4 in the morning to “make the donuts.”  It’s simply this:

  • Most items and experiences are mass produced
  • People want to matter
  • They want to have something unique and special
  • People always have and always will seek events and consumable items that fit their varied lifestyles and interests

While I am not a donut aficionado, I see the same trend happening with craft beer, artisan breads, handcrafted chocolate, etc.

Even in the land of brand giants like Dunkin Donuts and Budweiser, there is much success to be realized for those who take the time to know unmet customer needs and “CRAFT” solutions “CUSTOMIZED” to serve targeted customer segments!

Beating the Giant: It’s as Simple as Artisanship {Infographic}


Make the Experience Faster and More Personal

I have been involved with Starbucks since 2004, beginning with initial research I conducted for my first of two books about them (The Starbucks Experience). During my more than a decade relationship with the brand, I’ve never ceased to be amazed by the commitment of Starbucks leaders when it comes to continuous improvement for both the customer and employee experience.

Recently, for example, Starbucks has loosened up the employee (referred to as partner) dress code – expanding the acceptable clothing color pallet beyond black, khaki, and white. They have also given the “green light” on green or whatever hair color suits the fancy of the partner.

In addition to partner engagement, leadership is also targeting customer experience enhancements driven by process changes and technology deployment. From a process perspective, Starbucks continues to explore ways to increase the speed of service. In fact, the brand recently opened its first “express store” in London’s Canary Wharf. That express store has divided the customer experience into 3 phases (order, pay and collect) and streamlines all processes and product options in order to cut the service time across the three phases by a factor of 50%. In addition to the London store, similar express stores will open soon in Toronto, Chicago, and New York.

When it comes to technology, Starbucks is elevating its mobile app to better fit a customer’s past purchase behavior. During an earnings call, Starbucks Chief Strategy Officer Matt Ryan noted, “We now have the opportunity, both in an email, which we’ve just begun, and this quarter, in our app, to do suggested selling. So we will be suggesting and making personalized offers within the context of our app that will allow people to see things that are right for them.”

Since most of us aren’t running coffee shops, what can we learn from these recent Starbucks moves:

In 7 words:

Make the Experience Faster and More Personal

While service speed and emotional engaging service may seem like opposite goals, Starbucks leadership is looking to expedite delivery AND make an authentic personal emotional connection with team members and customers.

When employee and customer engagement becomes challenging set a course for expedited service delivery that seeks to meet customers where they are!

Make the Experience Faster & More Personal {Infographic}


Pokémon Go: How to Launch Experiences that Maximize Technology and Social Interaction

Let me guess, you’d like your prospective customers to learn about your products or services WITHOUT you having to invest a bundle of money in marketing! Hmm…let’s think about a recent product launch that fits that description.

How about learning from the makers of Pokémon Go?

Days before it’s release, millions of posts began to appear on social feeds (despite minimal marketing) and within one day of the US launch Pokémon Go became the top-grossing app on iOS (not bad for a free to download app relying on in-app purchases).

So what can all of us learn about “craveabilty” based on Pokémon Go?

Here are a few things to consider…

1) Join a Parade, Don’t Start One – Pokémon has always had a strong following but an April 1, 2014 joke by Google blending Google maps with Pokémon had more than 18 million views. That prompted the team at Niantic Labs (led by a former Google executive) to take on the Pokémon Go project.

2) Pique Interest and Build Anticipation for Your Core Fans – Rather than hyping the app’s release endlessly and in a shotgun manner (commercials, social media saturation, etc). Pokémon Co. produced an announcement trailer about 8 months prior to release which prompted brand fans to wait and wonder. According to Ad Age, “In social media, Niantic tweeted that the game was available in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. After that, it retweeted a couple mentions of the game from other accounts, but not much else…unlike games such as Mobile Strike, Pokémon Go hasn’t had a single TV commercial.”

3) Leverage technology and interactivity – While much has been promised from augmented-reality technology, Niantic delivered an emotionally engaging experience. More importantly, they have people catching Pikachu and Squirtle (along with other characters) in a very social way. They are activating people to move and experience other gamers as well as the physical world around them.

Ok, I’m not saying that these lessons gleaned from Pokémon Go will guarantee identical breakthrough success…but I’m certain they will augment the reality of having your customers actively talk about your products and services. Try them…and see if they don’t “catch” on…

Pokémon Go: How to Launch Experiences that Maximize Technology & Social Interaction {Infographic}