The Michelli Experience

New York Times #1 bestselling author, Joseph Michelli, Ph.D., shares customer experience, leadership, and business insights from Mercedes-Benz, Starbucks, Ritz-Carlton, Zappos, Pike Place Fish, and many more. At The Michelli Experience, we help front-line employees, managers, and senior leaders deliver relevant and engaging service experiences. To that end, we provide keynote and workshop presentations, short-term and extended consulting services, and bestselling books to meet your needs.

Have you ever wanted to have a business do-over? In golf, we call it a mulligan. It's when you are forgiven your first shot and allowed to take another because, let's just say, the first ball didn't go where you intended.


Guess what? COVID-19 has hit the GIANT reset mulligan button for every business.


If pre-pandemic, you had cumbersome processes, now is the time to shed them and act like a start-up.


If you didn't invest enough in contactless processes, you have a great chance to fix that now.


Let's assume you didn't solicit customer feedback regularly and deploy it effectively? Fear not, you are living in the "Better New Days."

For me, the "old normal" world of business was too often like going to a chamber of commerce or networking event where everybody was selling, and no one was buying. There are a lot of business cards passed around, but very few people listening and understanding how they can be of service.


In this "Better than Normal" world, more people are willing to share input, and some companies are capitalizing by being more willing to listening. That listening takes the form of informal inquiries. For example, they track sentiment on social media and ask people to have casual conversations. Formal listening includes pulse surveys or more extensive customer or team member engagement surveys.


So here's the big question, are you one of those listening companies? If you are listening, what are you doing with what you are hearing?

I used to use the word empathetic until a researcher in the field corrected me. She said, "'Empathetic is wrong and empathic is correct." She added, "There is nothing 'pathetic" about empathy. Henceforth, I'm in the empathic camp.


Now that's out of the way, let's look at how the world has gotten better thanks to an upsurge in empathy.


As you likely know, the word empathy comes from a German word that roughly translates as "feel into” and humans are hard-wired to feel into the emotions of others. For example, neuroscientists have found that the same neural pathways which activate when we feel pain also fire when we observe the pain of others.

I love thinking I'm invincible - look at me who'd want to go toe-to-toe with me? Then again, when I look a little more closely I realize I'm not all that. What a gift COVID-19 has been when it comes to putting a humbling mirror up to most business owners and leaders.

Growing up in my Italian home, I was told never to say things like a pandemic is a gift, so I hope you forgive me. My point isn't that any of us wanted this tectonic disruption. It's just that we are best served by finding the thin silver lining in a stubbornly dark cloud.

For me, the vulnerability of the pandemic is an important part of these better than normal days. Let me explain.

This is the second installment in a series titled “Better Than Normal – Designing Transformative Experiences,” which will provide tools to help you position your employee and customer experience for relevance in a COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 world.

I have been busier than I’ve ever been before during the pandemic, but in those rare moments of reflection, I have been able to evaluate what brings value and what was simply a habit, and your customers are doing the same.

For example, I used to live in hotels and on planes, but I  haven’t struggled with getting my carry-on out of an overhead bin in months, and still business soars. Was all that air travel purposeful?

I am hoping my dry cleaner misses me because I was a loyal visitor when I wasn’t on the road. However, in the last few months, I haven’t had much of a reason to stop by. I’m not saying that planes, hotels, and dry cleaners aren’t important, I am merely suggesting that in this “better than normal” world we’re living in that all of us are given a chance to question decisions that used to seem reflective. It’s Monday, and I am home, I’d better go to the dry cleaner?

Let’s imagine your customers reflecting on the purposefulness of your business in their lives? How much of their purchases are driven by habit? How are you faring?

Ok, those are unpleasant questions, so let’s try something more positive. What might you do to increase the likelihood that customers will see the purposefulness of your offerings?


This is the first installment in a series titled “Better Than Normal – Designing Transformative Experiences,” which will provide tools to help you position your employee and customer experience for relevance in a COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 world.

I don’t know about you, but I am already eager to put the phrase “new normal” out to pasture! When most people say it, I hear the pain in their voice and a nostalgic longing for the way things used to be. There’s an “if only” packed into it. If only, we weren’t in this new normal. Or if only, I could have this part of the old normal back. The words new normal are somehow reminiscent of my father’s penchant for saying things like “those good old days.”

I hereby decree the words “new normal” no longer are useable, and I declare they shall be replaced with the phrase “better than normal.” Since I’m striking down phrases, I will replace “good old days” with “good new days.” Alas, if only I had that power beyond this simple blog.

I make these two proclamations to frame the importance of working to make “now” better than “then” and to make the “future” better than “now.”

Let me show you two ways customer experiences are already better than normal.

I suspect you may be at least a little like me. I like spontaneity, but only on my terms. I’m a fan of agendas, plans, and being confident that my position on an issue is well informed.

Then came COVID-19, a sub-microscopic infectious agent, roughly 1/1000 the width of a human hair.  I am lucky to date in that the virus has not rendered me or those I love ill, hospitalized, or worse. But it, along with the death of George Floyd, sent orderliness, planning, and knowledge certainty whirling. Those events probably did the same for you, your team members, and your customers.

It sounds strange, but I am starting to find value in discomfort and uncertainty.

Let’s face it, COVID-19 forced most business leaders and entrepreneurs to alter their operations, service delivery, and customer experience overnight.

If, before COVID -19, you sold flowers in a traditional retail store, suddenly; you had to find a way to take your entire business online. Service providers leveraged technologies to maintain relationships with their clients and minimize revenue losses.

COVID-19 was a gut punch that forced radical business transitions, reduced service interactions to digital exchanges, and produced functional yet largely undifferentiated service experiences.

During those urgent transitions, most leaders functioned on adrenaline and survival instincts.

I have an unusual perspective when it comes to the emotional impact of this pandemic. My view is shaped by working as a licensed clinical psychologist early in my career and helping people deal with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and isolation. It’s also affected by the last 20-plus years of my career, where I’ve helped mostly Fortune 500 leaders create positive emotional bonds with their customers.

I share that context because I am about to say something outrageous and I hope you will stay with me.

Ok, here goes…  

I am convinced that the loneliness, anxiety, sadness, and loss of control emerging from the pandemic can be POSITIVE, but only if (and it’s a big IF) we learn lessons by flipping our feelings.

Thank you for joining me on this third installment in my series “It’s Emotional – Creating an Unprecedented Team and Customer Experience in the Pandemic.” This series is designed to offer tools to manage your emotions as well as support the emotional journey of your prospects and customers.

A couple of installments back I talked about my dislike for how the word unprecedented is being used in the context of this pandemic. Typically, these days unprecedented implies no one has ever encountered a pandemic before and that history offers no guidance on how to cope and prevail. This week I am bristling at the way the word empathy is being used in the context of the pandemic. Quite frankly I love the word empathy and I’ve used the word regularly since I finished my doctorate in clinical psychology back in the late 1980s.

What’s bothersome about the word’s use these days, is that it’s thrown around as if everyone knows how to be empathic and as if it’s easy to demonstrate this component of emotional intelligence (EQ).

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