April 2018
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Joseph's Blog

The Starbucks Experience Infographic | Challenges and Opportunities in Philadelphia

starbucks, customer experience



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 Starbucks Experience | Challenges and Opportunities in Philadelphia

starbucks experience

As you might expect from someone who has worked with and written a couple of books about Starbucks (The Starbucks Experience and Leading the Starbucks Way), I have had my share of media asking me to opine on what happened in that Philadelphia Starbucks when 911 was called and the police placed two black men in handcuffs and led them out?

My short answer is that any response at this time will be too simplistic and likely will fail to address a myriad of social/customer experience factors at play. Personally. I’ll await a root cause analysis before I become too passionate in my condemnation of anyone. If anything, the way the two men were treated speaks to the dangers of pre-judging others.

To date, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson has issued a statement promising a deep dive assessment of the breakdowns that led to the police action in the store. In his initial written response, Kevin describes the treatment of those men as “reprehensible” and goes on to outline three components of Starbucks initial response:

First, to once again express our deepest apologies to the two men who were arrested with a goal of doing whatever we can to make things right.  Second, to let you know of our plans to investigate the pertinent facts and make any necessary changes to our practices that would help prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again.  And third, to reassure you that Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling.

The Complexity of the Situation

I am advocating a thoughtful and thorough response given the complex social factors captured (in part) by the viral video. These factors likely will include:

  • Challenges in setting basic service policies that apply across a sprawling retail brand
  • Unconscious (if not conscious) bias
  • Reliance on human judgment in customer service
  • Changing social times


As a customer experience consultant, I ‘ve come to learn that it’s extremely difficult to craft robust policies when it comes to use of bathrooms, loitering, or guest removal. Extreme cases are easy to define. For example, it’s easy to set limits on aggressive guests seeking to harm others or people sleeping in your business. However, how do you handle a guest who complains that the customer sitting next to them is playing a streaming video too loud through their headphones? Or what should you do when a guest complains about the smell of another customer. Also, should you lock all bathrooms across an entire brand or give store managers discretion to lock bathrooms in areas where graffiti or criminal activity are prevalent in their bathrooms?

Personally, I am not a fan of requiring anyone to make a purchase in order to use a restroom or to sit at your business for that matter. I tend to view people who are not making a purchase today as if they are future customers and trust that they will buy some other time. That said, I also understand the tradeoffs involved in creating shared seating and shared bathroom spaces along with the fact that private businesses may not be required to have publicly accessible bathrooms.

Ultimately, policies can make situations like the one in Philadelphia worse (no bathroom without a purchase), but they can’t, in any of themselves, avert situations like the one that occurred in that Starbucks. Effectiveness in human service delivery depends upon the selection and training of team members. Even then, the sheer number of interactions occurring every day across a brand like Starbucks produces innumerable service breakdowns and continual opportunities to learn from those shortcomings.

I vividly remember a Starbucks incident in 2001, right after the World Trade Center collapse, where baristas charged first responders at Ground Zero for bottled water. The leadership at the time viewed the breakdown to be a training issue, made appropriate apologies, and personally hand-delivered a check to offset the expenses incurred by first responding agencies.

Overall Training

Years ago, Starbucks baristas were trained using a tool called “connect, discover, and respond.” In essence, it was a card game that posed café situations where guests presented with a variety of needs (some easily managed, others far more complex). Baristas would role-play how they would handle these diverse situations such that they could manage the broad needs of all customers in a store while attempting to treat each individual in keeping with 5 Ways of Being:

Be Welcoming

Be Concerned

Be Knowledgeable

Be Genuine

Be Involved

My hunch is training programs like “connect, discover, respond” will be enhanced at Starbucks and may be complemented with education on unconscious and conscious bias. A few months ago I wrote a blog about the impact of unconscious or implicit bias in customer service delivery (specifically on how beliefs about female patients lurk below the surface of awareness such that healthcare providers treat women with a different level of care than men).

A New World

The horrific incident captured at Starbucks speaks to the critical importance of investing in customer experience enhancement today!

