February 2018
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Joseph's Blog

Customer Centricity is MORE than Customer Experience

Recently, I’ve been talking with clients about a critical, albeit subtle distinction – so I thought I would share it with you.

Frequently, you’ll hear these two phrases used rather interchangeably. The first is customer-centricity, and the other is customer experience. From my vantage point, the latter phrase (customer experience) is a subset of the former (customer-centricity).

I think of it like this. Customer-centricity is a commitment or a strategy to assure the success of your customer. Whereas, customer experience is a set of customer perceptions forged across all their interactions with your brand.

Leaders at brands committed to customer-centric outcomes typically seek to demonstrate that commitment by interacting with the customer in ways that favorably affect their customers’ perceptions. That said, many customer-centric actions happen outside the view of customers and, as such, may not even reach the awareness of the customer.

Customer-Centric Even If Customers Don’t Know

It’s been said that “Integrity is what you do when no one is watching.” Similarly, customer-centricity reflects all the things you do whether or not the customer notices. I remember a discussion early on with a Starbucks financial officer. We talked about a seemingly minor decision that had a substantial cost impact on the brand but had only a subtle impact on a subset of customer perceptions. That decision involved toilet paper!

To understand the significance of Starbucks’ toilet paper decision, please indulge me to outline Starbucks customer-centric strategy and unfortunately offer a bit of bathroom banter. Leaders at Starbucks, in part, define customer success as offering affordable luxury to customers wherever the customer finds the brand (online, voice, mobile, and in-store). This objective is based on the reality that not everyone can treat themselves to a spa day at the Ritz-Carlton. But most people can nurture themselves by swinging into a Starbucks to sit in a comfortable chair and savor their favorite non-alcoholic beverage. In-store customer success occurs, in part, when a Starbucks customer leaves feeling affordably nurtured.

Many things go into achieving that customer-centric outcome (training, lighting, products, store design, etc.). Some of the decisions involved in this customer-centric strategy are extremely obvious to customers and others are not. Truly customer-centric brands make decisions that drive customer success even if the impact of those decisions are imperceptible or faintly perceived by the customer during their journey with the brand. Two-ply vs. single-ply toilet paper is one such decision that is in keeping with Starbucks customer-centric focus although only mildly perceptible to a segment of Starbucks consumers.

Taking Short Cuts

Forgive me for this mini-refresher on toilet paper, but it’s needed for context. As the description implies, single-ply toilet paper is a single layer of paper while double-ply is made from two layers of paper. People who research such things suggest that people do not compensate with single-ply paper by using twice as much of it. In fact, a Reddit researcher suggests single-ply is at least 22% more efficient and yes cheaper than double-ply!

If you multiply the cost efficiency of single-ply toilet paper times annual toilet paper consumption across every Starbucks around the world, you could generate big savings with likely minimal impact on customer perceptions of the touchpoint. To minimize that impact further, you can subtract out a lot of customers who never use toilet paper in a Starbucks and make the case that “single-ply” is the future! Financial officers at less customer-centric brands might say, “Let’s go with single-ply. The toilet paper touchpoint is a small part of the customer journey.” A customer-centric brand like Starbucks says let’s stay with double-ply.

On a More Serious Note

While Starbucks toilet paper is my somewhat light-hearted example of customer-centricity in action, recent choices made by another client should bring home the distinction far more powerfully. This example demonstrating customer centricity involves doing the right thing for your customer even if that potentially means short-term consequences for your sales.

This month is a huge month for Godiva chocolates. Valentine’s Day is a pinnacle sales driver for the brand. Yet, in Japan Godiva purchased an advertisement discouraging chocolate gifting for Valentine’s Day. As you may know, Japan has a tradition of women being expected to give “obligation chocolate” to male co-workers on Valentine’s Day. There is a reciprocal tradition of men giving chocolate to female colleagues about a month later. In the advertisement, the head of Godiva Japan essentially said “chocolate is for pleasure” and shouldn’t be a pressured expectation. WOW, customer-centric strategy without attempting to positively improve the customer experience online or instore, except to possibly reduce a stress driver for purchase!

Taking a Stand for the Customer

Customer centricity is the willingness to stand-up for what is best for your customer. Often but not always, that commitment is realized in perceptual contact points during the customer’s journey with your brand (the customer experience).

How are you defining customer success?

What decisions are you making in keeping with a customer-centric commitment to help your customers achieve that success even if those decisions have short-term consequences on you or fall outside the perceptual experience of your customers?



Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

The Robots are Here and There is Fear | Infographic



Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli


The Robots are Here and There is Fear

I thought I would conjure up the spirit of the US patriot Paul Revere who (during my school years) was credited as shouting, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” With solid scholarship, it appears Paul Revere likely never shouted those words at all. In fact, the words he did say  –  apparently something more on the order of, “The regulars are coming out.” The word regulars was code for the British and was likely uttered in hushed tones.

Not letting facts get in the way of a needed point, I’ll raise the spirit of the long-held (albeit somewhat stylized version) of Paul Revere’s warning and contemporize it to shout, “The Robots are here! The Robots are here!”

The winter Olympics are a strong signal of the robots’ arrival, and I am certain we can expect far more from robotics and artificial intelligence in the years ahead.

In case you missed some of the 85 robot appearances in Pyeongchang, an Olympic venue swarming with robots, here are a few highlights (or depending on your perspective lowlights). At the winter Olympics robots:

  • Emulate fish and swim in the International Broadcast Center
  • Vacuum floors in the press area
  • Provide translation services for guests at venues
  • Paint murals
  • Carried the Olympic flame
  • Skied on the sidelines alongside Olympic athletes

The Reuters article on the skiing robots  (click on the picture to see them in action) notes that the robots fared better in handling the challenges of high winds than did human alternatives. 

That article went on to describe the requirements for robot participation (e.g., height, standing on two legs and using skis and poles) and how “The robots were equipped with camera sensors to detect the blue and red flagpoles in their path and turn as they raced down a beginner’s hill.”

A preview of the future of robots and sport came in the form of a comment from the robot ski race event organizer, Kim Dong-uk who said, “I think in the future robots will have their own Winter Games…”

While watching robots skiing has novelty appeal for me, I can’t see myself investing money or time watching robotic battles – but I suspect I am not the target audience.

The Data on Fear of Robot and AI Displacement

The arrival of robots (and artificial intelligence for that matter) is doing more than spark blog posts like mine about their role in the winter Olympics. According to a recent Gallup study:

  • 73% of Americans predict AI will cause overall job losses.
  • To avert losing one’s job to AI, 49% of American’s say “soft” skills, such as teamwork, communication, creativity, and critical thinking will be most important, while 51% say job preservation will require “hard” skills like math, science, and coding.
  • 51% of respondents noted they either “agree” or “strongly agree” that additional training will be required to maintain current salary levels as AI advances.

Soft or Hard Skills

Like so many binary choices, I doubt that future employment will depend upon either “soft” or “hard” skills. In my opinion, both skill sets will be in high demand.

As technology advances, programmers and data scientists will fuel expansion. Additionally, individuals who can make human connections and create solutions based on an empathic understanding of the human condition (an emotional sensitivity and insight beyond the capacity of algorithms) will also become invaluable.

The key for us as business people, entrepreneurs, customer facing experience creators, and human beings for that matter, is to develop our talents in a way that complement the emergence of AI and robots (certainly not to battle them on the ski slopes or elsewhere).

How are you helping yourself and your team members acquire the skills that will likely make you and them employable for life – given a future where technology will certainly absorb many automated tasks?


Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli



{Infographic} Customer Experience Lessons from Television Advertising’s Biggest Day in America



Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

Customer Experience Lessons from Television Advertising’s Biggest Day In America

First, notice the title of this blog! You will see that I didn’t mention the name by which people typically refer to the season-ending major sporting event where commercials play a central role. Therein is my first lesson:

Trademarks matter. Virtually every phrase used to describe that event has been trademarked and the equity created around it is policied aggressively by the trademark owners attorneys. Have you taken the time to carefully craft your trade dress, register your trademark, and protect your branded experience assets?

Lessons from the Commercials

Ok, on to this year commercials during that event which reportedly went for just over $5 million for a 30-second ad. Let’s look at some of the key customer experience lessons we can derive from some of the most effective and least effective ads developed by the world’s most esteemed advertising creatives:

Communicate when people want to listen. Given the divisiveness of our political and social environment, many brands had to think long and hard about making the financial investment needed to produce and slot ads during this year’s event. That said, there wasn’t a lack of companies putting up the money. Those investments occurred because customers and prospects wanted to listen and watch. Unlike the remainder of the year, when people record and skip through television commercials, there was an audience of approximately 100 million people who were eager and willing to give two minutes or so of attention during each commercial break so that brands could share their story and express their brand’s character. When and where are your customers open to listening to your message? Are your marketing efforts positioned to “catch people where they are” or are you messaging them when they are otherwise pre-occupied?

