April 2016
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Joseph's Blog

Being a “Yes and” Person in a “No but” World

About 20 years ago I had a rather transformative experience while pursuing a hobby. I didn’t suspect that the class I was embarking upon would have such broad impact on my life.

As a professional speaker, I envisioned possible stage benefits from learning improvisational comedy skills but I hadn’t appreciated the benefits that improv training would provide me in my role as a leader or as a consultant charged with helping organizations increase the quality of experiences they provided to their customers.

So in the hope that principles of improv might help you lead positive customer-focused changes, I thought I would outline a few improv tools over a series of blog posts. The first principle is “YES AND.”

Imagine you walk onto an empty stage and are expected to create a plausbile yet funny scene for an audience. Let’s assume you start by asking for a suggestion of a location and someone in the the audience yells out a “bowling alley.” Further imagine, you embrace that suggestion because it saves you from having to come up with your own starting place. In essence, you say “YES” to the suggestion AND begin to create the scene by lifting an imaginary bowling ball. Let’s further assume that another actor from your improv troupe enters the stage and says, “Hey Gus, I got 5 dollars that says you will blow this last frame and miss your perfect game.” You respond, “I’ll see your 5 dollar bill and raise you 10.”   Great – your scene is taking shape! Think about what would happened if your response to your colleague was, “I am not Gus and what are you talking about a perfect game.”

YES AND is a powerful response to so many business situations where you might wish to inspire innovation or side-step false choices. For example, I am often asked if a client’s company should first improve their employee experience or their customer experience. My answer is often “YES AND lets look at how we can realistically and successfully make some progress on each.”

Senior leaders at companies like The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company or Mercedes-Benz (the subjects of my books The New Gold Standard and Driven to Delight, respectively) have often cited the phrase “the answer is “YES” now what is the question?” As such, those leaders strive to say YES to team members and customers. Let’s assume a customer asks for something that can’t be provided at the Ritz-Carlton, service professionals (the ladies and gentlemen of the Ritz-Carlton) are discouraged from saying NO, while instead identifying what can be provided. In extraordinary service brands, YES AND becomes the default mindset!

So how will you answer this question? Will you seek to be a YES AND leader in a NO BUT world?

Hmmm, consider that question to be your first opportunity to demonstrate this important skill…

Why You Should Be A “Yes and” Leader In A “No but” World


Want to Deliver Exceptional Customer Experiences? Focus on Your POPs & PODs {Infographic}


How are your POPS and PODS doing?

More than a decade ago marketing professors Kevin Keller and Alice Tybout advanced two concepts that not only changed the way people market their businesses but also SHOULD have changed the way we think about delivering customer experiences.

They are POPS and PODS. POPS stands for “Points of Parity” and PODS is an acronym for “Points of Distinction”.

In simplest terms, Points of Parity (POPS) are qualities that you share with competitive brands deemed to be excellent. These POPS won’t win you business but the absence of points of parity could cause you to see customer churn. In gambling parlance, POPS are important competitive “table stakes” if you want to sit at the higher stakes/higher reward tables.

By contrast, Points of Distinction (PODS) are attributes, behaviors, or qualities that make you stand out from your competitive set. In essence, they are the things you and your customers call your own. I refer to these brand characteristics as the “SO Factor.” If a business were to demonstrate an extraordinary willingness to accept returns, for example, someone might say that is SO Nordstrom. Nordstrom established almost legendary return policies as a POD.

While marketers like to call attention to aspects of a brand that they want to cement as PODS in the minds of prospects and customers, experience designers like me and business leaders like you should be thinking about DELIVERING PODS – behaving in ways that are relevant, different and valued by your customers.

Brand behaviors that serve as Points of Distinction can be thought of as “signature moments” in a customer’s brand journey. For example, a client of mine, International Dairy Queen, has taken one of their meteoric products, a Blizzard®, and created a Point of Distinction (POD) in the relevant way they serve and engage customers. They flip the Blizzard!