Stripped of any racial overtones, there would have been a time in history when this situation may have been characterized as two men enter a business ask to use a restroom and are told they must make a purchase to gain access. They do not make a purchase. Instead, they sit at a table in the business, they are asked to leave, and they decline. The business calls the police, the men are escorted out in handcuffs, and virtually no one knows.

Thanks to the omnipresent video camera, however, this single event has led to a boycott Starbucks movement, community protestors gaining access to that store, and a media free-for-all.

How are customer service policies, employee selection, and service training helping you avert a similar outcome?

To learn more about how you can effectively select and train service talent to manage the complexity of human service delivery, please contact us so you and I can spend some time together discussing your needs.


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


Email Etiquette {Infographic}


email etiquette, email communication, business communication


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

Take Service Communication to the Next Level

waiting for email, service standards, business communication

Waiting for Your Email: For the Good of Humanity, Please Reply

What happened to service standards and communication etiquette? At the risk of sounding like my father (as he extolled the virtues of the good old days), I am mystified by the rapid deterioration of responsive communication and service urgency.

I suspect I’ve been blessed (and cursed) to have started my professional career working for companies and leaders who established clear, written communication expectations and insisted on reacting to customer needs, as “if your customer’s  lives and your income depend upon it.”

Together let’s take a look at the frightful state of business communication today and explore some tangible action steps to take your service communication to the next level. As for focus, let’s keep this to a discussion of email.

Despite being much maligned, email communication continues to be the lifeblood of most businesses and principles that apply to it can be adapted (at least in part) for text, phone, and even incredibly old-fashioned vehicles like letters and hand-written notes.

Email Realities in 2018

When I write an email (from the perspective of a customer, vendor, colleague, or service provider) one of five things are likely to happen:

  • I NEVER get a response and wonder if my email was received.
  • I get a response but only after repeated follow-up emails.
  • I get a response to part of an email, but I am left wondering if the email was read intently or in a cursory fashion.
  • I get a response telling me that a more detailed answer is forthcoming.
  • I get a thoughtful and helpful response.

I am fine with either of the last two outcomes, but unfortunately, I’m finding (and I assume it’s happening to you as well) that the first three realities are occurring with increased frequency. Alas, all too often it is no response, partial response, or a delayed response after incessant follow-up. It’s difficult enough to deal with those realities when I am a vendor, but when I am a customer I start thinking someone else must want to serve me more!

Written Service Standards

From my vantage point, the first step in combating this trend is to establish within your organization some minimum email response standards. For The Michelli Experience, all team members agree to the minimum standard of responding to emails within 24 hours of receipt (or the next business day, if a weekend).

Remember this is a MINIMUM standard and applies to all inbound emails. The quality of responses can be as simple as, “Thank you for your email. I am seeking information to answer your inquiry and will be able to provide you an update by…”  We’ve also established separate communication standards for peer-to-peer emails since failing to be responsive to one another can result in compounded delays for customers.

Celebrating Extraordinary Responsiveness

Often we win business because someone on our team was inordinately responsive to a customer or we retain business because existing customers enjoy consistently timely email follow-ups. We celebrate these victories at the start of our weekly business meetings in the form of peer “Wow Story” sharing. It is not unusual to hear one team member celebrate another for the speed and thoroughness with which they responded to a colleague or customer. We are in the people business, and people need swift communication.

The Quick Tips List

So now I’ll assume you have crafted written email standards, have leaders coaching their teams to deliver against those standards, addressed performance issues, and celebrated communication urgency. What else is there to do?

How about leading by your own actions and communicating important elements of email effectiveness (also referred to as email etiquette). Here are some of my quick tips:

  • Provide informative subject lines.
  • Use a professional salutation. (This is truly a dying convention!)
  • Be concise.
  • Assume the reader’s vantage point.
  • Proofread before clicking send. (Okay, I have some work to do on this one.)
  • Respond to everyone that isn’t spam or unwanted solicitations.
  • Go sparingly on humor and abbreviations.
  • Let intense emotions wane before sending an impulsive response.
  • Imagine the email will go viral and edit accordingly.
  • Sign the email.

