Joseph A. Michelli on “Being Driven to Delight”: An interview by Bob Morris


MichelliJoseph A. Michelli, Ph.D., C.S.P., is an internationally sought-after speaker, author, and organizational consultant who transfers his knowledge of exceptional business practices in ways that develop joyful and productive workplaces with a focus on the total customer experience. His insights encourage leaders and frontline workers to grow and invest passionately in all aspects of their lives.

Michelli is a Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Nielson Bookscan, and New York Times #1 bestselling author. His latest book is Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way, published by McGraw-Hill on December 8, 2015.

Joseph’s other titles include Leading The Starbucks Way: 5 Principles for Connecting with Your Customer, Your Products, and Your People, The Zappos Experience: 5 Principles to Inspire Engage and WOW, Prescription for Excellence: Leadership Lessons for Creating a World-Class Customer Experience from UCLA Health System, The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary, The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, and When Fish Fly: Lessons for Creating a Vital and Energized Workplace which was co-authored with the owner of the “World Famous” Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.

Joseph holds the Certified Speaking Professional designation from the National Speakers Association (NSA) and is a member of the Authors Guild. He received his Masters and Doctorate from the University of Southern California. Joseph has won the Asian Brand Excellence Award, is an editorial board member for the Beryl Institute’s Patient Experience Journal (PXJ), and is on the founders council of CustomerExperienceOne. He was named as one of the Top 10 thought leaders in Customer Service by Global Gurus.

Having journeyed with a close family member through a six-year battle with breast cancer, Joseph is committed to social causes associated with curing cancer as well as abating world hunger.

Here is an excerpt from my most recent interview of Joseph.

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This is your seventh business book, with prior bestselling books also examining leadership and customer experience execution at brands like Starbucks, Zappos, and The Ritz-Carlton. How did it all begin?

I started working as a disc jockey when I was 13 and continued radio broadcasting while I went to college and past graduate school. For a long-time I thought of myself as a professional communicator – mostly of the spoken word — and certainly did not view myself as a writer. While interviewing a guest on a nationally syndicated show I did for the Business Radio Network, a book idea came to mind and I mentioned it to the guest. Without missing a beat, the guest said, “You should send my daughter a proposal on that; she runs the publishing branch at our company.” Being naïve and unaware of the process, I stayed up that night researching how to write a book proposal, crafted a rudimentary outline for my book idea, and submitted it to her. By the end of that week, I had signed a book deal. So in a nutshell, I started writing with a single idea, sufficient ignorance, and the absence of fear.

In addition to writing, you are a consultant and professional speaker. How do all three work together?

Early in my career, I held a number of disparate jobs. Faculty member, radio personality, employee of a hospital system. A colleague of mine at the time gave me an invaluable piece of advice that changed my future. He said, “It is fine to do a lot of different things as long as they converge.” I am blessed to have true convergence. When I write a book about a company I have consulted for, say Mercedes-Benz USA, it gets read by other corporate leaders, say at Godiva Chocolatier, who then hire me to consult for them. My books also fuel interest in my keynote speeches which in turn open up new opportunities for more consulting and book writing.

How does one train to do what you do?

Most of the literature on career readiness suggests something like an 80/20 split, with 80 percent of preparation coming from on-the-job experience and 20 percent from formal education. I had a fabulous set of teachers and mentors in Systems Psychology at the University of Southern California while in pursuit of my masters and doctorate. Moreover, colleagues and clients have rounded out skill areas that weren’t necessarily covered in graduate school.

What is your most significant accomplishment or challenge?

On a personal level, my wife’s six-year battle with breast cancer was personally daunting, as was the impact of her death on my children. On a positive note, I think my greatest accomplishment continues to be having an impact on the customer experience of brands I respect greatly.

When or why did you decide to write Driven to Delight?

This will start a bit personal, but I promise to get to your question quickly. My wife was in end-stage breast cancer after a 6-year battle. I had worked with Steve Cannon, the CEO at Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA), to arrange a benchmarking session with leaders from Ritz-Carlton, Zappos, and MBUSA. Fortunately, I was able to complete that obligation and then be with my wife in her final days. Despite the fact that I was providing a service to MBUSA, I felt very supported by the leadership team and sensed their care and concern for the needs of others. My sense of their “otherness” and commitment to transform the Mercedes-Benz customer experience inspired me. In fact, another luxury automobile brand approached me to consider a book about them but the personal connection with MBUSA pulled me in that direction.

How long did it take you to write Driven to Delight?

It was about two years in the making. While I was writing throughout my journey with the brand, the intensive writing and editing phase took approximately six months.

What was it like writing this book compared to working on your other books?

I liken writing books to raising children. You start with the hope that you can facilitate a successful and positive outcome and to do so you have to work with very different personalities. Brands also have different personalities and we talk about those personalities as culture. This book was a delight because the culture at Mercedes-Benz USA was transparent, fun, performance-oriented, and customer-obsessed. That said, don’t get me wrong. Mercedes-Benz is a global brand with strong leadership at Daimler in Germany, but the US division was empowered and entrusted to support my efforts without undue oversight by the parent brand.

What is the applicability of the lessons in Driven to Delight? Who is the target audience?

While Mercedes-Benz is a powerful, global, luxury brand, this book was designed to be useful to anyone attempting to improve experiences for their customers as well as to anyone who seeks greater customer retention, increased spend, and more word-of-mouth business. Often I will look at how a larger program at Mercedes-Benz like “brand immersion” can be accomplished on a much smaller scale.

You suggest that trust in leadership is critical to the credibility of promises made by the Mercedes-Benz USA executive team. Can you expand on that?

On a macro social level as well as within the context of business, I have been convinced that trust is one of the most essential — and most perishable — of social currencies. Trust is in short supply. Governments distrust one another. Political parties distrust and vilify one another. And certainly, customers, as well as employees, can — and often do — distrust corporate leaders. While some leaders might not care about whether they are trusted and others might be reluctant to make public promises for fear they will be held accountable, leaders at Mercedes-Benz USA specifically made three robust and very public promises about how they would transform the customer experience. Those promises involved providing tools and resources to support efforts throughout the organization. As I outline in Driven to Delight, every promise was fulfilled and organizational trust fueled momentum to rapid transformation.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

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