Joseph Michelli - DQ with blizzard

By tipping the Blizzard upside down everytime a Dairy Queen team member hands it to a customer, Dairy Queen signals that that the customer is receiving a densely rich product filled with quality ingredients. Additionally, team members create a quick “moment of theater” at handoff. This behavior (which is now part of a “flip it or free” campaign) is SO Dairy Queen that anyone attempting to approximate it runs the risk of being seen as crossing into Dairy Queen territory. The same could be said about a business owned by a friend of mine, who kindly co-authored a book with me titled “When Fish Fly.” Johnny Yokoyama, the owner of the Pike Place Fish Market, created an engaging customer experience in Seattle where fish often literally fly through the air as part of the interactive play his fishmongers create for their customers. Throwing fish is SO Pike Place Fish Market!

So what are your points of distinction or signature moments? Of equal importance, what are those deficits you need to remedy to be at parity with the execution and excellence of your best competitors? Back to the title of this blog…how are your POPS and PODS doing?

FACE It: You Should Improve Your Customer Experience

The title of this blog, isn’t meant to imply you are in denial about the importance of customer experience elevation. Rather, I am using FACE as an acronymn for 4 guiding principles to consider as you craft customer-centric solutions. For me FACE stands for:





I can demonstrate 2 of the 4 principles (Fast and Easy) with one quick example – the Domino’s Zero Click Pizza app. While many of us may not have thought that ordering pizza was a particuarly time consuming task, Domino’s sought to make the relatively easy even easier.

In the spirit of “fast” and “easy” here is how the Zero Click app works. Since most people buy the same food items repeatedly, Domino’s will enable a customer to open an app that populates their saved “easy order.” Upon opening, a 10 second clock will count down and voila the order is placed.

In an interview for Ad Age Alex Guerri, the Vice President and account director of Domino’s creative agency, CP& B noted, “While it does seem like one click is trivial, we thought, ‘Why do we even need that one click?’”

Obviously, customers can stop the clock on the app or change their order if they need to but otherwise they have entered the land of “zero click” online ordering.

With such an emphasis on fast and easy customer experiences, it is increasingly important to focus on the accuracy that goes with that speed. For most customers, fast and wrong is not necessarily better than slow and right! In many service delivery systems, inherent tension exists between speed and accuracy and the feedback from your customers should guide the appropriate balance.

Finally, given that technology plays such an important role in driving accuracy and speed, great service organizations must humanize customer experience by hiring and developing compassionate and caring service professionals.

Let’s assume the Zero Click app allows for fast and easy ordering and accurate product delivery. Domino’s had best assure that they have caring people available to help when the app freezes or when a pizza gets ordered faster than a customer could have stopped it from processing.

So how is the FACE of your customer-experience?

Is it fast enough, accurate enough, caring enough, and easy enough?

I used to say that if you aren’t delivering adequately your customers were just a “click” away from the competition. Thanks to Domino’s they might not even need to click…

Face it

FACE it: You Should Improve Your Customer Experience {Infographic}

Face it

Running with a 92 Year Old Man: Lessons in Living and Serving Fully

(This is the first time in which I have incorporated original content from my monthly newsletter into a blog post. Hopefully, when you you read about Ernie Andrus you will understand why!)

In 1998, I remember reading Tom Brokaw’s fascinating book The Greatest Generation.
Upon completion of that book, I walked away with a deeper appreciation for men like my father. They

SERVED selflessly at a critical point in American history – World War II.

From the little bit of information my father shared about the war, it appears that he lied about his age so he would be old enough to join the Army and he gorged on water to make weight requirements. After he enlisted, my father experienced combat that would leave shrapnel pressing dangerously close to his spine for the remainder of his life – the result of multiple purple heart awarded injuries sustained at locations like Anzio beachhead.

