September 2016
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Joseph's Blog

The Art of Resolving Human Need

Our friends at Hippo Roller have asked me to mention a campaign to raise funds to purchase 200 Hippo Rollers for Haiti. In case you missed my original blog about the Hippo Roller…you can find it below. By the way, thanks in advance for considering to support this cause…


For me…

Invention is the creation of something new


Innovation is creating a new solution that addresses a human need

If I were so inclined, I could go into my garage cobble together some random materials and produce a “one of a kind” object. I could call it Joseph’s garage invention. While I might amuse myself in the process, the invention would be nothing more than an expression of my creative process.

Innovation, by contrast, requires an effort to solve a problem.

As a customer experience consultant, I am often tasked with helping businesses identify the high-value human needs for which people, process, or technology innovations can be crafted.

One of my favorite examples of a high-value innovation is the Hippo Water Roller.

My enthusiasm for this innovation is reflected in my financial support for the non-profit project which enables distribution of the Hippo (that is my not so subtle hint that you may wish to consider making a contribution of your own).

In case you haven’t heard about the Hippo, this is straight from the Hippo’s mouth or should I say the Hippo Roller’s website concerning the human need:

“750 million people in Africa and Asia struggle daily to access water. Water collection points are often located far away from their homes: 1-6 miles. This is typically done with heavy 5 gallon buckets balanced on their head.”

And as to the solution:

“The Hippo Roller enables women, children and the elderly to collect up to 5x more water than a single bucket. Users simply roll the Hippo Roller along the ground. It improves water access, food security and income generation.”

To see the hippo roller in action (click the picture below or visit


While most of us will not innovate a solution that will have as broad a social impact as the Hippo Roller, we can dedicate our efforts to remove pain points, improve capacity, and decrease effort (all aspects of the Hippo innovation).

To the degree we make our customer’s lives easier and enable them to live in a more fulfilled and productive way, we are and can be innovators.

Take a moment to reflect on your customer’s journey and think of where you can lighten their load or ease their path…that is the beginning point for all great innovation.

Make a Mouse: The Power of a Culture of Customer Experience Excellence

I’ve often said anyone can create a mouse. All you have to do is put a copious quantity of food and cloth scraps on your floor and, over time, a mouse will appear. The same can be said for great service cultures. Leaders are responsible for “creating the right environment” for world-class customer experiences to occur. Take Starbucks as an example. 
This week in the aftermath of bombings in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, a passerby’s cellphone captured video of a Starbucks barista, Jermaine, as he offered a complimentary bag of pastries and water to a New York City Police officer in gratitude for first responders who were working the crime scene. That video, which has now gone viral, and the actions of Jermaine certainly need to be credited to Jermaine’s family who inculcated the importance of being grateful to those who protect and serve him. However, those actions are also likely influenced by the environment created by his team at Starbucks.
Within the context of the Starbucks culture, leaders and frontline service providers (all of whom are referred to as partners) are consistently encouraged to live the company’s mission:
“To inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” 
Starbucks leaders built the expectation that Jermaine should inspire and nurture the human spirit and the video speaks for itself.
Lest you think, I see Starbucks in flawless ways I should note a similar missed example, which I chronicled in my first book about the company (The Starbucks Experience) written in 2006. On September 11, 2001, Midwood Ambulance Service employees responded to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Shortly afterward, an e-mail surfaced, which reported, “My family owns an ambulance service in Brooklyn, NY… My uncles were at ‘Ground Zero’ during the attack, to help the victims. They donated their time to help with this crisis, as many New Yorkers did. A great number of people were in shock from the devastation. As many of you know, shock victims are supposed to drink a lot of water. My uncle went to the Starbucks down the street to get bottles of water for the victims he was treating. Can you believe they actually charged him for it! He paid the $130 for 3 cases of bottled water out of his own pocket. Now, I would think that in a crisis such as this, vendors in the area would be more than happy to lend a little help by donating water…” 
The email continued, “I love Frappuccinos as much as anyone, but any company that would try to make a profit off of a crisis like this doesn’t deserve the … public’s hard-earned money. Please forward this e-mail to anyone you know and encourage them to do the same.”  
Unfortunately, that e-mail was accurate. A Starbucks partner chose to charge full price and not give away $130 worth of water during the September 11, 2001, tragedy. In addition, several efforts to get the matter resolved were mishandled. When the e-mail surfaced, Starbucks leadership did the right thing. Then-president and CEO, Orin Smith, not only had a $130 check delivered to the ambulance company but, called a representative of the business personally to apologize. Independently, Starbucks stores at Ground Zero were operating around the clock and providing free beverages and pastries to rescue workers and volunteers.  
At a corporate level, Starbucks was making contributions in excess of a million dollars to the national relief fund. But the bad news of the water sale certainly made a big splash in the pool of public consciousness. Starbucks leadership, fortunately, understood that most people are willing to forgive human error. What they won’t tolerate is a failure to take responsibility for mistakes or an unwillingness to resolve the shortcoming.  
With the grace of competent leadership, Starbucks did not seek to scapegoat or place blame on that store partner back in 2001 who made the errant decision in an unimaginably stressful situation. Instead, Orin Smith understood something most great leaders appreciate—when you are wrong, admit it, fix the problem, and stay the course in areas where you are making a positive difference.
Fast forward from the World Trade Center attacks to the bombings in the streets of Chelsea and you will see a longstanding effort on the part of Starbucks leadership to build their mouse – “a culture of customer experience excellence.” Small efforts from people like Jermaine suggest that the “mouse” has arrived.  
What cultures are you trying to create in your workplace? How do you know if it is taking hold?

