MOVERS and SHAKERS Interview with Joseph Michelli

Tell us your name and a little about yourself.

I am Joseph Michelli, the CEO of The Michelli Experience. I am a Certified Customer Experience Professional and Certified Speaking Professional. I have written 9 business books about customer experience and leadership excellence at companies like Starbucks, Mercedes-Benz, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, and Zappos. My latest book is titled The Airbnb Way: 5 Leadership Lessons for Igniting Growth through Loyalty, Community, and Belonging.

What exactly does your company do?

About 70% of our time, we help leaders across the globe deliver employee and customer experiences that differentiate their businesses from the competition. In so doing, we also help leaders increase customer loyalty and drive referrals. Our work with senior leaders focuses on culture and strategy. We also help department heads with customer journey mapping, leveraging the voice of the customer, and developing tools to enhance the service skills of their team members. And 20% of our workflow involves providing keynote speeches and workshops on customer experience and leadership topics. With the remaining 10% of our time, my team and I research and write books and thought leadership articles.

What were the biggest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?

I always think of challenges as either intrinsic or extrinsic. In my case, the hardest ones were intrinsic and required me to change the internal dialogues going on in my head. For example, it took me a long time to leave a comfortable job working in a healthcare system to branch out to my own consulting business. Thanks to mentors and colleagues, I was able to wrestle with my doubts and pursue my calling. Once I took the step, I had to continue with coaches to help me with business areas I had not previously encountered. From the perspective of extrinsic factors, the death of my wife (and the impact that death had on my children) provided some headwinds. Fortunately, family and my church community offered much-needed support.


What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?

For me, it is as simple as: “Be hungry, malleable and honorable.” I wish someone would have told me that social intelligence is a substantial predictor of success and that social intelligence can be learned. I’ve come to believe that socially intelligent people maintain an open mindset and ask lots of questions. They also understand that “service serves us.” It is in creating value for others that we receive value in return. While I had glimmers of this early in my career, these insights are incredibly clear to me today.

Who are your biggest influences and people you admire and why?

My father and mother were undoubtedly my biggest influences. They adopted me at two months of age and loved me with ferocity while also setting high expectations. Most of those expectations involved living up to one’s potential and making a positive difference in the world. They believed we are all placed on this earth to make it better. An inordinately large number of people from my father’s small-town attended his funeral and shared stories of how he would mow neighbors lawns or shovel other people’s walks whenever he had his lawnmower or shovel in hand. I think it was my remarkable good fortune to have them as role models.

While my mother only completed eight grade and my father barely completed high school before heading to the Civilian Conservation Corps and then enlisting in World War II, they read to me a lot when I was young. That reading opened up a world of ideas and instilled in me a love for learning that resulted in my getting a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I have worked with so many leaders along my journey, and all of them have contributed to my success. Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, taught me about the importance of making “deposits in the reservoir of trust.” Horst Schulze, the founder of the modern-day Ritz-Carton Hotel Company, mentored me to never equate a rating of 90% with excellence. Instead, excellence is the desire to wake up every morning and strive to exceed what you were able to accomplish the day before.


What do you see as your greatest success in life?

My greatest success is raising two children who I admire and respect as adults. Given the travel and time demands of my career (particularly when they were younger) and other challenges we’ve encountered along the way, I get my greatest joy from the relationship I have developed with them as adults and the relationships I am developing with my grandchildren.


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