What would you add to this list?

Communication Is Business

The volume of communication we receive today can be daunting, but that’s no excuse for failing to respond before your customer begins to worry (worry you didn’t get the message or worry that you don’t care).

That said, I am on the side of Jan Koum (a Ukrainian – American technology innovator responsible for WhatsApp). Jan once said, “Communication is at the very core of our society. That’s what makes us human.” So. I say let’s be human in our use of a powerful business communication tool (email) and not excuse ourselves for neglecting or ignoring one another!

If you’d like to learn more about how to elevate communication effectiveness and service urgency in your organization send us an email or set-up an appointment to speak with me.


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






Transparency and Safety Should Be Built Into Your Value Proposition | 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


Value Proposition & Customer-centricity | Explore & Commit

Hello Facebook & Apple – It’s about transparency and safety when it comes to value proposition and customer-centricity.

Unless you have gone well beyond the “delete Facebook” movement and literally given up the Internet altogether (which would mean I am writing this to myself), you’ve certainly had a front row seat to the Facebook vs. Apple verbal slugfest.

In this Corner…

Tim Cook from Apple landed a solid body blow to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook when he said…and I quote:

We could make a ton of money if we monetized our customers, if our customers were our product… We’ve elected not to do that … We’re not going to traffic in your personal life. Privacy to us is a human right, a civil liberty.

To which Mark Zuckerberg fired off a left hook at Apple saying:

You know, I find that argument, that if you’re not paying that somehow we can’t care about you, to be extremely glib. And not at all aligned with the truth…The reality here is that if you want to build a service that helps connect everyone in the world, then there are a lot of people who can’t afford to pay…and therefore, as with a lot of media, having an advertising-supported model is the only rational model that can support building this service to reach people.

Mark went on to quote Jeff Bezos from Amazon noting:

Jeff said, ‘There are companies that work hard to charge you more, and there are companies that work hard to charge you less.’ And at Facebook, we are squarely in the camp of the companies that work hard to charge you less and provide a free service that everyone can use.

I think Mark is passively implying that Apple is a company that works hard to charge you more.

So forgive me for playing the referee between these combatants, but from a customer-centric perspective, they are both partially correct as well as somewhat misguided.

From my humble perspective, you need five things to be a customer-centric business:

  • An offering that produces value
  • The ability to access the market for whom the value is wanted/needed
  • The skill to sell that value to the market
  • Proficiency to consistently deliver the value you sell
  • The capacity to sell your value for enough to keep you in business

Which is Nobler?

Tim Cook implies that customer-centricity means that the highest form of customer value is selling a product over a service. In essence, it’s nobler to buy an iPhone than to create value for advertisers by creating a service platform like Facebook.

Conversely, Mark Zuckerberg implies from a customer perspective free is better than fee.

Honestly, this all seems silly and shortsighted.

Creating customer value is noble – whether that value comes through:

  • Product (part of Apple’s value proposition)
  • Service (part of Facebook’s value proposition)
  • Shared Resource (think Uber or Airbnb)
  • Reselling
  • Loaning
  • Investing Capital
  • Providing Agency (for example a literary or sports agent)
  • Leasing
  • Aggregating Audiences (part of what draws advertisers to Facebook),
  • Selling Options
  • Providing Insurance


What is ignoble or contemptible is claiming to make choices that are customer-centric when those choices fail to be transparent or compromise customer safety.

In a Maslow meets customer sense, brands must produce value through a foundational commitment to basic needs (be that product safety or unauthorized dispersion of potentially harmful personal information). Then leaders require an understanding of higher level needs like human connection (fueled by both Apple and Facebook products and services).

My Focus

As I work with my consulting clients in the weeks ahead, I will attempt to navigate around the Which value is better? quagmire swirling around leaders of such high profile brands. Instead, I will focus on how to be maximally transparent about the value that is being created and how that value is being funded.

Similarly, I will guide those with whom I partner, to take care of fundamental needs like human safety and privacy. Only through these actions will they be fully able to demonstrate their commitment to customer-centricity!