Make a Mouse: The Power of a Culture of Customer Experience Excellence {Infographic}


You Want Engaged Employees? Ignite Mastery

Thought leaders like Daniel Pink have provided insightful analysis of research showing three key drivers of human behavior:


Autonomy, and


In essence, ample research shows that people will give maximal effort when they believe their effort will make a purposeful difference when they are given some level of control over the task or timeline for completing a project, and when they are provided the chance to grow and master new skills.

I was reminded of the importance of mastery recently as I have been preparing to speak at a TEDx conference in Sarasota, Florida, on October 6th. (There are still a few tickets available – so if you are in the area, I’d love to see you there.)

TEDx has stretched and enlivened me and my colleagues. Suffice it to say I speak for a living – so providing a 12-minute speech is typically something I can do with a modicum of preparation, but presenting for a TEDx event is quite a different matter. I think I am on my 14th edit of this brief presentation. For me, TEDx represents one of those “aspirational” moments, where I must master clarity in “sharing an idea” such that the message will have a lasting impact for the live audience and for potential generations of viewers to come.

I’ve watched a similar process with an entertainment idol of mine who will also be presenting at TEDx Sarasota. Dickie Smothers, of the legendary comedy team – The Smothers Brothers, has massive stage presence and phenomenal timing, but at age 75 he continues to reach for greatness and perfect word choices with each revision of his artfully crafted TEDx message. He thrives by pursuing excellence for the audience that will come to hear him on October 6th.


I saw this same passion for mastery when I ran earlier in the year with Ernie Andrus. Ernie is the now 93-year-old, World War II veteran, who started a coast-to-coast run on August 7,  2013,which he completed (some 3,000 miles later) on August 20, 2016.


While running with Ernie, he noted, “I have outlived 3 wives and I am living for a mission to create awareness and raise funds for my WWII ship. With the passion I have for making it to the finish line, nothing will stop me.” Certainly, a little distance from the west coast to east coast didn’t stop Ernie.

Whether it’s an old professional speaker like me, a seasoned comedy legend like Dickie Smothers, a 93-year young war veteran like Ernie Andrus, or a member of your team, people need to grow and master the world around them.

As leaders, we have an obligation to facilitate the growth of our people. And when we help them master their goals and interests…we can sit back and watch them run!

You Want Engaged Employees? Ignite Mastery {Infographic}


Grateful Business – Human Experience Creation At Its Best

In 1998 (in my book Humor, Play, and Laughter), I began talking and writing about the importance of “gratitude” for business and personal life. In fact, gratitude has long been one of 5 core values for my business (right alongside – “personalization, respect, humility, and succeeding together”). That said, I took notice when the esteemed Harvard Business Review (HBR) recommended the practice of “gratitude” as a “bona fide” leadership competency.

The HBR article, “How to Evaluate, Manage, and Strengthen Your Resilience”written by David Kopans the founder and CEO of PF Loop Inc. emphasized the value of gratitude in the context of “positive currency” and “bull markets”. By regularly assessing the things/events/people for which we are grateful, David essentially suggests we make deposits in an emotional account that protects us when stress levels escalate and life goes out of balance. We create a resiliency fund, if you will, to ward off a flood of work demands.

From a “bull market” perspective, David and the Harvard Business Review suggest that gratitude has an infectious (“I want to join in.”) power. In a nutshell, given the human propensity for reciprocity – gratitude begets gratitude.

For me, the benefits of gratitude are simple and less “financial sounding”. Those benefits occur across the gamut of customers, team members, and personal well-being. Here’s what I mean:

We are given the privilege of serving those who express interest in our business. Customers have unprecedented levels of choice and when they take the time to call, click, or walk into our business, we should take note of their choice and reflect our appreciation. Additionally, customers who feel authentic gratitude are more likely to remain loyal compared to those who feel we have taken them for granted.

Every person has a need to matter. Team members want to know that they are making a positive contribution. A common factor limiting employee engagement is a lack of rewards/recognition. Gratitude is the least expensive form of human recognition. It encapsulates, “I noticed. It was valued. Thank you!”

Happiness is a reflection of choice and behavior! While much research on happiness (scientifically referred to as subjective well-being) has looked at personality and genetic components of happiness as well as the impact of traumatic or exceptional life events, the bulk of what drives happiness is much more behavioral (e.g. giving to others or practicing gratitude). In a world where so many people “snipe” on social media – a grateful voice – not only stands out in the crowd but it helps insulate us and avoid the negativism and cynicism of that crowd.