Upon his return, the demons of war haunted my father on occasion and he routinely demonstrated a hyper-startle response. Despite those after-effects, my father sought to leave the war well behind him and instead focus on the future and the family he created upon his return.

I was reminded of my father as I spent time recently with a contemporary of his. That man, Ernie Andrus, is truly 92 years young as I can attest by the 6.2 mile run we completed together. My run with Ernie was just a small section of his overall life “mission” – which, at present, includes a run from the west to east coast of America. Ernie’s epic journey began in San Diego, California back in October 2013 and is scheduled to be completed near Brunswick, Georgia in August of this year (one day after Ernie turns 93).

ErnieSo what propels a 92-year-old man to run across the United States? In short, the same ferocious fire that caused him to serve our country in the United States Navy during his youth.

Ernie’s purpose, this run, “is being undertaken to raise money for the LST 325 SHIP MEMORIAL, INC. The LST 325 is a World War II-era naval landing ship used by the US Navy…One thousand fifty-one LSTs were built during World War II. The 325 is the only one left that has been restored and is still operational. Plans were being made to return the ship to Normandy for the D-Day Memorial Service (D-Day Plus 70, 2014) and beach it at the same location where it was on Omaha beach 70 years before. The cost of taking this ship across the Atlantic and back is tremendous. Shortage of finances caused the 2014 trip to be canceled. Perhaps we can raise enough money for D Day plus 75 in 2019.”

J&EIn his book Drive, Daniel Pink suggests that there are 3 key drivers for human motivation – purpose, autonomy, and mastery. Ernie runs because he has purpose. He controls his running schedule and allows fortunate people like me to run alongside to promote his cause and share his message which is fairly simple: “Freedom is not free. We must be willing and eager to serve; particularly, if we want to answer the call for our generation – just like those that have gone before.”

And Ernie runs to “master” each moment and each step along the journey. Ernie told me that some family members questioned whether he could complete such a monstrous goal but, “They reflected back on my life and knew if I could dream it, I could make it happen. Even my doctor said, “You could die running or die sitting on your couch. So run, Ernie.”

Ernie does run – about 19 miles a week (3 days a week approximately 6.2 miles a day). He told me he doubts his dream of having his ship make the trip back to Normandy beach will actually happen (donations are woefully below what it will take to fund that journey) but that he is grateful for the opportunity to raise money that will contribute to its long-term preservation.

Ernie & JosephIf you would like to learn more about Ernie or his LST 325 – please check out

More importantly, if Ernie can run across America at the age of 92 fueled by purpose, mastery, and autonomy, what are you dreaming? And, what DREAM WILL YOU make a reality with the same fuel?

Lessons in Living & Serving Fully {Infographic}


Understanding Success Habits {Guest post by Ariel Banayan}

There’s one real truth that we all have to accept in order to place ourselves on the right path to success. We ARE our habits.  

Our lives are comprised of the sum total of the things we do on a daily basis, not the things we do sometimes.

Once we’ve accepted the fact that our lives are comprised of the daily actions we take, the next step you have to take in order to move from where you are right now to where you want to be, is to determine the daily actions that will take you from here to there and find ways to actually implement these daily actions into your life.

That being said, there are certain habits, what I like to call ‘success habits,’ that almost all successful people seem to incorporate into their lives in some way or another. The habits themselves are precisely related to your welfare; your physical, mental and emotional well-being.

If you’re feeling great physically, are able to withstand and deal with problems that might invoke difficult emotions in you, and mentally you aren’t bogged down by identifying with every passing thought, you are essentially giving yourself the energy and space that you need to be an energetic, creative, problem-solving individual on a pathway to success.

The only question left is, what are these habits & how do I implement them into my life?

The Habit: Waking up early with a purpose

The reason waking up early is correlated so highly with success is that the world is truly quiet in the morning hours and distractions are at a minimum compared to the rest of the day. You can use the morning hours to either get a necessary task done before the day even really starts or you can partake in another activity that will help ensure your mental, physical or emotional welfare for the coming day by eating a good breakfast, meditating, reading, writing, etc.

How to become a morning person:

  • Sleep early and stay consistent about sleeping at a reasonable hour.
  • Have all of the following items done before going to bed:
    1. All your bags packed and ready to go for the next day so you don’t have to do anything besides pick it/them up on the way out of the house.
    2. The clothes you want to wear the next day should be decided and laid out so you can just put them on after you brush your teeth or shower.
    3. What you want to eat for breakfast (I recommend eating breakfast to help create lasting energy for the day).
    4. A thought out plan for what your morning will consist of.
  • As soon as you open your eyes, JUMP out of bed and do something active like 5 pushups or 10 jumping jacks. What this does is it gets your energy flowing and literally forces your body to wake up without giving your mind a chance to come in and convince you to sleep for those five extra minutes.
  • Don’t waste any time before you get your day started.

The Habit: Physical stimulation/Exercise

Looking good and feeling more confident about your physical attraction are just a few of the incidental benefits of exercising. When you give your body the physical stimulation that it craves, your body literally rewards you with happiness in the form of endorphins. Creating this beautiful reciprocal relationship with your body is one of the keys to success.

How to begin an exercise regimen:

  • Think deeply about the type of body you want. Do you just want to lose weight? Are you trying to put on muscle? Do you want to tone up?
  • Do some research about different activities that will get you the results you crave.
  • Determine which of the activities that will help push you towards your goal body seem the most fun to you. Which of these activities do you genuinely think you will enjoy?
  • Set aside a specific time in your schedule to engage in the physical activities you choose and try to the greatest extent possible to remain consistent about the times you dedicate towards your physical well being. After a few weeks, your body will be ready for physical activity at the time you ordinarily exercise.
  • If you see that your physical activity is starting to feel more like a burden than an enjoyable time of the day, switch it up! Go back to the drawing board and think about different ways to exercise that sound fun and appealing to try.

The Habit: Eating Healthier

To operate at maximum productive capacity, you need to have maximum energy levels. Begin paying attention to how your body responds to the different foods you eat and you’ll quickly understand the importance of not over-eating and eating nutritious foods that fuel your body with clean energy. You’re not dieting, you’re just cleaning up your diet.

How to clean up your diet:

  • Our junk food intake has to be at a minimum and the easiest way to ensure that happens is by simply not buying soda, chips, chocolate, candy, etc. for your home. Keeping your home clean of junk will help keep your diet clean.
  • Try to eat bread and other carbohydrates earlier in the day rather than during dinner and as part of late night snacks.
  • Water, water and more water. Water helps keeps you full and fresh. Dehydration manifests in pretty subtle yet aggravating symptoms.
  • No matter what the rest of your diet looks like, make sure to eat vegetables and fruits. For your body to operate at its maximum possible potential it needs a strong immune system along with nutrients required to ensure its health and energy.

The Habit: Meditating

All day long our minds are racing at 100 mph and most of the time we’re not even aware of it. We don’t ordinarily think about our thoughts as events that require energy, but every thought that we have requires a certain amount of energy. The thoughts that we really identify with strongly and force us into imagination drain us. Meditation helps patch up the leaking of energy caused by the neuroticism of our minds.

How to implement meditation into your life:

  • Full body stretch for 2-3 minutes.
  • Sit comfortably in a chair or cross-legged on a pillow on the floor. If you’re on the floor, try to sit on the edge of the pillow so you’re leaning forward towards your knees as opposed to your back to ensure no pressure on your spine.
  • Close your eyes and try to follow your breath. Become aware of the fact that it is taking lace. Your mind will begin talking immediately and all you have to do is see it. It’s not about controlling what the mind is saying, you’ll quickly realize you can’t do that. The point is to simply be aware of what is taking place and come back to your breath when you are taken by the flow of thoughts.