Your Value Proposition Opportunity

I’d love to explore your value proposition and customer-centricity. Please sign-up for a complimentary call to discuss by visiting


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 Future of Customer Experience Delivery | Infographic


customer experience, 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 Future of Customer Experience Delivery

My crystal ball says winning experiences will deliver.

I lay no claim to my prognostic ability, but when it comes to the future of customer experience delivery, I’m willing to venture an educated guess.

I predict future retail wars will involve online brands (whose value proposition will be an expansive choice, “best pricing” and quick delivery) pitted against traditional retailers who will rely on (reasonable prices, reduced customer effort, sufficient selection, and immediate product availability). Ok,  I imagine some of you are saying, “That isn’t a prediction. That is a description of the current state.” To that, I might generally agree  – with an evolving caveat!

2-hours, no wait…1-hour delivery

As we look to the future, I suspect we will see more of what is being tested in select cities through the Amazon/Whole Foods model (and also available through providers like Instacart). In case you missed the announcement – or don’t live in one of Amazon’s test cities (initially Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas, and Virginia Beach but now expanded to San Francisco and Atlanta), Amazon began a new delivery model in February.

Essentially, the new service provides free 2-hour delivery (for orders over $35) from Whole Foods stores for Amazon Prime members (those individuals like myself who pay a $99 annual membership fee). Alternatively, you can expedite the order further to 1-hour delivery if you want to spend $7.99 for rushed arrival. I should note irrespective of which quick delivery option is selected,  a tip is highly recommended, not unlike free pizza delivery.

Taking away pain points – on and offline

Currently, companies like Amazon win customers through the selection, price, and ease involved in the shopping process. They lose them when customers want items now. So Amazon, and others like Instacart, will futuristically be looking for ways to whittle away at the time between ordering and item receipt. There are even rumblings that Amazon is exploring the development of its own delivery service so it will be less dependent on players like UPS.

Now let’s flip to the changes at more traditional “brick and mortar” retailers. Stores like Sams’ Club have been encouraging the use of an app that allows customers to “scan and skip the checkout line.” After you scan an item’s barcode, it drops into your virtual cart, and much like an online purchase, you hit check-out on your app when you finish shopping! Immediately your receipt appears on your phone app. The store’s inventory control staff member scans that receipt at the exit. This model is now being rolled out at Macy’s and other retailers (although the inventory control process is a little more involved as they have to remove theft control alarm devices affixed to higher-end items).

Narrowing of the differences and aligning with need states

Ultimately, I believe that these online and offline experiences will become increasingly more similar. As such, there will be a couple of different consumer need states that will predict which of the two options a customer will choose. Here’s how I see it. A customer will decide:

  • Do I want it NOW or SOON?
  • Do I need to SEE IT/TOUCH IT (have a tangible experience) before I buy it or can I purchase it from a distance?
  • Is the inconvenience of buying it in a store worth the IMMEDIATE PRODUCT ACCESS?
  • Will I ENJOY the shopping experience at the store such that it would be a welcome break from being home?

Most brands will likely have an online and in-store shopping experience. And many will have a third option of buying online then gain expedited in-store delivery exemplified by Walmart’s pick-up cubicles accessed by a code texted to your app.

With Certainty

The key to the future will be less about a war between online and off-line but a constant focus on how to minimize the liabilities of each platform while maximizing the benefits to the customer.

As customers we WANT what we WANT, when and where we WANT it – as economically, effortlessly, memorably, and pleasurably as possible.

As business leaders – we have to meet those WANTS across online and offline experience creation and delivery!


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

Business Sustainability Infographic

business sustainability, toys r us, modern business



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




Business Sustainability – Convenience, Speed, and Choice

In my house, we called it “Torture Us” as a synonym for Toys “R” Us!

Goodbye Toys “R” Us and Hello Your Sustainability

The name was our way of capturing the experience we had when we joined throngs of shoppers at Christmas looking for that understocked “must have” toy. Of course, there were those other experiences when the store served as a wonderland of possibilities. Since my children enjoyed the heyday of Toy “R” Us – they (like most adults of that era) were Toys “R” Us kids.