I am grateful to you for taking the time to read and share this blog. I also encourage you (now backed up by the authority of the Harvard Business Review) to do something I wrote about in  Humor, Play, and Laughter – that is to keep a JOY Journal. Better yet, keep the journal and express your gratitude to those who bring that joy into your business and personal life.

Grateful Business – Human Experience Creation At Its Best {Infographic}


Send in the Drones: Elevating Service in A Technology-Driven World

Have you been watching Domino’s global strategy over the recent number of years? If not, I think the pizza giant it worthy of study. Unbeknownst to many, Domino’s is an amazingly forward looking company. While other brands like Polaroid or Blockbuster have run into a bit of a complacency trap (thinking that what brought them success would also assure them sustainability), Domino’s restlessly agitates their industry by rethinking their product and their delivery platform. All of this disruption is designed to create an enriched customer experience!

For the purpose of this blog let’s just focus on two elements of the Domino’s pizza delivery innovation. The first started in 2015 when Domino’s began testing driverless delivery vehicles (something Domino’s calls DRU – Domino’s Robotic Unit).


Domino’s describes DRU as “cheeky and endearing”, while also noting that, “he is a four-wheeled vehicle with compartments built to keep the customer’s order piping hot and drinks icy cold whilst traveling on the footpath at a safe speed from the store to the customer’s door. DRU is able to navigate from a starting point to his destination, selecting the best path of travel. His onboard sensors enable him to perceive obstacles along the way and avoid them if necessary.”

Now let’s take DRU aerial! This year through a partnership between Domino’s and Flirtey, a tech company based in Reno. DRU the drone has been testing pizza deliveries in New Zealand – a country with legislation favoring commercial drone deliveries.

DRU the drone

In the official press statement concerning DRU the Drone, Domino’s Group CEO and Managing Director, Don Meij, suggests that a 2-ton automobile is not the most efficient way to deliver a 4-pound order noting, “Drones allow us to extend [our] delivery area by removing barriers such as traffic and access [and] deliver further afield than we currently do to our rural customers while reaching our urban customers in a much more efficient time.”

Others have talked about drone delivery (e.g. Amazon and Google) but Domino’s has set its sights to be the first to make drone delivery a common phenomenon. Domino’s, with a little help from regulation changes in the US, could literally change the way we receive not only pizza but all other deliveries.

I imagine future conversations going something like, “Who’s at the door dear? Oh, it’s DRU. He’s hovering outside with our Domino’s.”

How are you disrupting your service platform to create an expedited customer experience? Let your innovation take flight!

Send in the Drones: Elevating Service in A Technology-Driven World {Infographic}


Technology: A Blessing & A Curse to Customer Experience Delivery

technology-a-infographic crop

I’ve always loved the way Charles Dickens opened his masterpiece The Tale of Two Cities. The first few phrases of the first line set a powerful stage for the book and an apt assessment of the role of technology in customer experience delivery… 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

So why would I suggest the merger of technology and customer experience execution is both the “age of wisdom and the age of foolishness”… Put simply because some companies believe that technology alone will create customer engagement.

As hard as this may be to believe, I think the airline industry is actually on the cusp of using technology in a forward thinking way that reflects the “best of times and the age of wisdom.” In particular, leaders at Delta Airlines (a number of whom I’ve had the good fortune of working with through the years) are about to deploy RFID (radio frequency Identification) paper tags on all passenger luggage replacing the old school barcode scanners. According to Bill Lentsch, Delta’s Senior Vice President – Airport Customer Service and Cargo Operations, “With a $50 million investment in RFID at 344 stations around the globe, we aim to reliably deliver every bag on every flight,…This innovative application of technology gives us greater data and more precise information throughout the bag’s journey.” Delta’s initial trials have produced a 99.9 percent success rate on routing and loading bags. The technology will also allow flyers to receive push notifications as to their bag’s journey through the Fly Delta mobile app.

The age of wisdom is demonstrated when technology reduces human error and automates manual processes which otherwise drain human capital and result in customer pain points.

Ok, on to what I believe is the “Age of Foolishness” (I really don’t want to be wrong about this.) For me, technology and humans must each play their unique and special roles in the ecosystem of customer experience. People should give way to technology when, as is the case with the Delta RFID approach, technology yields better results. Conversely, technology should not try to replace people when it comes to emotional connections with customers.

It is the humanization of machines that I find troubling. Take, for example, android technology, like Sophia, created by Hanson Robotics. If you have not seen Sophia in action, you really should get to know her in this two-minute video clip. Over the course of about 120 seconds, Sophia and her creators suggest she will be our friend while also suggesting she will destroy humans. As eerily humanlike as Sophia is (and goodness knows how much more sentient she will be as she “learns” more through her programming), I hope it is foolishness to think that technology will ever replace the emotional depth of people.

I’d love to get your thoughts about how technology and humans are playing well together on behalf of the customer experience and if you think I am wrong about the capacity of android’s to completely replace human service providers.

All I know is I will advocate for technologies that make the lives of customer’s better, while simultaneously advocating for PEOPLE not ANDROIDS to delivery uniquely special compassion and care …