Be careful when you leverage non-commercial messaging for commercial gain. An automobile company advertising during the sporting event purportedly sought permission from Martin Luther King’s family to use Reverend King’s words in the context of a commercial about one of their brands – suffice it to say it was met with polarizing results. A similar example could be found in the halftime performance of Justin Timberlake. Fans of Prince took to social media decrying Justin Timberlake’s choice to use clips of Prince in an homage duet. During his lifetime Prince was a critic of similar “from the grave” duets and in a Guitar World article Prince said, “That’s the most demonic thing imaginable…that will never happen to me. To prevent that kind of thing from happening is another reason why I want artistic control.” In the spirit of the phrase “ just because you can doesn’t mean you should” … what are some associations you might want to steer away from as you message about your business offerings?

Playfully maintain a sense-of-humor. While the same caution about discretion and taste apply to this lesson (as they did in the lesson that immediately preceded this one), humor can powerfully put people at ease, communicate approachability, and drive the type of likeability sought by people who included in their dating ads words like, “I possess a great sense-of-humor.” One of the most popular ads (as evaluated by people like Ad Age who track such things) was Amazon’s lost voice. The ad juxtaposed many desirable elements: recognizable celebrities, timely relevance, and a brand’s willingness to poke a bit of fun at itself. Where does your playful and self-accepting humor present itself throughout your customer’s journey with you?

Positive surprise. Unlike any prior year’s event, the surprise was in short supply among the commercials aired during the game. Increasingly we saw ads presented in advance of the game to create early buzz. That said, Tide faired well with a running set of commercials that they hadn’t previewed before the event and in which they tried to lure the viewer into thinking they were seeing a typical advertisement for diamonds, shavers, etc. only to “surprise” the viewer with the spot actually being about Tide. Thus, ultimately the brand tried to cause the viewer to think every ad might be a Tide ad! How are you using elements of positive surprise, not only in your messaging but at high-value interactions with your customers?

Want to Learn from Them All?

There are so many lessons, one could extrapolate from all 52 commercials slotted in that major sporting or might I say major advertisement event! If you happened to miss any of those savory and in some cases unsavory moments or lessons you can dive in for more. Trust me the advertisers won’t mind if you catch them all here!


Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

{Infographic} Supercharge your business by letting go

Supercharge Your Business by Letting Go

During the last several months, The Michelli Experience added a new division – Business Supercharged (consulting/coaching services for an exclusive group of entrepreneurs and mid-sized business leaders). Previously, I worked almost entirely with senior leaders in Fortune 500 companies.

As I embarked on this new set of products, I spoke with many small and mid-sized business owners. Those conversations helped me appreciate how quickly the simplest components of business can become complex without guidance.

Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize

Those conversations also highlighted the challenges entrepreneurs face when it comes to prioritization and disciplined execution. As such, I thought I would take this opportunity in the new year to share a message about the finite nature of focus, attention, and resources.

Many leaders will begin 2018 with a long list of new strategic priorities. They will identify six, seven, or more new projects to add to business objectives carried over from 2017. All of those new initiatives may, in fact, be relevant to future success but few will likely garner buy-in and effective execution.

From my vantage point, the art of business success is identifying key business objectives and executing against them flawlessly. All too often companies drift in what I call “shiny ball syndrome.”

Lessons from Mr. Buffett

Having consulted for a couple of Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries, I have long been a follower of the concise and transformational business wisdom of Warren Buffett. On the topic of business focus, Warren Buffett is quoted by Scott Dinsmore as identifying a 5 step process for prioritizing true success:

1) Know what you want – List your top 25.

2) Pick your top 5.

3) Plan for your top 5.

4 ) Marry your top priorities.

5) Know your “avoid at all costs list” and stick to it.

One More Thing?

Forgive me for thinking I can add to the insights of the Oracle of Omaha, but I would include “give up things that will not enable you to achieve your “top 5” business objectives this year.

That means while other leaders are making a bevy of “new” plans for a “new year,” I challenge you to play a zero-sum game. For each new priority, I ask you to identify something you are willing to “let go of” or some new found set of “resources” you can access so that your new priorities can be fully achieved.

The notion of letting go of something to achieve something else is anathema for many people. However, my experience with CEOs at companies like Mercedes-Benz demonstrates the importance of not only looking for what you wish to “add” in 2018 but also what you will “subtract” to make those additions possible.

Sharing the Vision

While working with Steve Cannon, then CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, I saw the power of declaring a manageable set of transformational leadership objectives – one of which involved being a world-class customer experience provider (not just best in automotive but best across all businesses who interact directly with customers).