As such, seeing the store near my home emblazoned with “Store Closing” and “Everything Must Go” signage gave me pause to realize that the lifecycle of Toys “R” Us is a cautionary tale for the importance of customer experience relevance.

Brand Growth Factors

Let’s start our exploration with a review of the emergence of the Toys “R” Us brand.

From my vantage point, the foundational business disruption that led to Toys “R” Us’ success is seeded in the same elements that propelled its demise. Other than small local toy stores, the chain toy store environment at the time of Toys “R” Us’ growth marked by cramped in-mall brands.

Thanks to a store concept that Toys “R” Us had been evolving since 1948, the company built warehouse specialty stores (often freestanding buildings located near the malls) which offered such an abundance of choice and purchasing power that gave consumers a somewhat lower price. As such, brands like Lionel Playworld and KB Toys jettisoned to an early death throughout the 1970’s and 80’s.

Through catchy marketing tactics deployed across the strongest media channels of that period (mainly television, radio, and print), Toys “R” Us had children (and parents) signing their jingle, recognizing their mascot (Geoffrey the Giraffe) and waiting for the Christmas catalog to populate wish lists.

They were also building more and more warehouse stores and consuming a great deal of capital in the process. At the high water mark, Toys “R” Us had more than 800 stores in the US, 750 stores internationally, and 240 licensed stores spread across 37 countries. The companies employee count exceeded 64,000.


Like many successful retailers, Toys “R” Us began stretching their brand into derivate concepts like Babies “R” Us, Kids “R” Us and even Barbies “R” Us.

Kids “R” Us, for example, proved to be more of a stretch than the elasticity of the brand could bear. In my town, the Babies “R” Us was a free-standing building just yards away from the main freestanding (near a mall) established Toys “R” Us.

So Toys “R” Us grew thanks to effective marketing, product selection, a pricing advantage, and presence. They conveniently assured you would find something that could be readily grabbed to accommodate a birthday gift (maybe not the most popular toy you came for – as inventory was always a function of effective demand forecasting).

Convenience, Speed, and Choice

Enter the new category killer Amazon, whose customer experience design value equation targets “convenience, speed, and choice.” Amazon’s toy selection and inventory are not limited by the confines of a building near a mall. They leverage not only their own massive warehouse grid but also the options and stock of toy manufacturers who drop ship directly to customers.

Amazon (while not a heavy marketer through traditional means like television) has effectively leveraged social media marketing and targeted campaigns aided by their insightful analysis of consumer’s online purchase behavior.

With a far more engaging website than Toys “R” Us ever crafted and same day or Prime two-day shipping, Amazon has reduced pain points associated with product acquisition. From a convenience perspective, Amazon has averted the need to experience the chaos, tantrums, and “I want that too” exhortations of in-store big-box toy shopping.

To Survive as a Toy Retailer (or Any Retailer for that Matter) in the Age of Amazon

Despite Amazon’s dominance, I suspect there will be “brick and mortar” toy stores in the future, and they will succeed by emulation certain aspects of Amazon (e.g., effective social media marketing, driving convenience into the in-store experience, and maximizing choice where possible).

At the same time, I believe those successful stores will differentiate from Amazon by creating an engaging, personalized, caring, community place where parents, children, and grandparents will want to bring their children to explore the wonderful world of toys.

Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, noted in a recent email analysis of the Toys “R” Us demise, “The liquidation of Toys R Us is the unfortunate but inevitable conclusion of a retailer that lost its way…Even during recent store closeouts, Toys R Us failed to create any sense of excitement. The brand lost relevance, customers and ultimately sales.”

The key for future toy stores will be their ability to stay nimble and relevant to changing consumer needs in a way Toys “R” Us may have gotten too big, too conservative, or too in debt to do.

Back to You

How are you positioning yourself against potential category-killers in your sector or adjacent sectors?

How are you matching the Amazon’s of the world and differentiating yourself in relevant and nimble ways?

Nostalgically, I am sorry to see Toys “R” Us go, but I trust we can learn from the Toys “R” Us journey which will help us adapt and thrive!


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