The habits discussed are meant to prepare your body, mind and heart for whatever they’ll each be faced with throughout the day. Remember, you are your habits. If on a daily basis you eat a bunch of junk, disrespect your body by failing to providing it with the physical stimulation it needs, and allow your thoughts to run your day, you cannot possibly operate at your maximum potential.

Just like you need to take care of your car with oil, gas, water, and good breaks to run perfectly, your body, mind and heart need you to take care of them.

Note on the importance of an accountability partner:

Why is it so much easier to go to the gym when you have a trainer? Why does it motivate you to work hard when the people around you work harder than you?

Having someone to help make sure you stick to your goals is one of the keys to changing your habits. When you and another individual make a commitment to keep each other in check, you not only have someone that is counting on you to help them progress, but they’re there for you every step of the way helping you through the struggle.

Partners In Grind is a free tool that pairs two individuals up who would like to implement the same habit into their lives. As soon as partners are matched, they become each other’s personal coaches and create momentum for positive change for each other’s lives through setting individual goals and helping guide each other through difficult points with constant positive reinforcement and encouragement.


Ariel Banayan is a 3rd year law student at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, and a healthy lifestyle entrepreneur.

Through the Mirror of Your Customer

Astronaut Eugene Cernan once said, “If you begin to think you’re something you’re not, you’re looking in the wrong mirror.”

In my opinion, many industries have been looking in the wrong mirror for a long time! Soberingly, those businesses are being forced to see themselves anew – in a reflection of the perceptions of their consumers.

Let’s take the mattress sales industry as an example…

If you are like most of us, shopping for a mattress is a neccesary evil.

The process typically involves seeing an advertisement in the Sunday newspaper promising inexpensive mattress options. Once you arrive in the showroom, the salesperson steers you away from the products featured in the ad and quickly shuffles you off to lay down on far more expensive options. You will soon have a strong feeling that the salesperson is steering you to a product which will deliver the best commision for him or her and that they have far less concern for your sleep comfort over the long-term.

Recently innovators in the mattress sales world looked at the industry’s overall sales process from the “right mirror” – the one reflecting the customer’s experience. Philip Krim, CEO of Casper Sleep Inc. noted, “Statistically, lying on a bed for four minutes has no correlation to whether it’s the right bed for you.” Yet this has been the industry approach to sales.

Based on these observations Krim, and leaders at other companies like Casper, sought to remove customer experience pain points and eliminate “bad profit.” Bad profit is a term I use when a business makes money through a lack of transparency in pricing or where their revenue is at the expense of – not for the benefit of – the customer.

Here are some of the specifics in the transformation of the mattress sales experience, which should be applicable to any business. Mattress leaders…

  • Reduced the complexity and breadth of options associated with their products.
  • Targeted products most favored by consumers and sought to lower the price of production of those products to deliver them as economically as possible. (In Caspar’s case they focused on memory foam sleep technology.)
  • Emphasized ecommerce! This lowered the overhead associated with running a store front and offered mattresses at an approximately 35 to 65% reduction from traditional mattress stores.
  • Innovated a delivery method. (In their case, Casper compressed their mattresses so they essentially can be delivered in a box that will fit in the trunk of a car. Upon opening the box, the mattress leaps back into the shape you would likely see in the traditional showroom.)
  • Offered ample time for customers to try the product and made the return of the product easy. (Casper offers free shipping and returns on all orders. Customers also can return the mattress anytime up to 100 nights after they begin sleeping on it.)

After reading this glowing praise of customer experience re-design, I should clarify I am not a spokesperson for Casper, I’ve received no compensation from them nor am I endorsing their product (not to say that I wouldn’t accept a mattress that showed up at my door).

I am, however, suggesting that Phillip Krim and others like him are using the “customer experience” as the mirror by which they view themselves. As such, they are producing disruptive (not incremental) forms of change.

When you look at your reflection “through the mirror” of your customer, what do you see?