Not only did Steve stay on message concerning the overriding importance of customer experience differentiation but he also boldly stated that customer experience at Mercedes-Benz would be HIS #1 priority and HIS desired legacy with the brand. To that end, Steve not only spoke about customer experience prioritization but he also captured his vision of that journey in a visual depiction:

The Dump Truck

Steve’s map had a significant detail embedded in it – a dump truck with the words “get rid of” on its side.

That image of the “get rid of dump truck” was Steve’s way of signaling the importance of “letting go” of unnecessary demands, priorities, and cultural legacy components that would have hindered Mercedes-Benz’s customer experience transformation. This “letting go process” was particularly important since Steve knew that success would need to happen without increasing headcount or making major expenditures.

First Hand

At The Michelli Experience, we’ve certainly had to let go of historic aspects of our business as we readied to launch Business Supercharged in 2018. I suspect you too might need to “let go of some of the old” to make room for the high priority items that will help you achieve and sustain your success in the year ahead!


Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli





{Infographic} Retail Armageddon, Chupacabra, and Other Myths


Retail Armageddon, Chupacabra, and Other Myths

A simple Google search for the phrase “retail Armageddon” produces 413,000 results.

Many of those references are very recent. Here are just a few of the search findings from this year:

May 5th, Retail Armageddon: More bankruptcies in four months than all of 2016

June 3rd, It’s a retail Armageddon as over 1,000 stores close in one single week

October 20th, Stores Struggle to Find Workers Amid Retail ‘Armageddon’


The “sky is falling,” doomsday predictions for retail have a lot in common with myths like the chupacabra – a folkloric beast whose Spanish name literally translates to goat sucker. These mythical creatures were purported to attack and drink the blood of livestock. Like any good myth, there is some truth to the legend. In the case of the chupacabra, people likely observed feral dogs infected with rabies and conjured up images of creatures of various sizes and shapes. In the case of the “retail Armageddon,” passive observers and some industry analysts confused the closure of “traditional retail businesses” or reduced traffic at locations like malls with the annihilation of all retail.

Just the facts

Fortunately, the best antidote to a bad case of retail Armageddon mythology is a sizable dose of facts. For example, one need look no further than early numbers from the 2017 Christmas shopping season. Irrespective of all the store closings that took place in 2017, US retailers had the highest sales since 2011. Year-over-year numbers are up 4.9%.

Yes, Virginia, there is retail in America, and it is not on the verge of collapse.

Retail (like everything else in life) has simply changed with the times. In fact, this year’s impressive sales numbers were generated, not through the retail channels of my youth – malls and catalogs – but through technology platforms of today – tablets, smartphones, and orders placed by digital assistants. In fact, online retail increased 18.1% this year.

Amazon continues to be a big winner. In their post-Christmas press release Amazon reports impressive sales volumes:

More than one billion items were ordered from small businesses and entrepreneurs worldwide this season – and over just five days, from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, nearly 140 million items were ordered from small businesses and entrepreneurs. Amazon Devices also had its best holiday yet, with tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices sold worldwide. Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote were not only the top-selling Amazon devices this holiday season, but they were also the best-selling products from any manufacturer in any category across all of Amazon.

Beyond the pure sales numbers, Amazon highlights the growing trend to mobile ordering and even the use of Augmented Reality technology in the shopping process:

The top five items ordered on a mobile device were the Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote and the TP-Link Smart Plug.

Customers worldwide shopping on the Amazon App increased nearly 70% this holiday season.

More than 1,400 electronics products were ordered per second on a mobile device this holiday season.

AR view saw the most usage on Cyber Monday. The most popular item viewed with AR view throughout this holiday season was a black chair with ottoman. Top categories viewed with AR view are furniture, toys, Amazon devices, kitchen items and consumer electronics.

Lest you conclude that brick-and-mortar stores are dead, realize that the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day alone is estimated to produce 69 billion dollars in retail revenue, about 11% of the season’s total. Most of those purchases will occur in traditional stores as customers initiate returns.

The art of retail

The art of retail is having the right product for the right customer – where, when, and how that customer wants it. There will always be retail stores and technologies to make the shopping experience more pleasurable. The core principles of customer experience excellence remain in retail and all sectors:

  • Listen, observe, and understand the wants, needs, and desires of your customers
  • Focus on product and service quality
  • Price fairly
  • Have well-trained people in place who demonstrate care for your customers
  • Reduce the effort your customers expend to get what they want
  • Invest in infrastructure that makes the shopping experience pleasurable
  • Demonstrate your appreciation for your customer’s patronage

These are NOT the end times for retail…they are simply times to adapt to changing needs for consumers. Afterall one moment we might be selling and the next we ARE buying!


Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli




{Infographic} Going Beyond the Presents for the Christmas Season



Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli