Leading the Starbucks Way: Q&A with Joseph Michelli

Published September 4, 2013
Last modified September 4, 2013

Speaker and bestselling author of Leading the Starbucks Way: 5 Principles for Connecting with Your Customer, Your Products, and Your People, Joseph Michelli joined Zendesk for a webinar to explore five actionable principles that customer service teams can adopt to drive and support that same promise for their own companies.

To get ready for the event, we talked to Joseph, who has also written books about Zappos and the Ritz-Carlton, about what it takes to be a customer service superstar.

What do Zappos and Starbucks have in common? What are they both getting right when it comes to customer service?

They have great senior leadership; you’'re always blessed if you have that. They have a clear vision of what the end state looks like for the customer experience. They have it well defined operationally. They have culled it down to a simple common denominator that most people can relate to and connect with.

They also have the right infrastructure and training, as well as customer listening tools so that they are able to listen to the customers and constantly evolve the customer experience.

In preparing for your book, you spoke with Starbucks employees at all different levels. What were you most surprised to learn?

I was surprised to learn that front line employees understood Howard Schultz. The CEO’'s message was really resonating at the level of the individual employee. I think that’'s the key to success at any business: Your c-suite people have a vision that’'s simple enough and clear enough that everyone in the organization can go over a hill with you.

The other thing I was surprised to learn is that the company has changed a lot. I’'ve been with them since 2004 in one iteration or another, and I remember sitting in the executive suites with them talking about loyalty programs and having people looking at me like I had a third eye. Because the issue was, “We don’'t want to commoditize our brand by giving loyalty programs to our customers.” Today, the loyalty program is so much at the center of the brand, that if I were to go in there and say, "“Hey, why don’'t we not do that anymore, why don’'t you just go back to the days where you don’t give a free 13th drink for every 12th purchase,”" they couldn’'t even imagine that world.

You recently blogged about how your relationship with your customers can be similar to a romantic relationship. Do you have any tips for keeping the spark alive with your existing customers?

Remind me to never blog again! (laughs)

The blog was about courting and dating, and then getting into that relationship, where customers have chosen you, and they’'re going to be repeat customers, loyal to a committed relationship with you. A bit over the top, maybe? But I think it really does apply. The lesson here is that a lot of people fall out of love in a romantic relationship too because people didn’'t invest enough in them, people become more self-invested, they go back to habits and behaviors that they had prior to courtship.

The key to this is really focusing on other people and being willing to sacrifice yourself in a committed way. Some brands do it, and in the webinar, we’'ll unpack some of the real ways companies like Starbucks and Zappos do it, and that might spark in the listener a way that they might do the same in the context of their business.

What does a company have to do to be a stand-out customer service superstar?

I think there are two things:

They have to focus on customers in a very systematic way and get the entire organization involved in that, not just some person who’'s got a title that has the word “customer” in it.

And the second thing is to be a storytelling brand. I think legendary brands in the customer service space do two things. They build great experiences but they also tell stories about customers inside and outside the brand. It’'s why the stories of the Ritz-Carlton doing these heroic things if a guest left stuff behind are big.

I think that’'s what you need to do nowadays. Those stories become so viral that they take on a life of their own.

Watch the recording of our Zen Master webinar with Joseph Michelli: Leading the Starbucks way: 5 Principles for connecting with you customers

Learn more about Zendesk for retail